Israeli Residents of Illegal West Bank Outpost Brace for Evacuation

With a recent court-imposed deadline and alarmed by a new coalition government, Anglo residents are preparing for a showdown over their homes.

Two native English-speaking families whose homes on a disputed West Bank hilltop have been slated for demolition in less than two months by Israel's Supreme Court are expressing a range of emotions - from uncertainty, resignation and cautious optimism, to disappointment in a government and legal system they say has let them down.

"This isn't a hilltop," says Alex Traiman, a 32-year-old filmmaker from New York City, who politely but firmly corrects a reporter visiting their home in the Givat Ha'ulpana community of Beit El. "This is a neighborhood."

Givat Ha’ulpana settlers (from left to right) Michal Kitay, Baruch Kitay and Alex Traiman.
Emil Salman

Givat Ha'ulpana, adjacent to Ramallah, is just a stone's throw from where it is believed the biblical patriarch Jacob dreamed of a ladder with ascending and descending angels. But its pastoral scene belies the tension that is brewing beneath the green gardens and rugged mountain terrain. Traveling up the idyllic mountain, with the 360-degree panoramic view of a smattering of Palestinian villages and Jewish communities, there's no tangible sign that five two-story homes encased with facades of Jerusalem stone are at the heart of a bitter legal controversy threatening to destabilize the Likud government. As a result, the Supreme Court, which has ruled the structures were illegally built on Palestinian land, is now on a collision course with legislators in the Knesset and senior government ministers, who now plan to circumvent that ruling.

For Traiman; his Australian neighbors, the Kitays; and two other English-speaking families among some 30 families with 140 children whose homes are now slated for demolition, the last several months have been hectic. The international media has descended on this mountain. So have ministers and legislators, assuring residents that the scheduled May 1 demolition date mandated by the court would not stand. On Tuesday, the justices rejected and roundly criticized the government's request to delay the demolition, setting a new deadline of July 1.

Hours later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forged a midnight coalition deal with opposition leader Shaul Mofaz and his Kadima party. By morning, Givat Ha'ulpana's residents and the rest of the country awoke to the new reality of a coalition government that some residents worry will be more likely to carry out the demolition.

"I am disappointed," says Baruch Kitay, 26, a native of Perth, Australia, who moved to Beit El eight years ago and first learned about the slated demolition while performing his reserve duty in the Israel Defense Forces. "The same country that I fight for is going to knock down my house which I have made for myself and my family in the Land of Israel."

An internet technology entrepreneur and rabbinical student, Kitay concedes things "are not looking good." A father of two small children, he and his Sydney-born wife, Michal, were planning to serve abroad as shlichim, or emissaries. Now, they are wondering how they will explain their ordeal to Jewish communities abroad.

It's the same hesitancy, he notes, that has prevented him from granting an interview to the Australian press. "I'm embarrassed," he says.

"I still want to believe there will not be a demolition," says Michal Kitay, rocking her four-month-old son in her arms. "What I can't comprehend is that the government is prepared to demolish these homes - the government that encouraged us to live here. Even if it is determined that the homes were built illegally, why shouldn't there be compensation?"

"This is our suburbia," says Tzippy Traiman, a native of Romania who grew up in New York City before immigrating with her husband and daughter in 2004. "We came here for the schools and the quality of life."

Now expecting her fourth child, she and her husband are thinking about the effects of the demolition on their small children. The Traimans and other families are mulling contingencies in the event that they are forcibly evacuated from their homes. For now, they haven't been notified by the government, nor have they been asked to evacuate.

"We haven't had the dignity of receiving a formal notice on our door," says Alex Traiman. "Even when you park illegally in Tel Aviv, you are at least given a notice by the police."

Traiman also believes that "rules can be overturned." He cites the nullified prison sentences for those who murdered his neighbors' parents and brother in a terrorist attack in 2010. The prisoners were released by Israel as part of the deal to release kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

"This is just a small blip in Jewish history," Tzippy Traiman says. "If we look at the big picture, Israel is moving forward, and we are part of that. We hope things will turn out well, but this is not one of Israel's finest moments."