It’s difficult for me now to trust anything I read in the news because too often I’ve the experience of seeing something, with my own eyes, and then reading what’s written about it. To an extent, this is evidence of that cheesy Jain parable about the blind men and the elephant (it’s a pillar, it’s a branch, it’s a fan, whoa, stay away from that fire hose!) But it’s also because–well, let’s just be charitable and stick with the Jain parable.
Here’s the thing: I was in Itamar. I saw that settlement, I saw the house where that family was destroyed. I spoke to people there. And the way it’s been reported misses so much.
Let me tell you a few things you probably don’t know. It’s not everything there is to say about the story, it’s just more of it.
First, here’s how we got there. We drove. Our driver was an Israeli private tour guide. We didn’t have an IDF escort; we weren’t armed. And it was easy to get there: There was not one checkpoint on the way. Not one obstacle. We could have driven right up to that perimeter fence, and no one would have stopped us. The idea that there’s heavy security around this settlement is nuts. There’s a fence around the place, and that’s it.
Driving in the area around it, we saw Arab villages (which you could also call “settlements”) and we saw both Arab and Israeli teenagers walking around at night, as teenagers do. Any one of them could have walked up to that fence. If you can get over the fence, you can get into that house–it was right by the fence.
There’s a direct road you can take from Jerusalem to Itamar–Route 60–and it would have taken us about 20 minutes to get there if we’d used it. Itamar is close to Nablus, you can see the route on the map. But we didn’t take it. Why not? Because of this. We instead took indirect side roads, avoiding any roads on which Israelis had recently been massacred. This took about an hour and a half. Now, when you talk about “apartheid roads” in Israel, keep that in mind: There’s more than one way to create an “apartheid road.”
When we crossed into the West Bank, our driver was uneasy. “I don’t like it here. Someone could jump out at you,” he said. And no doubt he was right: These roads are empty, and no, there is no heavy military presence there. Anyone who suggests there is just hasn’t been there recently. And this was in the aftermath of a sanguinary terrorist spectacular, so I have to imagine this is as heavy an IDF presence as you’re apt to see these days.
I repeat: Not one checkpoint en route. We were not there in any official capacity, we had no one official with us, we were not driving in an official vehicle, we were just a bunch of curious journalists. And we just drove up to the place. The only thing keeping us out was that fence. You get over the fence, you’re in.
However, a few weeks ago, there was a checkpoint. It was removed, over the settlers’ objections. It was removed to make life easier and more convenient for Palestinians. I reckon you can imagine how the residents of Itamar feel about that.
We did encounter an IDF checkpoint on the way back–just one. Yes, they looked closely at our passports and made us wait while they took our passports, examined the car, and asked us what we’d been doing. Just one checkpoint.
Near Itamar, we picked up David Ha’ivri, from the Shomron Liaison Office, who guided us the rest of the way. We merged with the 60 Road there, and you can hear him explaining where we are here. I’m sorry you can’t see much, but it was dark:
In this video, you can hear David discussing the road we took next:
So those are some points about the idea of apartheid roads. What I’m saying now I saw, personally, and I recorded what he said, so you can be the judge.
Second, a few points about “settlers,” known to the media generally as “right-wing religious fanatics.” They’re religious, no doubt about that. They’re there because they feel a religious connection to the land. Do I? No. Not at all. That this is a place you can read about in the Bible doesn’t mean all that much to me. I’d give this land away in a heartbeat in exchange for peace. I don’t think giving it away would result in peace, but if I did–off it goes, let it be Palestinian, let it be Uruguayan, for all I care. Doesn’t mean much to me.
But the fact is that this was Jordanian territory until 1967, now it’s “disputed territory,” and I can’t see any particularly good reason why, if Palestinians can settle there–and they do–Israelis shouldn’t. When you hear people talking about the horror of Jewish settlement in the area, ask why no one is talking about, for example, Rawabi? Is Rawabi the object of international condemnation? Are its inhabitants right-wing religious zealots in the world’s eyes? Why not?
For the record, I think Rawabi looks great, and I hope it’s a terrific success. I think it’s a very safe bet that Jews would be willing to live side by side and in peace with neighbors who take recycling and public transportation that seriously.
Now, a quick word about “right-wing.” As an enthusiastic emissary of the right, all I can say about that is, “I wish.” Alas, when David and the other people we spoke to there weren’t talking about the security situation, they were spouting just the kind of left-wing nonsense that drives me nuts. You know what they’re insanely proud of in Itamar? Their organic farms. I stress, organic.
We heard the word “organic” more than we heard the word “terrorist.” Now, you all know where I stand on organic farming. I’m with Norman Borlaug and the Green Revolution: Bring on the pesticides and the GMOs. But these are, alas, the kind of people who just won’t be shut up about the healthful glories of organic farming, even in the wake of a savage terrorist attack. Organic grapes. Organic goats. Organic yogurt. The words “our community” feature large. If they weren’t sitting there in the West Bank, you’d figure they were freaks from Marin County circa 1973. But they are sitting there, so they’re not harmless organic-farming freaks, in the eyes of the world, but the very obstacle to peace in our time.
There’s a lot more I could add. But for now, just this: Below is a photo of the house next to the one that was invaded.
The light wasn’t good. But I think you get the point.