MARCI OSTER: You are living Jewish history when you live out here. And look at this view. You can’t get this anywhere. You can’t get this in the center of Israel where you can’t afford the housing anyway. I mean, this is . . . this is spectacular.
ORLY HALPERN: That’s Marci Oster. She’s a religious Jew and a mother of five who moved to the West Bank from Cleveland, Ohio. She’s taking me around the American neighborhood of the settlement. There are two-story homes, neat lawns. Everyone speaks English. It reminds her of back home.
OSTER: We love it here. We love the English-speaking community. We wanted to live the way we lived in America.
But she and other religious Jews have another reason for living here in the Palestinian territories.
OSTER: We view this, obviously, as land that was given to the Jews by God and therefore we have a right to live here.
Many native, secular Israelis also moved their families here. The Israeli government gave housing grants and great mortgage interest rates in order to encourage Jews to come and settle on the Palestinian territories.
But that all changed in 2000, when the second intifada broke out. Palestinians wanted settlers out. They shot at their cars, made suicide bomb attacks inside their communities. Many, like Sarah Ventura who moved here in 1989, want to leave.
SARAH VENTURA: Since there was a terror attack at the shopping center, we live in fear. And there is still stone-throwing. Just two weeks ago they threw stones on the car of someone from my work. So we just don’t know what to do anymore.
Sarah and her husband Tsuri bought their 262-square-foot apartment for $73,000. Now it’s worth only $30,000. As violence rose, prices dropped.
Then last year the Kadimah Party ran and won on a platform to withdraw settlements from the West Bank and leave the land for a Palestinian state. The government was going to compensate settlers for their homes, but has since reneged on the plan forcing Sarah and her husband to stay and wait.
Beni Raz, a bus driver and a semi-professional singer, is tired of waiting. He’s pushing the Israeli parliament to pass a bill to compensate settlers who leave voluntarily. He calls it the One House Movement.
BENI RAZ: I need help from people to push the government to do something with the Palestinians so it will be more easy for me to get out.
Beni hasn’t gotten much support for his bill, and his movement has made him very unpopular with some of his neighbors. The religious and ideological ones don’t ever want to move, and they’re worried that Beni’s plan will provoke the government to remove all the settlers out. But Beni keeps trying because he feels like he doesn’t have a choice.
RAZ: I bought the house here [for] $120,000 and today my house costs only $50,000. What can I do with $50,000 and four kids? I can’t buy even one room.
Beni was recently fired from his singing and bus-driving jobs and now he’s looking for work outside the settlement. In the meantime he waits, like Sarah and Tsuri, until the government agrees to close down the settlements — a day that Marci and her religious neighbors hope never comes.
OSTER: If the government told me I had to pick up and leave, I would do that. I might not agree with it, and I certainly hope I would get fair compensation for my home, but I would do it.
For now, the Israeli government has taken the divisive issue off its agenda and says it won’t discuss it at the U.S.-backed peace summit this coming Monday.
In Karnei Shomron, I’m Orly Halpern for Marketplace.
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