Ann observingThis week the whole EAPPI group is spending a week in Israel to get more (different) information. Some of our teams who live in the OPT don’t meet normal Israelis much. When I lived in Tulkarem, we only met soldiers and settlers. But here in Jerusalem we spend a lot of time with Israeli peace activists and also have the same odd assortment of personal friends you’d have anywhere. I’m fortunate enough to have my best friend from school here (we met 54 years ago). She married an Israeli and is a law professor at Hebrew University. Luckily we agree on the basics like the need to end the occupation and settlements. But she is constantly pulling me up on how things look from the Israeli side, and it makes me check my facts and opinions.

The first day we visit the Israeli settlement of Efrat. It’s part of the huge Etzion block several km inside the West Bank south of Bethlehem. The spokesperson, an American called Bob Lang, shows us the area. It’s a most beautiful spot set on five hills and the quality of life is clearly excellent. The plan is to extend onto two more hills eventually. Bob speaks openly about the tactic of placing caravans on the hilltops to secure possession to await permanent construction later. He’s a tiny bit worried about talk of settlement freeze but confident it will be got around somehow.

As we look at top notch nurseries, playgrounds, schools, libraries, community centres, Bob sets out his stall. He makes it clear he does not accept the West Bank is occupied territory; he refers to it by the Biblical names of Samaria and Judea. He believes all of what was Mandate Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, and the Golan Heights to Sinai is the Jewish homeland and theirs by right (viz the airport map). Thus, he confidently asserts the settlements are not illegal and the whole international community is wrong to claim that they are.

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