Security in Disputed Territory

I spent Shabbat in Kochav Ya’akov, a yishuv, or settlement in the West Bank/Judea, close to Ramallah.  The landscape in this area is stunning — rocky rolling hills of green.  You can very clearly view the political landscape that so often makes headlines from this region of the world.  Most of the surrounding hilltops are dotted with either the orange-red rooftops of Jewish homes or the grey buildings and minarets surrounded by green light that characterize Arab towns.

Seldom have I been in regions so populated, yet so quiet.  In religious yishuvim, you barely see a car driving on Shabbat, except for the occasional security vehicle.  It’s safe for children to play outside and ride scooters in the street.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t problems.  Most of these settlements are surrounded by some sort of fence and have a large, manned security gate at the entrance, and as quiet as it is, I know they are there for a reason.  As picturesque as it is to see neighborhood children all running around in the local playground, the realization that if you run too far, you’ll end up at barbed wire is as much a foreign concept to me as being able to safely play in the street or to send a child to a neighbor unsupervised.

Yet it is a Shabbat experience unlike that you can experience elsewhere.  As we sat down to the Friday night festive meal, I knew that so was every other household in the entire community.  In all the places I have lived in the United States or even Jerusalem, most or many people still go buzzing about on their cellphones and in cars and Shabbat feels like a personal secret or something that stays inside the home.  There it pervades the entire atmosphere.

The expectation of many of readers, I’m sure, is that this place is filled with gun-toting radicals — political, religious or otherwise.  It’s the belief of many people I speak to Jerusalem, let alone the United States.  Kochav Ya’akov and yishuvim like it are places where further building is considered illegal by the Israeli government (and current building is considered illegal by many international authorities).  The political implications are one thing, but on a human, social level, it’s not the Wild, Wild West.

Pick a place that you think stands the most for peace and human rights – Berekely, Calif., Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, New York, The Hague?  None of them hold a candle to the warmth and family-centeredness of Kochav Ya’akov, Elon Moreh, or Efrat in the “occupied territories.”  No, I’m not scared to go, even if I have to travel there on a bulletproof bus.


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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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