Not Sacred, Not Stolen

Settler Elad Movshovitz doesn’t think he stole property from nearby Palestinians, some of whom live in caves without water and electricity.

This week the police returned Elad Movshoviz's Smith & Wesson. We first encountered him about two weeks ago on the dusty trails of the south Hebron hills as he approached us in his truck, his dog standing alert like a sentry in the back. Unlike settlers' usual reaction to journalists - sometimes they're considered a threat, too - Movshoviz greeted us warmly. We had just come out of the cave home of Ismail Adara, a 67-year-old shepherd who has 33 children from four wives and neither electricity nor running water. Adara's cave is a few hundred meters from the foot of Mitzpeh Yair, the outpost where Movshoviz lives.

A few days later, settlers attacked Adara near Mitzpeh Yair, slashing his face and body with knives. He was hospitalized. Movshoviz was arrested the next day after Adara identified his truck near the site of the attack. After a night in jail, Movshoviz was released. After Adara was interrogated by the police, Movshoviz got his pistol back.

When we visited Mitzpeh Yair this week, the day after the evacuation of Migron, Movshoviz was walking around armed, once again. He denied any connection to the attack. "It was kids who hang out here, wild weeds." He characterized the attack as "shepherds' wars."

Movshoviz is a second-generation settler in the south Hebron hills, a scion of a rabbinical family. He's no holier-than-thou settler. He doesn't believe this land is sacred; he just loves it with a fiery love. He apparently doesn't think about the injustice going on just below his balcony, or the injustice he's causing by the very fact he's living on stolen land. For a moment I found him likable, even if he was born in sin, a sin he does not even acknowledge.

On the back of his truck there is only one sticker: "Agriculture will be victorious."


In the early afternoon we drove behind him to the settlement of Susya to pick up his daughter Shaked from the Milk and Honey Kindergarten, as well as leftovers from the Sabbath meal prepared by his mother, Grandma Nurit.

Movshoviz was born in Susya in December 1983, the first child to come into the world there. On the way to the preschool he showed us his small winery. It's already producing nearly 7,000 bottles a year from the vineyard he planted on privately owned Palestinian land now under adjudication at the High Court of Justice, and from the vineyard planted by his father Benny, a founder of Susya. Elad studied winemaking at Tel Hai College after completing his service in an elite army unit, where he was a sharpshooter. He then married Nava from Ma'aleh Adumim; they have two daughters, Shaked and Rotem. A third child is on the way.

He defines himself as religious and jokingly says this is because he wants to produce kosher wine. In any case, this is "religious-lite"; the baseball cap on his head serves as his skullcap. On the bookshelf in his living room are religious books alongside secular literature. Friedrich Nietzsche's "Thus Spake Zarathustra," Pinhas Sadeh's "Life as a Parable," Moshe Shamir's "The King of Flesh and Blood."

He earns his living as the plantation manager at the settlement of Ma'on, overseeing cultivation of cherries, vines and peonies. We sit on his porch, above the miserable cave complex where the shepherd Adara lives. The outpost was set up on the hill in 1998 as Magen David Farm, and spread in response to the murder of settler Yair Har- Sinai, after whom the place is named. It was an early "price tag" operation - an act of retribution for some incident.

Mitzpeh Yair's 15 prefab homes are strewn on the rocky hillsides in no clear order, with no fence around the settlement. Aviel, Movshoviz's bearded neighbor in a large white skullcap, is expanding his prefab just as we visit. He sings as he builds. It's all done without authorization, without a permit. Movshoviz calls it "tower and stockade" construction, referring to the means used by Jews in prestate Israel to defy the British authorities.

The neglect here is pervasive - junk and thorns - so Movshoviz is worried; he doesn't want the ugliness to be visible in the photos. The residents usually haul away their garbage in their own cars, while plastic pipes take the sewage from each home separately to be dumped in the valley.

