Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ask Chaviva Anything: A Life Illegal?

This is going to be a rather tense edition of Ask Chaviva Anything, simply because of the nature of several questions I have received in recent weeks. The first one is easy, and then come the tough, emotional, complicated ones.
How did you choose Neve Daniel? 
This is an easy question. In my past visits to Israel, I've been able to experience the Golan (northern Israel), Jerusalem, Ramat Bet Shemesh, Neve Daniel, Tel Aviv, and Caesaria. Since moving here, I've also experienced a few other small, beautiful towns and neighborhoods. When I first moved to Israel, I was utterly pleased to live in Jerusalem in the Nachlaot neighborhood, because of its proximity to the shuk, centrality in Jerusalem, and the vibe of the neighborhood.

Mr. T, too, lived in Nachlaot until the beginning of November. Yes, we've wondered whether in those few short weeks I was living in Nachlaot whether our paths ever happened to cross.

That being said, when you meet someone amazing and decide to get married, you want a place that can and will be all your own -- a place that is "yours" as a collective couple. My apartment in Nachlaot was a shoebox, and Mr. T's apartment was (unfortunately) falling apart and not a place that we felt like we could be a "we." Thus, moving.

Why Neve Daniel? The short answer has two components: It is absolutely freaking beautiful there, and the bulk of my closest friends in Israel live there. (They call it Har HaBloggerim -- mountain of bloggers -- for a reason.) Lucky for me, Mr. T is an absolute dream and wanted to be in a place that made me happy, where we could be happy together. Neve Daniel is most perfect for what we need and where we are right now. They're even building a Beit Knesset right across from where we live!

Now ... the following are actually two different questions from two different people at two different times, but I've combined them for ease of answering.
How do you justify moving to a settlement that is considered to be in violation of international law? || I agree with you that the west bank in general, and the gush in particular, as stunning, and have a very special feel to them, and some lovely people living there.  But does it bother you to live in a place where there are two sets of rules for two groups of people, with unequal access to roads, water, healthcare, and civil protections under the law?
I knew this question was coming, and to be completely honest I haven't spent much time thinking about it. I've found that a lot of people outside of Israel don't necessarily understand what a "settlement" is in Israel. Many people think of caravans or tents or people living in trailers -- not the community in which I'm now living where the homes are built, completely permanent, where there is infrastructure, and a complete sense of permanent living. That being said, I think some history is necessary here.

Neve Daniel was established in 1982 on the site of the Cohen Farm -- which itself was founded in 1935 on lands purchased by Jews from an Arab village. In 1943, the land was transferred to the Jewish National Fund, abandoned during the Arab riots, and remained under Jordanian control until 1967. By this account, the land is Jewish-owned, period.

The question about legality comes from Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war, which says,
"The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territories it occupies."
So my first question here is whether we're currently in a "time of war." My second question arises from the fact that no "state" held exact control over Judea and Samaria/the West Bank prior to 1967 anyhow.  According to the 1935 purchase and 1943 transfer, the land which Neve Daniel occupies is Jewish-owned. If we're neither at war nor was the area controlled by one state from which Israel then "occupied," then this isn't problematic.

As for the question about the inequality of access and lifestyle, I have to say that I just don't see it. Almost daily I ride through the checkpoints, I shop at the grocery store with Arabs and Jews alike, I travel the same roads, I live the same life, except I cannot enter certain places because I am Jewish -- like Bet Lechem, for example. The giant warning signs are explicit: It's dangerous to enter these Arab towns for Jews. There is no sign at the entrance to Neve Daniel telling Arabs not to come in out of danger to their lives, and you won't find one at any entrance to any "Jewish" town in the Gush either. (Lots of Arabs come in to Neve Daniel every day for work, at that.)

At Tzomet HaGush (near Neve Daniel where the grocery store and several other shops are), I park side-by-side with Arabs. We wait in the same checkout lines. We buy the same groceries. We ask the same questions. We travel the same roads home. In Jerusalem, we wait in the same waiting rooms, drink coffee at the same cafes, get annoyed at the same bank tellers, and run to catch the same buses.

It isn't a life apart like you think. Take, for example, the fact that Beitar -- the Jerusalem soccer team -- has Muslim players on its team, but the team they're playing this evening is a Muslim-only team. It's like Bet Lechem, precisely.

Of course, we could argue about it until we're blue in the face. This is simply my perspective, and this is my experience in nearly four months here and several years visiting the country. There are people who want all Arabs to die, to occupy every last inch of this small land, and who treat Arabs and Muslims like rats rather than people. Guess what? I'm not one of those people. I believe in an equal opportunity to succeed, to be happy, and to live life. But I also know my history, my politics, and I know that so much of what the world sees of Israel is either not based in fact or is based in fact and skewed. I know that Arab nations have rejected those who call themselves Palestinians and only acknowledge them when it serves a greater purpose for Arab and Muslim nations. They're a pawn, and it's disappointing and depressing. Israel does more for Palestinians than any of the nations of Arabs, period.

I'm debating whether to leave comments open on this post. I think, against my better judgment, I'm going to leave them open. Be kind, but be honest and realistic if you want to comment, please. I have no interest in fighting with anyone about this subject. I do, however, appreciate intelligent discussions that stick to productive dialogue.

Side note: The name "Neve Daniel" comes from the name of a bend in the road southwest of Bet Lechem where a convoy bringing supplies to Gush Etzion was ambushed in 1948. According to reports, 15 Jews were killed, 73 wounded, and tons of supplies and vehicles were destroyed when Arabs blocked the roads and swarmed the Jewish convoy.