How would you define a “settlement” in the West Bank?
The existence of what are called “settlements” in the Holy Lands of Palestine and Israel is a topic I’ve written about in the past. However, I still encounter people regularly who have a great misperception of how such a settlement looks, how many people live in one and what the lives of the settlers are like. Further most folks living in this country have no idea of the impact on the Palestinian people the settlements create by their presence, their locations and their activities
An important stepping stone into any discussion of Middle East conflict, it seems to me, is clear definitions of terms. In first-time conversations about the Holy Land, I often ask, “When you think about the situation in Israel, how do you picture a settlement? What does a settlement look like?” The most frequent answers I get back are, “Well, a settlement is kind of a campground,” or “It’s a bunch of trailers.”
My view of settlements is quite different. My view comes from being there on the ground, from climbing from Jerusalem several times each week into the settlement of Gilo while I lived nearby throughout the year of 1997. I retrieved mail for myself and my co-workers at the Gilo Post Office and while up there on the top of the hillside, I sometimes shopped a bit as well. As I walked the streets, I observed the sturdy, well-built structures within gated communities with manicured lawns and gardens, and many swimming pools.
At the time, I had no idea that Gilo was a settlement or that it was built on Palestinian land. I was in the Holy Land to study and teach about life in Biblical times and knew little about the occupation and oppression. I became very aware, however, of the continual harassment my Palestinian co-workers endured daily.
I was back in the U.S. for over a year before I heard a news report mention the “settlement” of Gilo. Gilo a settlement? The idea hit me harder than that proverbial ton of bricks. This was the beginning of my new understanding of facts that most Americans know nothing about. Even folks who’ve been to the land themselves.
What might a dictionary have to say about the word “settlement”?
From Random House–SETTLEMENT: 7. a colony, esp. in its early stages. 8. a small community, village or group of houses in a thinly populated area. 9. a community formed and populated by members of a particular religious or ideological group.
This number 9 definition, except for the matter of size, could appropriately be applied to those West Bank settlements occupied by Orthodox Jews who continuously threaten and abuse Palestinian neighbors out of an unyielding conviction that all the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people.
In December of 2008, I visited some men living in such a settlement and asked if I would be welcome to live there. “Oh yes!” was the enthusiastic response, followed by, “And when you have been here a short time you will come to know that ours is the one true religion and you will join us.”
The number 9 definition does not fit the vast majority of West Bank settlements, whose residents are living in the occupied territories only because they receive huge financial benefits from the Israeli government for living there.
In my MacBook’s built-in dictionarym I read: –SETTLEMENT: 1. an official agreement intended to resolve a dispute or conflict.
The examples provided: “unions succeeded in reaching a pay settlement” and “the settlement of the Palestinian problem.”
2. a place, typically one that has hitherto been uninhabited, where people establish a community. The action of allowing or helping people to do this.
The example: “Israel’s settlement of immigrants in the occupied territories.”
This example is exactly the subject of a report issued in April of 2010 by The Macro Center for Political Economics, located in Tel Aviv. Dr. Robi Nathanson, Director General, spent years mapping every home and structure built in the settlements, using satellite imagery and other technology, in an effort to “gauge the total value of the Jewish settlement enterprise in the West Bank.” Israeli building in East Jerusalem was not included in this study.
The 128 Israeli settlements in the West Bank, says the report, encompass 12 million square meters of roads, homes and factories that cost more than $17 billion to build. These cities, commonly referred to as settlements, include 211 schools, 344 kindergartens, 68 yeshivas, 127 synagogues, 96 ritual baths, 321 sports facilities and 21 libraries.
Private homes – numbering 22,997 – are spread over 5.74 million square meters while 32,711 apartments cover approximately 3.27 million square meters.
Hardly campgrounds or tent cities or small village communities.
There are 187 shopping centers, 15 banquet halls and 717 industrial structures and more than a million square meters of paved roads – available to only Israelis.
I’ve been on those paved Israeli roads forbidden to Palestinians and on the unpaved roads for Palestinians cluttered with numerous checkpoints where long delays are usual. I waited at a checkpoint as soldiers boarded our mini-bus with menacing looks and frightening guns. And I groaned when we were denied passage and had to drive around the city to take another route to our destination, adding an hour to our travel time. As it was a Sunday morning, not a weekday, we didn’t wait at the checkpoint for hours among hundreds of Palestinians trying to get children to school and themselves to work.
The Macro Center study also details square miles covered and construction costs for each category mentioned here. What is not included is Palestinian land used for lawns, gardens and parks or for accommodating farm animals, trees and crops for Israel’s vast agricultural industry.
They also don’t happen to mention that no sewage treatment plants are built among the settlements and raw sewage is simply dumped on Palestinian lands.
Now that you have just a few of these facts on the ground, do you think “settlement” might be a misnomer?