Thursday, December 17, 2009

Two solitudes

Courtesy of the Associated Press: I have left some paragraphs out and moved others around, but the story--a double-sided, morally lopsided narrative--needs no further elaboration. I've added occasional emphases.

Shiloh was the first settlement in the Qariout area, founded in 1979. Since then two other settlements have sprung up nearby, along with six smaller wildcat outposts, which are illegal under Israeli law but get electricity, water and protection from the government.

Together, they surround the village on three sides and deny it access to about two-thirds of its land, according to Yesh Din, an Israeli rights groups that tracks settlements.

Dror Etkes, of Yesh Din, said the Israeli government has officially allocated 28 percent of the village's original 840 hectares (2,100 acres) to nearby settlements.

Another 35 to 40 percent of the village's land has been taken unofficially by settlers or the Israeli army, he said.

Sometimes, settlers fence off or cultivate plots, chasing off Palestinians who try to reach them, he said.

Other times, Israeli authorities seize plots to build army posts or roads between settlements. Once a road is built, villagers can rarely reach the land beyond it, Etkes said.

At the same time, Israel refuses to let the village pave the two-kilometer-long (1.2 mile) road to the highway and regularly bulldozes it shut, calling it "illegal" and forcing villagers to make a 22-kilometer (13-mile) detour.

Mohammed Muqbil, a farmer born in Qariout in 1939, said he has lost two of his three plots to settlements. The army confiscated one in 1982 and settlers now grow grapes on it. Settlers chased him from another in 2003, then planted olive trees, he said.

His remaining plot, near the Shvut Rachel settlement, has been a battleground since 2000. Settlers have plowed up his wheat, harvested his olives, prevented him from working and even beat him up, he said. In 2007, a settler uprooted his 300 trees with a bulldozer, he said.

Back in Qariout, Bedawi says true peace would require settlers to leave.

"How can you make a state when there are settlements all over the West Bank?" he said.


From a grassy hilltop in one of those settlements, Shiloh, Batya Medad sees a different story in the settlers' red-roofed houses: She calls it the return of the Jewish people to land God promised them in the Old Testament.

In Shiloh, a town of 2,200 people, billboards advertise new homes, and foundations have been laid for about 10 new buildings that remain exempt from the 10-month construction freeze. The community has two schools, a seminary, three synagogues and a swimming pool, said Medad.

The Bible gives Jews the right to live in Shiloh, she said.

"In most of the Western world, when you swear on the Bible, you are swearing that Shiloh is Jewish," she said.

Medad and her husband immigrated from Great Neck, New York, to Israel in 1970. She said when they came to Shiloh the hills were covered with wildflowers because "nobody had ever walked here, nobody had cultivated it, nobody owned it."

She is 60 and vows no peace deal can make her leave.

Medad denied her Arab neighbors had history in the area and said she rarely thinks about them. "If they want to live in peace with us, they can stay," she said. "If they don't want peace, then they should go."

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