The view from Beit El

Most Israelis, it is safe to assume, have never and probably will never visit the settlement of Beit El. They therefore have no idea what an inhabitant of that large settlement sees when he opens his window. To the east, the settler sees nothing but the military. The road leading to his community currently crosses through a huge Israel Defense Forces base that was once Training Center 4 and is now the headquarters for the tremendous forces guarding Beit El and environs. The road home thus passes through tanks and armament stores, which is in itself a dubious experience.

To the west, the settler sees a desolate road, strewn with stones and earthwork obstacles. This is the old Ramallah-Nablus road, the highway that became an abandoned road when all traffic on it was prohibited. If the settler looks into the distance, he will see yellow blotches on the sides of the road in the valley spread out below him. These are Palestinian taxis, traveling on dirt roads to transport the handful of inhabitants who skirt the checkpoints on foot. In wind and cold, in all weather, they make their way from checkpoint to checkpoint. They have no choice.

Slightly to the north, on the edges of the abandoned road, is a large group of horribly crowded, shabby houses, surrounded by a fence as if it were a prison. This is home to about 6,000 Palestinians, residents of the Jalazun refugee camp who for months have been trapped inside their camp. Occasionally they can sneak out of the camp on foot, through the wadis, but the soldiers are liable to shoot at them as has already happened more than once. Leaving by car is just a distant dream, of course.

Hapless and hopeless, people who have already been dealt blows by fate twice before, in 1948 and in 1967, have now also been deprived of their freedom of movement and of their miserable livelihoods. Trapped in their camp, they can only look yearningly at the spacious and thriving mega-settlement that sprang up near their home.

Slightly south of Jalazun the settler can see the Surda checkpoint, where about two weeks ago an IDF soldier was killed while protecting Beit El. Southwest of there, though no longer in his range of sight, is the Ein Ariq checkpoint, now more closed and dug-in than ever; this is where six IDF soldiers, stationed at the checkpoint to protect the handful of residents of Dolev and Talmon, neighbors of the Beit El settler, were killed.

To the northwest lies the campus of Bir Zeit University. The dream of thousands of youngsters, the same dream that the youngsters of Beit El dream – of acquiring education and a vocation – has been shelved. The university is closed and reopened frequently, the last two academic years have been disturbed as a result of the checkpoints, and when it is possible to reach the campus it can be done only on foot.

A look to the east: Near the military court and the bases the settler can see a long line of Palestinians walking silently alongside the fences, in the shadows of the tanks. Children and old people, pregnant women and the sick, carrying their bags and baskets, terrorized by the tank turret. These are the inhabitants of the surrounding villages, who can reach the closest city, Ramallah, their source of life, only by foot. They walk the six to seven kilometers in either direction for work, shopping or the clinic. The settlers’ cars pass by on the road that is open to Jews only.

The justice-loving journalist Yoav Yitzhak wrote in Ma’ariv, with a certain degree of fiendishness, that it is a serious oversight that these wretched villagers are permitted to walk near the settlements and thereby to endanger their security, while the settler Emuna Elon, who lives in Beit El, said on Dan Shilon’s television program that her heart was stirred by these pilgrims. Maybe the horrific plan of her husband, Tourism Minister Benny Elon, to expel all of these villagers from their land will solve the problem. But apart from these sanctimonious statements, it appears that the fate of her neighbors does not affect her or her friends.

Tanks, checkpoints, refugees, racially separated roads, long lines of people on foot, ambulances bouncing along rocky roads and terrible suffering can be seen every day from the window of the settler in Beit El, and he lives comfortably with it all.

It is difficult to comprehend how, among the nearly 5,000 inhabitants of Beit El, there is not a single righteous man in Sodom, no one who will stand up and admit wholeheartedly that his settlement, and all others like it, is the cause of all this suffering. How is it that there is not a single settler in Beit El who is losing sleep over the women in labor who cannot get to the hospital, the sick people who die along the twisted dirt paths, the children who must walk to pay a holiday visit to their grandmother?

It must take a large degree of cold-heartedness to drive on the paved road leading from your house and see the large numbers of people who are forced to walk in the mud and rubble just because of the existence of your settlement – and to keep on believing in the justice of that distorted path; to see all that suffering through your window without batting an eyelash. The dispute with these settlements cannot be a political discussion only, but also a deep moral dispute because of the human suffering they impose on their neighbors.

Now, however, it is not only the suffering of the neighboring Palestinians that is on the heads of the residents of Beit El, but also the blood of the soldiers killed defending them.

The truth must be said: If Beit El, Talmon and Dolev were not there, the checkpoints of Ein Ariq and Surda would not be there either. They have no connection to the security of the state and the seven soldiers killed there up to now would not have been killed. Does the fate of these Israeli soldiers not give rise to any second thoughts in Beit El, either?

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