In The New York Times today, we learn all about the West Bank settlements of Modiin Illit and Beitar Illit, as well as, potentially, the unique opportunity they offer in potential negotiations. Why are these settlements different from all other settlements? For one thing, they are populated by ultra-Orthodox Jews with no particular religious or ideological attachment to settling the West Bank; they live there because housing is cheap and their community can function outside of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’s more secularized precincts. Additionally, the two communities together account for half of all West Bank settler growth. “If removed from the equation,” the authors write of the settlements’ tens of thousands of residents, “the larger settler challenge takes on more manageable proportions.” Not only that: the settlements are located just on the other side of the Green Line, meaning that their absorption into Israel proper as part of a final deal would present comparatively minor logistical challenges.
Reading the article and watching the accompanying video one is struck by how little these haredim conform to the traditional image of the settler. Strikingly, this distinction is apparent even to the Palestinian villagers of nearby Bilin, where “the settlers over the fence are viewed as different from the Jewish nationalists in, say, Hebron.” That said, these settlers’ ideological flexibility does not lessen “the harm to the villagers caused by the very existence of Modiin Illit and the contest over its land.” (indeed, in the video, we learn that Bilin’s zucchini and cucumber crop is affected by the settlements’ sewage runoff). This truism, that the land is the land no matter the beliefs of those living on it, does somewhat undercut the “hope” alluded to in the article’s headline.