Ulpana High School, Where Settler Girls Go to Become 'Real Men'

Religious Zionist is filled with students willing to sacrifice themselves for the Greater Land of Israel.

Chaim Levinson
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Chaim Levinson

"A girls school of real men," they sometimes call the small ulpana in the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Levona, headed by Rabbi Gad Ben-Zimra.

The religious Zionist middle school and high school won its nickname from its students' incredible willingness to sacrifice themselves for the Greater Land of Israel - setting up illegal outposts, refusing to move in the face of police assaults, and sitting in jail for weeks in order not to give interrogators their names.

The ulpana students had their hour of glory in their steafast battles against the evacuation of Gush Katif and Amona. This week, inspectors from the Civil Administration got to see the girls in action. Two Civil Administration jeeps entered Ma'ale Levona with a small police escort, where they found the girls blocking the road. The students sat on their vehicles, wrote graffiti on the jeeps and threw mud at the inspectors as they left. A few hours later, when the inspectors returned with 100 riot police officers, the girls laid down on the wet road. Twenty of the students climbed into a huge garbage bin, and threw trash at the police. Only after a five-hour battle were the inspectors able to complete their job distributing freeze orders at the settlement.

The Ma'ale Levona Ulpana was founded in 1996. It is a relatively small school - 50 girls per year - and it carefully selects its students. Many are children of the militant right-wing leadership from settlements including Yitzhar, Elon Moreh, Kiryat Arba and Hebron.

Ben-Zimra, 47, was born in the Golan Heights. His family is of Italian-Jewish extraction, and his uncle Elyahu Ben-Zimra is a retired district court judge. His sister is married to the rabbi of Yitzhar, and his brother is one of the leaders of the Yesha Council of settlements.

Admired by his students, Ben-Zimra sets a personal example for the girls. This week, he also stood up to the riot police. He is considered more right-wing than the settler leadership, he supports soldiers refusing orders to evacuate settlements, and after the March 2008 terror attack at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, he signed a call not to employ Arabs.

The students from the ulpana tend to marry young. One said that by the end of 12th grade, half the students are engaged or married. One 11th-grader got engaged this week, and a few months ago a married 12th-grader had a baby.

Ben-Zimra's wife Nurit has told the Besheva newspaper that she does not support girls marrying in 12th grade or immediately after high-school graduation.

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