Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Road To Beit El

"In the good old days, before the peace process," Baruch, sitting on the bus next to me, tells me, "I could stop for coffee in Ein Yabrud."

It's a sentiment I hear every time I visit a settlement, and it always starts with, "Before the peace process..." There were no checkpoints or suicide bombings. We did business with the Arabs. We went to eachothers weddings. We were neigbors, not enemies.

Today, on our way to the Jewish community of Beit Elwe roll along in the armored bus. Bus window photography is a lot harder when it's through half-inch thick bullet proof glass.

On the Bus: The usual settler crowd

Proceeding from the bus station, back through my neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev, and down the hillside, we pass through the Hizma checkpoint and out into Injun country. Heading north, we pass the turnoff for Kochav Ya'akov and reach the Beit El intersection.
The Main Turnoff

"We used to drive from Jerusalem straight through Ramallah to Beit El. We could be here in fifteen minutes." Today a twisting, looping road carefully weaves away from Arab villages through the gullies and across the hillsides, finally bringing Jewish travellers to their final destination in forty minutes.

Beit El was first mentioned in the Bible in the book of Bereishit (Genesis.) While fleeing his brother Esav (Esau) after taking his blessing, Yaakov (Jacob) stopped in this location, placed his head on a large stone, and fell into a prophetic sleep. In his dream, he was blessed by God with the inheritance of the land of Israel, then commanded to continue on his way, to leave Eretz Yisrael and go into exile for a time, there to meet his wives and begin building the first Jewish family.

The modern Jewish community of Beit El lies northeast of the Arab city of Ramallah.
Beit El and environs
Ninety years ago, when the British Empire took control of this area, Beit El was used as a military base to maintain control of the Arab population here. Later, when the British left and the Jordanians occupied the area, they used it for the same purpose. When the Israelis, in the process of repelling Jordan's attack in 1967, ended up in posession of this area, they put it to use for the same purpose. Today, the area sill boasts a sizeable arms depot and training area.
Older army storage depots
Driving from stop to stop in the settlement, looking at the various clusters of trailers, army structures, and built up areas gives Beit El the feel of a loosely confederated archipellageo of neighborhoods.
Some newer, isolated trailers at the intersection with the bypass road.
Like most settlements in the area, Beit El includes a half-hearted security fence. There are the rolls of barbed wire and fences, but nothing a good wire cutter couldn't make short work of. Like any isolated town, the best defence is considered surveilence, guard duty, and, of course, a good offense.
There's a motorized gate, but I could probably jump the fence.
After five or six stops, with soldiers dropping off at the army base, and others leaving at various trailer clusters or small neighborhoods, we finally arrive at the built up area. Rows of neat, red-roofed villas, parks, and gardens. Most yards are strewn with the sunbleached plastic toys and decaying bicycles typical of the settler families with so many children they don't know what to do. Outside the houses stand rows of olive groves and terraced vineyards. A very productive and reproductive town.
Meanwhile, I meet up with the rest of the guys from the yeshivah at Rabbi Listman's house.
The Rabbi directs people to the families they will be staying with for Shabbat.
Some of the guys have flowers for the families they will be visiting.
There are a few hours before Shabbat, so I drop off my bag and head out for some photography.

More from Beit El soon, so stay tuned...

Yours truly, Bir Zeit in the background.


Ephraim said...

Glad you liked 'em! More coming. I'll tell you about Lorelai offline. K? I don't normally blog about such things (my "Almost but Not Quite" post was an exception, but I was careful not to use real peoples' names.

Yaakova said...

I'm glad you chose yeshiva instead of ulpan (for now), but for a totally selfish reason: if you were studying in ulpan, we readers wouldn't get so many great posts and pics of areas all over Israel!!
As always, they're much appreciated. :)