American ideals draw U.S. citizens to settle in Israel’s West Bank

The Jewish settlement of Ephrat. Photo courtesy Michele Chabin
The Jewish settlement of Ephrat. Photo courtesy Michele Chabin

The Jewish settlement of Ephrat. Photo courtesy Michele Chabin

EFRAT, West Bank — When Mordechai Reich moved to this Jewish settlement seven miles south of Jerusalem in 1994, he wanted to study in a yeshiva, or seminary. He stayed in Efrat, once part of the biblical land of Israel, because he felt he could make a difference.

“For me, Israel is a young country where individual contributions add up to create significant change,” said Reich, a psychologist who immigrated here from New York. “In that sense it is a land of opportunity, just as America is. We integrate Israeli culture and American culture and the result is a strong culture.”

Mordechai Reich, an American-Israeli, moved to the West Bank because he felt he could make a difference. Photo courtesy Michele Chabin

Mordechai Reich, an American-Israeli, moved to the West Bank because he felt he could make a difference. Photo courtesy Michele Chabin

Today, Efrat is a suburban community with 10,000 residents, many of them Americans who have lived here for decades. U.S. citizens make up roughly 15% of the Jewish population in the West Bank, but only 2-3% of Israel’s overall citizenry, making them “strikingly over-represented” within the settler population, according to data released last week in Jerusalem   by Oxford University historian Sara Yael Hirschhorn.

Hirschhorn’s research profiling American settlers here shows 60,000 of Israel’s 200,000 to 300,000 U.S. citizens live in the West Bank. The territory remains at the heart of a four-decade dispute over competing claims to the land between Palestinians and Israelis. Many Israeli settlers have moved into certain areas, despite the government’s opposition.

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Many American immigrants who moved to the West Bank settlements say it was their upbringing in the United States that drew them here.

While “many people consider settlements a violation of Palestinian rights of sovereignty,” Hirschhorn said, American settlers “believe Jews should have the right to live wherever they want in the Holy Land and certainly anywhere under Israel sovereignty. To them, this is a deeply American vision.”

The Americans who immigrated to Israel, including those who moved to the West Bank after the 1967 Six-Day War, “were mostly young, single, highly educated, upwardly mobile, traditional but not necessarily Orthodox in religious practice,” the historian said.  “They were people involved and sympathetic to leftist social movements, such as the U.S. civil rights struggle.”

Today’s American immigrants tend to be older, married and more religious, she said.

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Hirschhorn noted that some American settlers have carried out “egregious acts of terror,” such as Brooklyn-born Baruch Goldstein, who shot to death 29 Muslim worshipers in a Hebron mosque in 1994. But others are spearheading Israeli-Palestinian dialogue groups.

250px-West_Bank__Gaza_Map_2007_Settlements“It cuts both ways. If my research has shown me anything it is that stereotypes are an unhelpful way of understanding the settler project, regardless of whether you are sympathetic or opposed to it,” Hirschhorn said.

Shlomo Fischer, an expert on Jewish extremism at the Jewish People Policy Institute, dispelled the view that American settlers are the ringleaders behind many Jewish attacks against Palestinians and non-Jewish institutions in recent years.

“My impression is that Americans are not disproportionately represented within the extremist population,” Fischer said. “In the past there have been some in the leadership with an American background but, in fact, most Americans who live on the West Bank, especially in places like Efrat, aren’t extremists. They live their lives according to American values.”

Oded Revivi, the mayor of Efrat, where English is preferred in many homes and synagogues, said his city’s many American immigrants often volunteer to act as spokespersons and goodwill ambassadors. “They host foreign groups and explain the reality we’re living in,” Revivi said.

They have also helped imbue Efrat, which was co-founded by American-born RabbiShlomo Riskin, with an American ethos.

“Ours is definitely a community where democratic processes and transparency are a priority and where there is a strong sense of civic responsibility and activism,” the mayor said. “Within our group of volunteers there are large numbers of Americans who lead and initiate projects.”

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Bobby Brown, 63, a New Yorker who moved to the nearby settlement of Tekoa in 1978, said there is no question that the American ideals he grew up with influenced his decision to move here.

“That feeling of pioneering, of encouraging people to reach their full potential in a new and exciting self-created community reflects everything we were taught about America’s beginnings and America’s greatness,” said Brown, a former adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The grandfather of 10 called it “an amazing thing” to be part of the first generation of modern Jews “who didn’t have to wish for a Jewish state because we had one. The only question was how we could contribute to the state with our presence.”

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Michele Chabin


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  • Ugh.

    American ideals such as manifest destiny and ethnic cleansing of native populations.

