A report from the West Bank, Sept. 22
Day three of a reporting trip to the West Bank, based in Jerusalem. I’ve visited a number of new settlements, including Halamish, near Ramallah, and Itamar, outside Nablus, and Migron, a settlement where three settler homes were recently demolished by the Israeli government. I also observed a Palestinian rally held near Nabi Salih, which neighbors on Halamish. Activists from Nabi Salih, joined by a contingent of other Palestinian activists and their supporters, launced a “patrol,” a fleet of cars that will drive around the West Bank responding to reports of settler violence. In Itamar, there was a rally of young settlers, who gathered in front of the home of the Fogel family — where five settlers were killed by two Palestinians from the nearby village of Awarta. The children who survived now live in Halamish with their grandparents.
Nabi Salih and Itamar were orchestrated media events. In Nabi Salih, the IDF was on the scene, blocking access to a natural spring — which has been the focal point of conflict between Halamish and Nabi Salih. I was told that a group of settlers was using the spring, and the IDF had come to protect them. After the press event on the side of the road, I jumped into one of the Palestinian cars, blazoned with Palestinian flags, and joined a convoy driving through the stark hilly countryside.
Itamar was a bigger deal, with a much lager press turnout. I got there a bit early, before any of the young settlers arrived. The media gradually filtered in, including a wide range of international TV crews, satellite vans setting up dishes while there generators hummed, and very cool looking hipster international combat photographer types, who spent their time smoking, gossiping and grabbing shots of a group of young Orthodox kids who were sitting on top of a rock across the street from the Fogel house.
Soon a band of about 200 kids, most in their early teens and teens. They unfurled Israeli flags, while a van driven by some Hasidic men started to blast motivational Israeli folk techno dance chants to juice them up further. The marchers then paraded down the streets of Itamar, out the settlement gates, down the highway, stopping at a traffic circle on Rt. 60, right at the entrance to a Palestinian area leading toward Nablus. Soldiers kept an eye on things, and were working closely with the leaders of the march to keep it under control and to make sure the group stopped where they did.
Although there is a lot of talk about an upsurge of violence from either side, related to the Palestinian statehood bid in the UN, the settlements and Palestinian towns along highway 60 do not give the appearance of a tense area that’s about to explode. Checkpoints seem to be operating normally, and the military presence does not seem to be significantly increased.
After the Itamar rally, I caught a ride with a vanful of kids back to Itamar. I walked up the hill in the dark, passing by the quiet settler homes. I returned to my car, parked near the Fogel house. No one was there. The media had departed. The house stood empty, the small podium used for the rally pushed against a wall near the front door, where some toys and household items were still piled up. It was a strange moment, and I felt very sad.