New set­tle­ment, old con­flicts in West Bank

Amichai is ter­ri­tory’s first Jewish com­mu­nity in 25 years fully ap­proved by Is­raeli gov­ern­ment; Pales­tini­ans, oth­ers con­demn it

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY WIL­LIAM BOOTH wil­liam.booth@wash­post.com

shiloh, west bank — It doesn’t look like much yet. The new­est Jewish set­tle­ment, deep in the West Bank, is to­day just a scratch of road be­ing clawed out of chalky hill­side by earth-mov­ing ma­chines.

But Avi­hai Boaron sees milk and honey here — and a new home for him­self and the 40 fam­i­lies who were forcibly evicted from their il­le­gal out­post by Is­raeli po­lice in Fe­bru­ary.

“I see all th­ese moun­tains full of our peo­ple and their chil­dren,” said Boaron, 42, a pub­lisher of re­li­gious mag­a­zines.

Boaron calls him­self a pi­o­neer. He was one of the founders of nearby Amona, which was first evac­u­ated and then de­mol­ished by Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties be­cause it was built il­le­gally on land pri­vately owned by Pales­tini­ans.

The evic­tion made for emo­tional live television. Is­raelis were glued to their screens and de­vices as they watched the set­tlers clash with un­armed Is­raeli po­lice.

The Amona set­tlers and their sup­port­ers chained them­selves to­gether in a last-ditch stand in the synagogue. Oth­ers threw ex­cre­ment, bleach and paint at the of­fi­cers.

Some Is­raelis were dis­gusted by the be­hav­ior; oth­ers were up­set to see Jews up­root­ing Jews from their homes. For many Is­raelis, the siege to re­move just 40 fam­i­lies sug­gested how dif­fi­cult it may be to re­move thou­sands of set­tlers from their homes to make way for a fu­ture Pales­tinian state.

Since the evic­tion, Boaron, his wife and chil­dren have been liv­ing in a cou­ple of cramped dor­mi­tory rooms stacked with bunk beds.

“We will start here with new in­spi­ra­tion,” Boaron promised, as he stood speak­ing to jour­nal­ists be­side the bull­doz­ers and trucks at his new town.

Called “Amichai,” a con­trac­tion of the He­brew for “Amona is alive,” this is the first new Jewish set­tle­ment in the West Bank fully ap­proved by the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment in 25 years.

It is in the heart of the oc­cu­pied West Bank, closer to Jordan than the Mediter­ranean Sea, on land that Pales­tini­ans want for an in­de­pen­dent na­tion.

Pales­tini­ans say its con­struc­tion makes their dream of a con­tigu­ous state fur­ther away than ever. A spokesman for Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas called the new set­tle­ment con­struc­tion a “grave es­ca­la­tion and an at­tempt to foil ef­forts by the Amer­i­can ad­min­is­tra­tion” seek­ing to re­vive peace talks.

There are plans for 100 Jewish homes here — and many more in the sur­round­ing hills. Is­raeli tax­pay­ers will pay mil­lions for the roads and in­fra­struc­ture — and more to keep the sol­diers in the area to pro­tect the res­i­dents.

The fam­i­lies will ei­ther build their own homes or rent them. Con­struc­tion for set­tle­ments in the West Bank is of­ten sub­si­dized by Jewish groups and wealthy donors from abroad, in­clud­ing the new U.S. am­bas­sador to Is­rael, David Fried­man.

Amichai may be the first set­tle­ment in years given gov­ern­ment ap­proval, in plan­ning and per­mits, but it is not the first new set­tle­ment or new con­struc­tion.

More than a hun­dred out­posts deemed “il­le­gal” or “unau­tho­rized,” even by the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment, have been con­structed in the past two decades, in­clud­ing some that sur­round the new vil­lage of Amichai. Con­struc­tion of new “neigh­bor­hoods” in ex­ist­ing set­tle­ments is also rou­tine and done with gov­ern­ment ap­proval.

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity con­sid­ers all of the Jewish set­tle­ments built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be il­le­gal be­cause the land is oc­cu­pied. Is­rael dis­putes this. More than 600,000 Is­raelis live in th­ese com­mu­ni­ties to­day. The res­i­dents rep­re­sent a pow­er­ful force in Is­raeli so­ci­ety.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment, un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, had called the set­tle­ments “il­le­git­i­mate” and “ob­sta­cles to peace.” It is not yet clear what the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will call them.

Pres­i­dent Trump, who says he wants to make “the deal of the cen­tury,” a per­ma­nent peace be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans, has cau­tioned Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu to go slow on build­ing in the West Bank while his ne­go­tia­tors, led by his son-in-law, Jared Kush­ner, ex­plore the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Still, Ne­tanyahu has an­nounced plans to build thou­sands of new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The U.N. en­voy for the Mid­dle East re­ported a “sub­stan­tial in­crease” in re­cent months, nearly 4,000 new units and 2,000 new ten­ders for con­struc­tion.

Ne­tanyahu re­cently posted a pho­to­graph on his Twit­ter feed an­nounc­ing that con­struc­tion of Amichai had be­gun.

The prime min­is­ter boasted in an ear­lier news re­lease, “There wasn’t and there won’t be a gov­ern­ment bet­ter for the set­tle­ments than our gov­ern­ment.”

Ne­tanyahu promised, “We are build­ing in all parts of the coun­try, we are do­ing it with de­ter­mi­na­tion, along with be­ing me­thod­i­cal and wise.”

For now, the res­i­dents of Amona are liv­ing in stu­dent dorms at a field camp in the nearby set­tle­ment of Ofra, where many of them were orig­i­nally from be­fore they es­tab­lished Amona 20 years ago.

Elad Ziv, 47, is an ar­chi­tect with seven chil­dren. Six of them are liv­ing in bunk beds in a sin­gle room. He pointed to a sink. “That’s the kitchen.” He pointed to a desk piled with school books. “That’s the li­brary.”

Ziv is still up­set about their evic­tion from Amona and wary that the con­struc­tion of their new set­tle­ment will move for­ward. He blamed the Euro­peans, the Is­raeli left, Obama and oth­ers. He felt be­trayed by his own lead­ers.

“It should have never come to this,” he said. “We’re liv­ing like refugees.”

“Only the left wants a Pales­tinian state,” Ziv said. “The only thing the Pales­tini­ans ex­port is ter­ror.”

Peace Now, the Is­raeli an­ti­oc­cu­pa­tion group, called the new set­tle­ment “a sig­nif­i­cant blow to the two-state so­lu­tion” and said it sig­nals that the Ne­tanyahu gov­ern­ment has no in­ten­tion of reach­ing a deal with the Pales­tini­ans.

The res­i­dents of Amona are not go­ing any­where, they said. Ziv al­luded to the set­tling of the land by the tribe of Ben­jamin 3,000 years ago, to the ex­ile to Baby­lon, their Ro­man con­quest.

“This is our home,” Ziv said. “This is the most nat­u­ral place for us to be.”

“This is our home. This is the most nat­u­ral place for us to be.” Elad Ziv, 47, an Amichai set­tler

DU­SAN VRANIC/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Earth dig­gers break ground on Amichai, a West Bank set­tle­ment, on June 21. There are plans for 100 Jewish homes here — and many more in the sur­round­ing hills.

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