A Love for Control Over the Land

Settlements like Eli or Ariel are spread over large territories and their houses are scattered in every direction, slicing up the typical landscape of Samaria and damaging cliffs and hills.

Next month will mark 30 years since the founding of Ofra, the first settlement of Gush Emunim. Now, as a political and legal debate is being conducted about the outposts - new extensions of older settlements - a more fundamental question should also be addressed: the settlers' treatment of the landscape they are supposed to love with all their might. After all, in the name of this love, they continually drag trailers from one place to another and send tractors to every vacant hilltop.

When the settlers arrived in Judea and Samaria following the Six-Day War, they found a strip of land that still preserved an amazing likeness to the landscape of Second Temple days, as far as this can be imagined, and even a likeness to the landscape of biblical times. There were some settlers who, while hiking in Samaria, excitedly recited biblical verses that came to mind when viewing the farmlands of a Palestinian village like Dura al-Qara, near Ofra, or Bittir, near Bethlehem.

Today, one must search for this scenery, because it hides in the shadow of the controlling presence of the outposts, settlements and bypass roads. Love of the land is the last thing one thinks of when encountering the sight of settlement construction.

We are not talking here about the aesthetics of the settlements themselves, though one can make a certain generalization that most of them express a dreary uniformity or look like an unplanned mishmash of houses that spread out in every direction. This is particularly true in the larger settlements.

The main thing is the impact the settlements and their associated infrastructure have on their near and distant surroundings, especially the landscape that has been used for agriculture and grazing for thousands of years. This landscape, more than anything else, should connect the settlers to the period of the biblical patriarchs. Settlements like Eli or Ariel are spread over large territories and their houses are scattered in every direction, slicing up the typical landscape of Samaria and damaging cliffs and hills.

The attitude of the founders of outposts and settlements toward this landscape reflects the outlook of many settlers on the significance of settlement expansion. What we have here is a case of control, land grabs and incursions. The landscape is broken from every direction with heavy equipment, the hills lose their tree and shrub cover, the slopes become naked and full of discarded dirt. Fences surround the settlements and outposts from all sides, well behind the security range required to protect homes, and this creates a feeling of a detached and imprisoned landscape. Only when you escape to a hidden hilltop near the illegal outpost Amona and the adjacent settlement, Ofra, do you discover green hills and gardens.

There are additional examples of scattered and single-story construction that have not benefited the landscape. This is true of the "mitzpim" that conquered the hilltops of the Galilee, as well as the "kochavim" communities along the Green Line. But the momentum of establishing the mitzpim and kochavim communities has almost stopped completely, and there is not the same lust for paving new roads and highways there.

Territories that were saved from the settlers' lust for expansion are, in most cases, nature preserves and forests whose legal status makes it hard to build there. In addition, most of these places are not located at strategic positions of control, but rather along riverbeds.

It seems the settlers have made a clear distinction between the landscape that constitutes the battlefront for control against the Palestinians and the landscape that has been neutralized in this battle - nature preserves and forests. The latter, because of their special status, allow the settlers to also express love for flowers and animals in their natural environment. But when they feel there is also a burning need for a Jewish presence in these territories, the settlers do not hesitate to invade them or build with the authorities' consent. This is what they did, for example, in the Ein Prat nature preserve.

In recent months, in their struggle against the disengagement, the settlers have spoken about their great love for the people and the land. But when one looks at the outposts and settlements, and what their presence has done to the landscape and shape of the land (something the settlers prefer to ignore), the conclusion is that what primarily drives them is not love for the Land of Israel, but mainly love for control over the Land of Israel.