There are power lines and pipes installed by the government and Israeli soldiers, a paved and lighted road, plus soldiers on guard duty day and night. There's also a horse, two goats, both roaming and tied-up dogs, a synagogue and one resident hooked up to Yes satellite television.

Movshoviz's father phones: The water has to be turned off at the vineyard in Yatir.


Movshoviz moved to Mitzpeh Yair four and half years ago. At first he lived in a prefab, which has been discarded next to his new home, which he built in only three months. The windows are from Hebron and the man who sold them to him, Khaled, "was very nice." Pilpel the dog isn't allowed to come into the house. Pilpel is very disciplined and looks in from the doorstep. Movshoviz's green vineyard stands out in the valley against the yellow desert.

Forgive me for the question, but who does the land in the vineyard belong to?

"Oy, that's a question. Let's just say that ever since I can remember being a child, that land has been cultivated by Jews. Yair Har-Sinai was a pacifist and he occupied the land - not a politically correct word - where he grew organic crops. That was many years ago, and ever since the land has been cultivated by Jews. In short, it doesn't matter.

"Now there's a petition at the High Court about the vineyard. The Palestinians have no proof concerning the land. So they're going to the High Court and not suing for the land in a civil court. The wadi is defined as private Palestinian land, but without owners. They say they don't have access to it, but that isn't really true. Now we're fighting in court and claiming that this land is cultivated by Jews and Yair Har- Sinai had documents for the land, but he was murdered.

Does that bother you?

"Yes and no. Let's say that whoever is demanding this land isn't some farmer from around here, but rather profiteers who speculate in land and exploit local tenant farmers."

What difference does that make in terms of the rights?

"It really doesn't make any difference. I don't go into it all that much. This is a hard question. I'm not someone who goes into the ideological part. I'm trying to live my life. When I planted the vineyard there weren't any complaints."

How do you feel about your neighbors not having water and electricity, and their caves, wells and electricity poles being destroyed?

"I wouldn't object to them having electricity and water. And when the steam shovels came to destroy their things, I felt bad. I try to look at them as human beings. In the winter I brought them logs. But they've chosen that life."

You have chosen this life, and the land is theirs.

"The truth is, I don't have a sweeping hatred toward them, but there's no need to be naive about the struggle going on here. A struggle is going on for this land, and there are attacks and terror."

Could it be, in part, because you're living here on their land?

"I don't think so. There's room here for everyone. It's possible to live here together as neighbors."

But the settlers and the Civil Administration are doing everything to get them out of here.

"They're pestering both them and us."

Under what conditions would you agree to leave?

"Under no conditions. I was born here and I see myself living here forever. I don't think I'm an obstacle to anything."

Why not to the Negev?

"Why don't you go to some other country? I was born here. This is my space. It's as if I told you to go live in Germany."

But your friends are harassing them and attacking them, the way they attacked Ismail Adara.

"I don't see the connection to me. The Civil Administration does harm, and there are kids who harass. I don't see it as a phenomenon."

Attacking an old man with knives?

"I don't like it. But ... these questions are a bit too big for me. I don't think I know everything. I don't like it when people pile more onto me than what I am. Don't hit me with this whole business of settlers. I'm trying to live my life in a simple way. It's our daily life: the children, work.

"Our life is just minding our own business. In Syria people are getting murdered and we're minding our own business. If you're asking whether the Palestinians here should be given electricity and water - yes. Is this my top priority? No. But I feel more in common with them than with someone from Tel Aviv: Both of us here are waiting for rain."

In the meantime, the hills' shadow has fallen on the land and the day is nearing its end.

"My generation here isn't motivated by an ideology of occupying the land. We're motivated by love of the land," says Movshoviz.

Not long ago he says that he and Nava went to a concert by rock musician Berry Sakharof in the Yatir Forest. He says he's crazy about Sakharof. After the High Holidays maybe they'll go to Spain, before Nava gives birth again - and after their plan to go to India was postponed again, because of the grape harvest.

Elad Movshoviz.
Alex Levac