One place, two names

The dueling narriatives of Judea and Samaria, and the West Bank

By Ryan Ariel Simon

Yisrael Medad, an unofficial spokesman of the settler movement and Shiloh settlement believes strongly that Jews have a right to live in what they call Judea and Samaria.

JERUSALEM (June 9)  – Yisrael Medad stands on a grassy hill, almost the tallest, save one shouldering the town yeshiva, affording almost a 360 degree view of the area surrounding Shiloh settlement.

He was born in New York, but now considers this home. There is a problem however; Palestinians consider it part of their future state, and, along with much of the international community, consider this town illegal.

Anan Atteerah lounges comfortably in the leather chair in her air-conditioned office, discussing the improvements in the city of Nablus over the past several years, as aides bring tea and coffee.

The biggest challenge to doing her job as the deputy governor of the Nablus area: the continued aggression of Israeli settlers in the area, she said.

“This used to be the political and economic center for the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Palestinian National Authority,” says Atteerah, “but those institutions, along with the Palestine’s largest university, were targeted by occupation during the second Intifada.”

She spoke from a temporary office because the PNA/PLO headquarters was demolished during the Israeli Army’s 2002 incursion into Nablus.

The Jewish settlement of Shiloh in "Judea and Samaria," biblical names for what is now called the West Bank. The International Community considers it illegal, the settlers say Jewish history gives them a right to live there.

Mentioned in the bible as a place where the tabernacle once sat, the Shiloh settlement, which sits halfway between Nablus and Ramallah, began in 1978 with 8 families and currently houses over 300 according to Medad, who also acts as an unofficial spokesman for the settler movement.

It greatly bothers him that a whole generation has been brought up to think that settlements, or “communities” as Medad calls them are illegitimate, and illegal.

He called it a “deliberate attempt to dilute Jewish attachment to and connection to land,” and an expansion of the attempt at “ethnic cleansing of Jews, by Arabs before 1948.”

Since the loss of sovereignty 2000 years ago, there were few years where Jews didn’t live in small numbers all over Judea and Samaria, said Medad, using the ancient term for the West Bank.

He related the story of Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, born in Jerusalem, who Medad says is the direct descendant of Lithuanian immigrants to then Ottoman Palestine in 1810.

When asked if he would consider living in a Palestinian state, Medad responded, “if a Palestinian state is created and my security could be insured.”

“Jews, to the extent they choose to stay and live in the state of Palestine, will enjoy those rights and certainly will not enjoy any less rights than Israeli Arabs enjoy now in the state of Israel,” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad said in response to a question from former CIA director James Woolsey at the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival as reported in Haaretz.

Israeli Jews living in the West Bank however, have far from an amicable relationship with nearby Palestinian villages, though Medad said they were friendly prior to the first intifada in 1987.

B’Tselem, which documents incidents throughout the West Bank, also documented clashes following the dismantling of an illegal settlement outpost in 2008, including settlers who threw stones at Palestinian vehicles at the Shiloh intersection.

Following a 2001 Palestinian attack on a car resulting in the death of an infant, “Shiloh settlers rioted inside the villages for several hours, shooting and damaging property,” according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

Violence against settlers is almost non-existent today partially because of the Palestinian police, and partially because of an improved economy, according to Medad.

In Nablus however, Anan Atteerah complains about daily incidents involving the settlers in the area, and asked the Israeli soldiers to do their job, instead of “mostly protecting settlers and shooting Palestinians,” she said.

Israel continues to confiscate land for the settlers who are becoming increasingly extremist; cutting the olive trees around Nablus, or setting fire to trees, mosques, and even a school, according to Atteerah.

Nablus is a focal point for settlers partially because of the location of Joseph’s Tomb, a holy site in Judaism.

In April, several cars of settlers, who are required to coordinate visits to the site and usually do so, entered without permission and attempted to brake through a Palestinian police checkpoint, Haaretz reported.

Palestinian police opened fire on the cars, killing Ben-Joseph Livnat, 25, nephew of Israeli Culture and Science Minister Limor Livnat.

Atteerah for her part condemns violence like the “cold blood killing of the family in Itamar,” referring to the murder of four members of the Fogel family, but notes that Nablus residents have in the recent past lived under terror and aggression.

She complained about the lack of freedom of movement, explaining that she worked in Ramallah while living in Nablus but couldn’t get to work because of the Hawara checkpoint just outside the city.

She responded curtly when asked whether Jews or Israelis would be allowed to live in a future Palestinian state, she said they would have to apply for residency or citizenship like everyone else, and that “people who had bad records wont be welcomed.”

Her voice exasperated after detailing strains produced by Israeli occupation; the psychological toll on Palestinians, strain on the government’s finances and infrastructure, Atteerah said simply, “people manage.”

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