    The settlements are a failed attempt at colonialism which is far too untimely to pull off in this day and age. It only can work by removing Palestinians by force. Something Israel won’t do and shouldn’t try.

    The settlements must go if there is any chance of peace there.

  • Israel’s policies in the West Bank are very similar to other historical atrocities, such as U.S. policies (i.e. American values) toward Native American lands (drive them out, take the land and all its resources) and Apartheid South Africa’s policies toward the majority of that country (let them live in ghettos and we’re running things here). I lived in the West Bank for four years. Settlers are armed and dangerous. They harass Palestinian children, destroy olive orchards, tear down Palestinian homes whenever they want another road for themselves. They dress up like Arabs, drive into a Palestinian area and start shooting. They have the power and most of it comes from U.S. support. The truth will out a hundred years from now, as it always does in retrospect. Israel was an oppressive regime.

  • Their American Citizenship of settlers should be revoked and the billions of dollars sent by the US to the Israeli government cut off until there is a withdraw from the West Bank of Israel and its settlers . Little wonder the Arabs hate the US.

    We cannot afford to continue to underwrite these repressive regimes in the Middle East.

  • Screw off hippies its survival of the fittest and jews are clearly the fittest of the two as for the native american argument either give up your home to the local reservation population or shut up filthy hypocrits if it’s ok for America and every other nation to reap the benifits of their wars then it’s perfectly fine for israel to as well.

  • I am an American Indian and that tired old argument does not wash. We did not have the Hague Convention of 1907, nor did we have the UN Charter, and we certainly did not have the Geneva Conventions. The Palestinians have all of these things. If these Americans want to live in Israel, then go live there. But if you move to Palestine, it is illegally occupied by the state of Israel. See Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is a crime against humanity for an occupier state to move its population into occupied territory. You might recall that this is what the second world war was fought over. Think Germany and Poland.

    Israel declared its borders to be UNGA 181 borders, see the Israeli declaration of independence. These “Americans” are not upholding American values, we got an apology and casinos. And we are Americans. These illegal squatters are denigrating American values by participating in Israel’s illegal Apartheid.

    They should be stripped of their citizenships.

  • Oh suck it Michael the UN has no power and Geneva is just fancy toleit paper if you don’t like jews living on jewish won land then do something about it big man, bun remeber we jews have nuclear weapons we are not some backwards arab slum if you want to burn us be prepared for the rest of this crap hole planet to burn with us in nuclear fire! Cause if we jews can have our land from river to sea no one will have any land!!!! Never again means never again will jews how to the wishes of goy savages!

  • Sister, your final words betray your bias. It’s not surprising that you say Israel “was” as you list a link to Sabeel, an organization that denies Israel’s right to exist (once you get past their mealy-mouthed propaganda). I could make the same stereotypes you’ve given and say them about “The Arabs.” Asher unfortunately did the same with something about the “goy savages.” If you actually read the article, you might have missed the research that shows that US settlers in the West Bank — regardless of the wrongheadedness of the settlements in general — aren’t driving the terrorism and violence.
    And a note to the rest of the Israel haters: Nothing these settlers are doing justifies a revocation of citizenship. Learn the law then comment.

  • Larry-Hardly. My family was butchered in Hebron in 1929, and my Family had lived there long, long before either the Romans or the Arabs arrived. “Ethnic Cleansing” you make me laugh, Jews were ethnically cleansed fro Judea/Shomron, as well as East Jerusalem in 1948, and thousands of years of our residence there was wiped by the Jordanian Arabs, who moved large numbers of Arabs into these areas from Jordan. And no, there have been no forced marches of Arabs out of Judea/Shomron as there were forced marches of Jews in 1948.

  • Then there will be no peace. Jews are Indigenous to the Area, they have always been willing to share, but living in dhemmitude? Those days are done.

  • Sr. Elaine Kelley-your analogy sucks. Being both Hebronese Mizrahi and Lakota, I have to say, you haven’t a clue as to what you are talking about. Both are Indigenous, how do an Indigenous People not belong in their Ancestral homelands? You obviously know nothing of dhemmi laws, which are apartheid, nor Israel, which is most definite no apartheid, there are no codes of separation or “apartness” which are the hallmark of “Apartheid” societies. As for your other allegations? You are parroting a whole lot of propaganda-maybe you should go see for yourself, and quit libeling and bearing false witness against a whole People and their Homeland Nation-you have to ? whether the 1700 years of Jew-Hate the RCC and the Orthodox have fostered and taught since Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire hasn’t impacted a whole lot of gullible folks, and warped their cultural perspective, including yours.