How to live in the West Bank with no Hebrew

How to live in the West Bank with no Hebrew

For the JC December 2018

The mayor of one of the biggest settlements in the West Bank, Efrat, has belied the stereotype of “settler image” by speaking out strongly against Israel’s security wall and also calling for “those behind the ‘price tag’ violence to be put behind bars”. (Price tag attacks are acts of violence carried out against Palestinians and said to emanate from fundamentalist Jews).

Lawyer Oded Revivi, the Efrat mayor, made his comments last week as a group of international Jewish journalists toured areas in the West Bank and met Danny Tirza, the so-called “architect” of the separation wall,

Revivi, now serving his third term as mayor after first being elected in 2008, is also chief foreign envoy of the Yesha council, the umbrella group representing all the West Bank settlements. He is a hugely popular political figure in the area, urbane and charming with fluent colloquial English.

Efrat itself is 35 years old and is deliberately not protected by any part of the security fence. Revivi, though a member of the Likud party, is a strong believer in co-existence with the town’s Palestinian neighbours. And this is not just talk: every week, he discloses, three volunteers from the nearby Palestinian village of Husan, once a hotbed of anti-Jewish violence, come to Efrat to teach Arabic to children and adults.

As a result of negotiations dating from 2013, building permits in the territories were first frozen and then gradually issued in response to each batch of Palestinian prisoner releases. The effect on Efrat has been dramatic, with a 60 per cent population growth, which has naturally meant more schools and other facilities being built, as well as residential homes.

“Many of the newcomers are second generation Efratis who previously could not find housing here”, says Revivi, adding that property in Efrat is now more expensive than in some less well-off Jerusalem neighbourhoods. But there are also English-speaking incomers, so numerous that Revivi notes with amusement that it is possible to be born, live and die in Efrat without speaking a word of Hebrew.

Perhaps it is they who give the town and its mayor its “soft” liberal outlook. But Revivi, sadly acknowledging that “conflict is the most permanent resident in the region”, is nevertheless a tough cookie who declares that the settlements are “there to stay”, and that any future peace agreement will have to take that into account.

Just the same, he says, “fences [and walls] create a sense of security, but they don’t actually provide security, and there are no shortcuts when you are trying to build relationships with people”. Revivi, who, one suspects, has political ambitions beyond Efrat, also thinks that politicians in Israel “are not giving good enough answers” to the many questions people have about life in the West Bank. He tells the JC that he believes the security wall should be dismantled altogether, and that “bridges” should be built in the area, not walls.

Turning to the vexed issue of price tag attacks, Revivi admits they are “very problematic.” He believes that the majority of settler leaders condemn price tag violence, but adds: “We asked the security forces to put the people responsible behind bars, but they say they don’t have a clue who is doing it”. He growls: “Whoever it is needs to be caught and sent for trial.”

On the face of it, Revivi has little in common with Danny Tirza, a retired IDF colonel who served both Rabin and Ehud Barak before becoming “wall man”, with responsibility for planning and placing not just the security wall itself, but also new roads and checkpoints.

Tirza’s unenviable job has included asking for the checkpoint buildings to be designed with an open flap in the roof, so that in the event of a suicide bombing, any blast will evaporate upwards and outwards, saving the lives of those still inside the structure.

And yet even Tirza, who runs a team of cartographers and structural engineers, admits: “I don’t regard the wall as a permanent structure”. He points upwards to the top of the nine-metre high stone slabs which form the security wall near the Rachel’s Tomb checkpoint, outside Bethlehem. “You see those circular holes at the top? We call those the ‘holes of hope’. They are there so that as soon as the decision is taken to dismantle the wall, cranes can move in and hook each segment away, and we put the holes there precisely in order to make it easier for them to be removed.”

  • 14 December, 2018