Letter From a West Bank Settlement: "We are strong. We are steadfast. We are not going anywhere."
"There are no missiles fired into Tel Aviv from Judea and Samaria, because we are here," writes rabbi Eitan Levy, on what the region has suffered and settlers' commitment to be Israel's "front line."
When it comes to our views on the carnage in Israel and Palestine, most of us are captive to our chosen news feeds, programmed as they are not to deescalate the rhetoric but to whip up horror at what the "other side" is doing. I certainly am. Maybe you are too.
In an effort to look past today’s enraging video or questionable meme, I will occasionally be turning over my Substack to people who have differing points of view and experiences. Earlier posts include a participant at the pro-Palestinian rally in DC, and an Ivy League student whose early flirtation with radical ideas were fully torpedoed after October 7.
Today’s essay comes from Eitan Levy, whom I have never met but who contacted me last November when I was in Israel, wanting to “share my personal story about Iron Dome.” He contacted me again last week, after having read “Humanity is Hard. Protesting is Easy.”
“I cannot describe to you the level of violent rage I feel, sitting here protecting my children, 'between the river and the sea,'“ he wrote, from his home on the West Bank settlement of Tekoa, and that for the first time in a month, he and his wife had ventured into Jerusalem.
“I imagined escape routes, places to take cover at the restaurant, felt my belt to be sure I have the extra magazine for my Glock…”
I asked if he might expand on his thoughts of what it is like to be a settler in Israel during a time of war. His essay is below. I am grateful to Levy for allowing me to publish his thoughts and his family’s experiences.
And I am grateful to all of you. No paywall here so feel free to share. And to become a paid subscriber, it’s how the work gets done.
I wish you every good thing this Thanksgiving. Make more pie.
Judea and Samaria is a Protective Shell for Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, by Eitan Levy
When I was a Yeshiva student in Bat Ayin, about 17 years ago, a musician named Erez Levanon was stabbed to death while praying and communing with God in the nearby forest. A few months later, a young boy from the town was murdered with a machete. In 2011 the Fogel family was slaughtered in Itamar, children in their beds. The walls were festooned with blood. A few years ago a visibly pregnant woman was stabbed in the chest here in my town of Tekoa. Miraculously both she and the baby lived. She went on to join peaceful-coexistence discussions with local Palestinians, for which she received both praise and scorn. A few months ago three unarmed women from the Dee family of Efrat, a mother and two adult children were shot at point blank range along the Jordan Valley highway. These were all vicious murders of Jews by terrorists, associated in one way or another with the same network of extremists who committed the October 7th pogrom in the Gaza envelope communities. The only difference was the scale, and the political valence of their location. For those of us living in what we call ‘Judea and Samaria,’ there is nothing at all surprising about the brutality and bloodlust of our enemies. We know who they are and what they would like to do to us, if only given the chance. The only surprise was the incompetence and blindness of our own leaders. How did they not know?
I made Aliyah, moving to and becoming a citizen of Israel in 2006, just a few months after Israel forcefully removed 8000 Jews from their homes in Gaza. Part of the rationale for doing this was because a significant number of soldiers were injured and killed protecting them over the years. Ariel Sharon guaranteed the people of Israel that if we unilaterally withdrew this would give us international legitimacy to fight like lions against the slightest cross border provocation and no soldiers would die. But the goodwill lasted months, not years. Within two years the enclave was regularly shooting missiles into Israel and was run by Hamas, a terrorist organization dedicated not to Palestinian freedom but to the annihilation of worldwide Jewry as a first step toward an Islamic caliphate. I have only lived in an Israel under the shadow of Palestinian terror. But while Gaza festered, turning the area into a porcupine of missiles and tunnels, and collected weapons and training, the area I live in, Judea and Samaria (AKA the West Bank), has avoided these pitfalls.
