future leaders?

(From The Independent)

The tension has ratcheted up in Hebron, with Jewish settlers being physically dragged away from a building they were occupying yesterday by Israeli soldiers.

I visited Hebron four times while I was in the West Bank and blogged about what I saw there a couple of times (here and here). One thing I didn’t get round to blogging until now was my final day in the city, when I met with a spokesman for the Jewish community who have been living there since shortly after the Six Day War in 1967.
I have reams of notes from my few hours with David Wilder. He failed to convince me about their position but it was fascinating nonetheless, and important for me that I heard their side of the argument first-hand.

As an aside, it’s worth noting what I had to do to get to Hebron that day. The city centre is divided into two zones, one of which is nominally under Palestinian control (although the Israeli army is still everywhere.)
I was staying in Bethlehem at the time, which is probably something like 20 miles away and is also in the West Bank. But because I was going to the Jewish part of Hebron (in the next street to where I’d previously been), I had to get up early, spend a couple of hours crossing the checkpoint and catching a bus to Jerusalem (seven miles from Bethlehem), then walk for 30 minutes to the main bus station and then catch an Israeli “settler bus” back into the West Bank. It had strengthened windows and took the so-called “sanitised roads” through the occupied territory (highways that Palestinian vehicles can’t use), using a route that passed through many illegal settlements before arriving in Hebron.

An American-born Israeli, David Wilder said many interesting things, but one that has particularly stuck in my mind is his thoughts on the children who grow up in communities like his. I’d heard many things – both from Palestinians and soldiers from Breaking the Silence – about the bad behaviour of settler children in Hebron. Raised with enormous bitterness and hatred for “the other”, they have frequently been witnessed physically attacking Palestinians, throwing stones, breaking into properties and generally being provocative. Indeed, the Independent report I linked to above describes how settler teenagers caused most of the problems this week. Local Palestinians certainly believe that they are often put up to it by their parents, because their age means they are likely to get away with it.

Anyway, David’s response made me laugh inwardly at the time, but he may well end up being right, since Israeli society and politics does appear to be moving even further to the right (not that the settlers think that. They seem label anyone who doesn’t agree with them is some kind of soft lefty).

“My impression is that the kids who grow up in places like Hebron are going to be the leadership of Israel in future generations,” he told me in all sincerity.

“They are living with such tension. Kids are very much part of life here and they usually understand what is going on and why we are here. They live their faith in the Jewish community of Hebron – they aren’t in an environment where it’s all about bigger bikes, bigger cars and drugs.

“These children have things I couldn’t dream of growing up as a child in the US. And they want to stay – my daughters have chosen to bring up their own children here in Hebron because they want to continue with this life and believe in it.

“Israel has to deal with enormous pressure on all sides from the US, the EU and Russia, as well as from the Israeli left. We need politicians who can stand up to these pressures.

“It can be very frustrating living here. Things that are so clear to us are not clear to others. Kids like ours are not going to break down because they have seen so much and all understand what the real issues are for Israel. I genuinely think these are the future leaders of our country.”

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