Story Publication logo March 19, 2019

Natural Born Settlers

Image by Iris Zaki. Israel, 2017.


Cafe Tekoa

What happens when a left-leaning Israeli filmmaker settles in a West-Bank settlement?

Image courtesy of Iris Zaki/The New York Times. Palestinian Territories, 2019.
Image courtesy of Iris Zaki/The New York Times. Palestinian Territories, 2019.

To someone like me, the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories had always seemed like a burden, and an obstacle to peace. They annoyed me when I read the news and embarrassed me when I introduced myself as an Israeli. I had so many opinions about them. But, I realized, I'd never actually met a settler in person.

So I decided to move from my home in cosmopolitan Tel Aviv to the settlement of Tekoa in the West Bank for a summer. I wanted to make a film about my experiences as I got to know the settlers I'd formed so many conclusions about. These settlements are widely considered illegal under international law, and tend to be depicted in extreme ways that don't seem realistic.

Many films have been made about the violent settlers of Hebron and about the founders of the settlement movement, as well as about rare stories of friendship between Jews and Palestinians. For my film, I decided to focus on the gray area in between, to sit down and chat with settlers my age over coffee. Maybe we had more in common than I thought?

So I crossed the border—both the actual border between Israel and the settlements in the West Bank, and the boundaries of my own comfort zone. I wanted to hear about settlers' experiences, and about their justifications for choosing to live where they do. At the same time, I figured the experience would let me share my uneasiness with the consequences of their decision for the Palestinians and for Israeli society. As long as the settlements exist, peace in the Middle East remains a tenuous prospect.

Moving to a settlement is hardly an easy affair, but the discomfort inherent in placing myself in a community where my presence alone is a source of tension felt necessary to me. The act of becoming a settler, however briefly (and against my own political ideology), allowed for a rare intimacy to emerge between camera and subject. Only through this discomfort is it possible to reach something deeper, and more essential, about Israel's fractured society, but also, in a wider context, about trying to establish an honest dialogue between people of different perspectives.


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