Because of the presence of Jews living in the area, we have regular day to day interactions with local Arabs. We employ them (or did until October 7th) building our homes, working in our fields, and much else. This personal contact has a deradicalizing effect, and enables the army and intelligence services to develop human assets. This more granular level of intelligence, and the ability to easily send troops into the Arab towns and cities to arrest terrorists, prevents a buildup of large arms such as missiles, and to learn about and prevent most major terror attacks. We stand guard over Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, making a coordinated air and ground assault from Judea and Samaria impracticable.
We see ourselves as pioneers, on the front line, defending our country and holding on to the Biblical heartland, which the Jewish people yearned to return to en-masse for thousands of years. We are the indigenous people of this land, whose holidays fit with the seasons, whose holy book and ancient stories tell of each rock and tree and hilltop, who speak the language found on coins minted by our ancestors as they fought the Roman Empire before being murdered, sent into slavery, and exiled from our land. Many empires fought over and ruled this land. One empire, the Ottomans, ruled the area for 400 years. Then the British empire for a mere 20, ending in the Arab community of Palestine refusing a state of their own twice, in 1937 and again in 1947 and instead choosing the path of annihilation of the Jews. Little has changed in this ongoing, hundred year war.
My view of our current circumstances may be a bit different from yours. From my hilltop I see Bethlehem, a city of thousands. And though I know most individuals would like to simply go about their lives, and I even have friends there, I also know that if I were not defended by the IDF, large cohorts of them would gladly rape my wife, smash my children’s heads with their boots, and hack my head off with my own rusty garden spade. For those so inclined, the 1967 borders are irrelevant. The PLO was founded before 1967, when the ‘West Bank’ and Gaza were ruled by Egypt and Jordan respectively, and they did not demand independence from their ‘brothers’ in those countries. The terrorist threat is equal to all Israelis. That is the lesson of October 7th. The communities massacred (and that is a polite word for what happened) were inside the borders of 1948 Israel. They were largely left wing, ‘pro-peace’ communities, including one of the heads of ‘Peace Now’ who was brutally murdered. But the presence of those communities provided some buffer between Gaza and the cities to the North. That is why they are called the ‘Gaza Envelope’ communities.
The Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria serve the same role, except much more effectively in a much more complex context, for Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, both of which are within easy sight of Arab towns on the other side of the Green Line. There are no missiles fired into Tel Aviv from Judea and Samaria, because we are here. There are no mass invasions of guys in trucks with machine guns, because we are here. And although the world keeps promising us peace if we just make some more ‘gestures’ to our enemies, what we continue to receive, after 30 years of Oslo and its offspring, is rivers of avoidable Jewish blood. And that international goodwill has not materialized either.
It may be hard to believe I’m somewhat of a moderate in my community. I would be willing, in theory, to consider a Palestinian state, and even dismantling settlements, if it meant an end to the conflict and true peace with our neighbors. But experience has shown that with the exception of negotiations with strong states such as Egypt and Jordan to whom we have proven in battle that we cannot be defeated, anything we give to our enemies is seen as a sign of weakness. When we left Southern Lebanon, it led to the second Lebanon war. When we gave the Palestinians autonomy in the cities of the territories and offered them a state it led to the Second Intifada. When we pulled out of Gaza it led to a decade and a half of missile barrages and culminated in October 7th and the current war.
The ‘resistance’ believes we are foreigners, and that the entire state of Israel will disappear, either in a river of blood or that we will give up and leave as the French eventually abandoned Algeria. But we are just as convinced as they are that this country, the whole thing from the river to the sea, belongs rightfully to us. We are strong. We are steadfast. We are not going anywhere. The violence against us is nothing new in Jewish history. In fact it is one of the few constants. But despite the current difficulties and the knowledge that we may need to stand strong for many future generations against a sea of hate, I thank God for the gift of living at this time, where we have an army and a state which can fight back. Peace can come only through victory. May our enemies be defeated, our captives brought home safe and sound in body and soul, and may all peoples come to pray to God together at his holy mountain in Jerusalem soon in our days.
— Rabbi Eitan Levy, Tekoa, Israel, Eitanlevy.substack.com