My husband and I recently drove to visit some friends who live in Givat Assaf, a small community about fifteen minutes outside Jerusalem.
And even though I’ve been living in Israel for almost five years, I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t had much exposure to these types of places.
You know, the types of places that are filled with young couples and families living in caravans, the men wearing knitted kippot and packing guns in the backs of their pants, the women wearing head scarves that start in the middle of their foreheads and end with knots at the backs of their heads.
You know – the settlements.
But I don’t like that word. “Settlements” implies a place where people are camping out temporarily on property that doesn’t belong to them. It implies that these people are squatters, or worse, perpetrators.
But I don’t think of these people that way. In fact, I admire these peyot-sporting, mitpachat-tying idealists who plunk themselves down in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by Arab neighbors because they believe it’s the right thing to do. Who drive on dangerous highways to get in and out of their homes, who receive no government support but are fueled by their beliefs as opposed to their fears. Who would rather raise their children in an environment of dangerous truth than an environment of convenient complacency.
I wish my convictions could carry me so far!
Because let’s face it, it’s their convictions that drive them to live there. So even if you don’t agree with their politics, you have to hand it to them – how many people do you know whose every aspect of life is an expression of their beliefs and ideals?
These settlers remind me of the early pioneers who staked out the Jewish nation’s claim to the land of Israel, dunam by dunam. Like the early pioneers, these settlers have to deal with hostile Arab neighbors, they build up the land with their hands and they fight to make sure that every possible inch of Israel that can be lived on by Jews is lived on.
Mind you, most are not fighting in the active sense. Our friends in Givat Assaf are not belligerent bullies. They are actually quite gentle, soft-spoken and family-oriented (four kids sleeping in one bedroom). During the course of our visit, they didn’t once mention anything political. They didn’t complain that while the government is debating the possible expulsion of their little community, Peace Now petitioned to demolish the children’s playground. (Really, the children’s playground?) They just cooked, ate lunch, separated fighting children, talked and told stories like ordinary people.
And yet, even though I admire the modesty with which they conduct their conviction-centered lives, I can’t imagine ever living there myself.
It’s not the caravans that bother me. (In fact, they seem rather spacious compared to Nachlaot apartments!) Our friends’ caravan even has an outdoor pool, which their kids splashed around in happily. A neighbor came by to borrow an egg, and I had the feeling that it was a lovely, close-knit community.
But outside the community lurks danger, uncertainty and isolation, and that’s what terrifies me. The drive there alone shook me up. Accelerating down roads cut into mountains, decelerating back up praying that our little chug-a-chug car would make it and we wouldn’t be stranded in the heat of the day over the Green Line – I can’t imagine living like that.
And so, I remain comfortably in Jerusalem, admiring from a distance. Admiring today’s pioneers whose bravery allows me to sit comfortably in Jerusalem. Whose dedication allows me to live in the city, away from security fences and checkpoints. Because these people are out staking a claim to our land, I don’t have to.