On August 10, 2012, away from the headlines, thirteen French-speaking families arrived at the West Bank settlement of Eli (pronounced Ali, but I’ll stick to the conventional English transliteration) and made it their new home. They came from Paris and Lion in France and Brussels in Belgium, after a two-year long period of preparation. Sixty French families already lived in this Zionist outpost; seven of them have already purchased houses in the settlement. “We experience this every year; every time it is equally touching,” said Yaakov Eliraz, head of the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, while receiving the new settlers.
What is really touching is the level of deceptiveness applied by all involved in the process. The United Nations Security Council, the International Court of Justice, and most countries (Israel being the obvious exception) agree that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to the West Bank. Thus, the occupier–Israel–cannot settle there, and all its settlements and outposts are illegal. Yet, Israel is bringing foreigners to settle in the West Bank. A heavily English-accented Hebrew characterizes the voices heard in most of the West Bank settlements, but here and there one can find expat colonies from France and other places. Most settlers discover the sad truth only after they reach their prison.
For many years, the immigration and absorption of Jews from the Diaspora into Israel was performed by the Jewish Agency for Israel, an organization founded by the State of Israel in 1948, as the legal successor of the Jewish Agency for Palestine. Over the years, its efforts to bring Jews to Israel met resistance abroad. Imagine France creating a state-agency with the open goal of bringing American citizens to settle down in France. Many countries disliked the idea. Now, imagine that France attempts to settle these American citizens in illegitimately occupied territories. This is not an activity a state can openly engage in it. Thus Israel changed tactic and went private.
While preparing this article I searched for contacts in Eli. I found them easily, and discovered also that the thriving community has roughly 700 families. Oddly, it is defined as a “city-settlement”. Israel went private and doesn’t mention anymore its “kibbutzim” and “moshavim.” Cities rule, Socialism is out. Yet, the details I found were astonishing. They read as a kibbutz list of contacts from the 1980s. It included a “mazkirut” (roughly “secretariat”), a “general secretary,” a “culture coordinator,” and an “absorption coordinator.” The Hebrew word used for “coordinator” is less democratic than the English one, technically translating as “the centralizer.” Moreover, the process scheduled for the new settlers was identical–even in terms–to what was practiced in the past by kibbutzim. I lived that; regardless their modern camouflage, I was watching Stalin’s comrades.
It is difficult to read the story and not feel grief for the new settlers. To a large extent they have been fooled by the State of Israel. For two years they met a representative from the state working through a voluntary association named “Klitat Kehilot Israel,” namely “Absorption of Israel’s Communities” in Hebrew, a private organization replacing Israel’s Jewish Agency on immigration activities. The association sends messengers to Jewish communities outside Israel and tries to convince the communities to move to Israel. The state offers them comfortable living conditions, help in finding jobs and learning the language, and an adoptive family that helps during the process of accommodation to the new culture. The Hebrew word for the person making the sales speech is “shaliach,” which means “messenger,” and, specifically, “apostle.” Not for the first time, Israel attempts to disguise its activities under a thin layer of distorted semantics. To Jews living in Christian countries, the use of the word “apostle” has a religious meaning which cannot be even remotely attributed to the State of Israel.
After such a process, the thirteen families traveled directly from Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport, to the nearby settlement. Eli is on a strategic spot. It is 38km north of Jerusalem along Road 60 and 35km from Gush Dan, Tel Aviv’s Metropolitan Area. It is located next to Shilo; even their names are related. Shilo’s was founded in 1974; it was among the first Jewish settlements in the West Bank. It occupies the site of Biblical Shilo, which was the capital of Biblical Israel before Jerusalem replaced it (see Joshua 18:1; Exodus chapters 25 and 26, 1 Samuel 3 and 4, and others). Ten years later, Eli was founded; it was named after the last High Priest in Shilo’s Temple.
“Tres bien!” they greeted the new place in their old language; it would take them a while to understand their error. The first sign something was wrong was the shape of the settlement. It occupied the top of a barren hill, and was surrounded by barbed wire, as most kibbutzim are. There were no trees, no obvious signs of an underlying culture and history. Was the wire aimed at keeping people in or out of the self-defined “city-settlement?” At first they laughed at this question. After a week, the place began looking as a jail. Nearby Jewish settlements looked all the same; no one offered any entertainment options. Visiting the nearby Palestinian towns was alluring, yet, impossible.
Then, there were no proper jobs. Some of them would work for the regional council, boring state-jobs that transformed them into state salary-men bound to the barren hill. Others found jobs in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, and were forced to make dangerous trips daily. They never knew if the IDF soldiers they met on the roadblocks along the way were protecting them, or just making sure they will reach the place where they produced taxes for the always-greedy government. Finally, they couldn’t speak with denizens. The linguistic distance was huge; even if understanding the words, when put together they made no sense. Locals were not notorious for their patience; after a while, conversations were limited to the strictly necessary.
Shortly after, they discovered the truth. They were in prison. They were owned by the State of Israel which had transformed them into international criminals, and was using them as pawns in a cruel game. On August 2012, thirteen French families arrived at Eli. They expanded the local French expats colony and kept speaking French. They tried to bake baguettes with local flour, but even this simple task was impossible. By Christmas they knew, Israel’s Apostle was false.