The entrance to the house where the Fogel family lived – until the brutal attack which consumed the lives of Udi and Ruth, and three of their small children – is still decorated with the note joyously announcing the recent birth of Hadas who, at three months, was the youngest Israeli victim on that fateful Shabbat evening.
I don’t entertain notions that my brief time in the Israeli Yishuv called Itamar,and conversations with the community Rabbi, Moshe, and his wife, Leah, could possibly provide a full picture of what life is like in this community of 1,000 – the vitality, nuance, and day-to-day rhythm which only those who call the place home can ever really accurately describe – but one thing is for certain: While reasonable people can certainly disagree on the broader social and political implications of such communities across the green line, as with so much of what passes for reporting from Israel, the frequent and, at times, horribly callous pejorative depictions of those who choose to live here have almost no resemblance to reality.
In listening to Moshe and Leah – who, in their late 40s, are young grandparents – speak of Itamar, the Yishuv that’s been their home for 27 years, what they quite emphatically spoke of was not enmity towards the perpetrators of the grisly attacks on Friday, no calls for revenge, but simply their love for their country, the spiritual significance of the area (Itamar lies very close to Schechem, where Joseph was buried), and their belief in their right to live there, consistent with their desire to live in a Torah-observant community.
“Hard-line”, “fanatical”, and “extreme” – language carelessly, and lazily, employed in the service placing the rich, nuanced, complicated and passionate lives of the residents of Itamar in a way conveniently consistent with one’s political edifice – represents nothing but dehumanizing hyperbole, and serves often to assuage the empathy and natural inclinations towards moral outrage over the suffering of “the other”. Such words are often little more than name-calling, malicious invectives masquerading as journalism and polemical meditation.
One of the common questions – political litmus tests – most frequently posed by acquaintances back in the U.S., since I moved to Israel, is how I feel about the “settlers”.
Though I really never had a short and pithy reply for my interlocutors, I’m certainly now prepared to give a sincere and honest, though far less than exhaustive, answer: They are more than political abstractions and, whatever my thoughts about the decision to build and expand such communities, I will not be party to their demonization.
They are, simply, fellow citizens in the nation I love, and the place I now call home.