Travel to West Bank: Israeli Settlements
The tragedy of the West Bank--the goad and thorn--is that Palestinians not only suffer from military occupation but see their country steadily lost to ever-growing Israeli settlements. Ironically, it is job-hungry Palestinians who actually build those settlements, which have been expanding since the late 1970s.
The gate to Metzad, a small settlement northeast of Hebron. The gate itself is strictly standard-issue, identical to the gates at almost every Israeli settlement on the West Bank. It's power operated and controlled from the guardhouse.
Metzad again. The fencing is impressive but atypical. Most West Bank settlements are now so old that the original chain-link fencing, though topped with barbed wire, is hardly a serious barrier.
The settlements stand in stark juxtaposition to the surrounding Palestinian villages--and usually on strategic hilltops overlooking them. Here, Betar Illit stands on a ridge overlooking an orchard belonging to Nahalin, a village southwest of Bethlehem. Relations between the two are not good. The Palestinians see the settlement and think of how their land was stolen; in conversation, residents of the settlement will casually dismiss Nahalin as an "Arab village," so generic that they scarcely remember its name.
A lawn behind a home in Betar Illit. In the distance is Nahalin, at the foot of the Judean Plateau. The pine forests on the distant slopes are part of Gush Etzion, the first post-1967 settlement.
El'azar, part of Gush Etzion, rises above terraces belonging to villagers from El Khadr. The valley is the Wadi el-Biyar, "the valley of wells." The name refers to ancient Roman shafts sunk to a tunnel that once carried water north to Solomon's Pools.
A Roman road winds along a hilltop north of Nev'e Daniel, whose watertower dominates the skyline. Villagers from El Khadr tend the vineyards on either side of the ancient road.
Most settlements begin like this, with rows of mobile homes. Years later, permanent housing may be built.
Sometimes, the mobile homes stay in use for a long time.
Over the hump: simple but permanent housing, with flowers and children.
The high end: a backyard at Har Gilo, high above Bethlehem and with a superb view west toward the Mediterranean.
A Jordan Valleys settlement: simple, but by Israeli standards offering room to breathe.
The Jordan Valley settlement of Almog relies heavily on vacationers, who rent cottages by the day.
In 1999, construction continued in Almog.
Within a few years, gardens will make the new homes attractive.
It looks like drab public housing anywhere, but this is the standard apartment building at Kiryat Arba, the settlement adjoining Hebron.
Another detail from Kiryat Arba. Nowhere in Palestinian Hebron is there anything as green as this--or as reliably served by water mains.
A playground at Tekoa. In the background rises Herodion, atop whose modified slope Herod built a palace where he supposedly is buried. The frontier atmosphere is strong in settlements like these, detached from the more populous settlement blocks farther west.
You'll look a long time before you see anything like this in a Palestinian village.
Ariel is probably the only West Bank settlement with an outdoor swimming pool.
The Dead Sea, on an unusually clear day, looms behind Ma'aleh Adumim, a settlement east of Jerusalem--and the West Bank's biggest. The town was in the world press in 1999, when a Burger King franchisee led the company to believe that the settlement was in Israel, not the West Bank. A threatened worldwide boycott of Burger King got the company's attention, and the Burger King went away.
Ephrata, the biggest Gush Etzion settlement.
Housing at the north end of Ephrata. The picture was taken from a road used by the residents of Wad er-Rihal, a small village afraid that the growth of Ephrata will sever their link to Bethlehem.
A boundary marker, poignant because Ephrata marches inexorably northward over lands that Palestinians insist is theirs. The signs and structures in the background are part of the continuing spread of the settlement.
Most settlers commute to jobs in Israel, especially Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Most often, they travel by public bus, here escorted to Hebron's Kiryat Arba by a jeep. The metal screen on the front window is commonplace, a way of protecting the bus from rocks. Settlers often replace the original windows of their private cars with thick plexiglas ones.
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