In the long and unresolved relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, the situation in “Area C” has become familiar. Part of the West Bank, Area C is home to the historic Gush Etzion bloc of settlements and remains under Israeli control.
The area’s 50,000 Palestinian residents are thus bound by the same construction moratorium imposed on the settlements, and, as Ynet reports, there have been no approvals for new Palestinian construction since the Second Intifada. Palestinian residents have complained of overcrowding and that their children have had to move elsewhere to build new homes.
Here is the less familiar part to this story: Jewish residents of Gush Etzion, a partnership community of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, have forcefully advocated for their Palestinian neighbors, raising the issue with the military administration and politicians at every opportunity. After years of such advocacy, last week the local land authorities announced that they have authorized the construction of 300 new homes in six Palestinian villages, including Hirbat Zachariah.
Leading the charge was Eliaz Cohen, a poet and member of the Yesha Council, the organization of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
“The conditions there were substandard,” he told Ynet. “They couldn’t even build bathrooms. Some of the families lived in a goat pen that was converted into a house.” Now he is working with village leaders to plan the expansion and dreams that Jews and Arabs will one day share a sports hall, playing fields, and public buildings.
Like a series of exchange visits between local educators and residents of the “Gush” (sponsored by the the Greater MetroWest federation), this story helps to break down misconceptions about Israel, settlers, and Palestinians.
Celebrating his neighbors’ victory, Cohen quoted the prophet for whom Hirbat Zachariah was named. “This way our kids will learn what Prophet Zachariah, who is buried here, wrote,” he said. “‘Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’”