It doesn’t look like much yet. The newest Jewish settlement, deep in the West Bank, is today just a scratch of road being clawed out of chalky hillside by earth-moving machines.
But Avihai Boaron sees milk and honey here – and a new home for himself and the 40 families who were forcibly evicted from their illegal outpost by Israeli police in February.
“I see all these mountains full of our people and their children,” said Boaron, 42, a publisher of religious magazines.
Boaron calls himself a pioneer. He was one of the founders of nearby Amona, which was first evacuated and then demolished by Israeli authorities because it was built illegally on land privately owned by Palestinians.
The eviction made for emotional live TV. Israelis were glued to their screens and devices as they watched the settlers clash with unarmed Israeli police.
The Amona settlers and their supporters chained themselves together in a last-ditch stand in the synagogue. Others threw excrement, bleach and paint at the officers.
Some Israelis were disgusted by the behavior; others were upset to see Jews uprooting Jews from their homes. For many Israelis, the siege to remove just 40 families suggested how difficult it may be to remove thousands of settlers from their homes to make way for a future Palestinian state.
Since the eviction, Boaron, his wife and children have been living in a couple of cramped dormitory rooms stacked with bunk beds.
“We will start here with new inspiration,” Boaron promised, as he stood speaking to journalists beside the bulldozers and trucks at his new town.
Called “Amichai,” a contraction of the Hebrew for “Amona is alive,” this is the first new Jewish settlement in the West Bank fully approved by the Israeli government in 25 years.
It is in the heart of the occupied West Bank, closer to Jordan than the Mediterranean Sea, on land that Palestinians want for an independent nation.
Palestinians say its construction makes their dream of a contiguous state further away than ever. A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the new settlement construction a “grave escalation and an attempt to foil efforts by the American administration” seeking to revive peace talks.
There are plans for 100 Jewish homes here — and many more in the surrounding hills. Israeli taxpayers will pay millions for the roads and infrastructure — and more to keep the soldiers in the area to protect the residents.
The families will either build their own homes or rent them. Construction for settlements in the West Bank is often subsidized by Jewish groups and wealthy donors from abroad, including the new U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
Amichai may be the first settlement in years given government approval, in planning and permits, but it is not the first new settlement or new construction.
More than a hundred outposts deemed “illegal” or “unauthorized,” even by the Israeli government, have been constructed in the past two decades, including some that surround the new village of Amichai. Construction of new “neighborhoods” in existing settlements is also routine and done with government approval.
The international community considers all of the Jewish settlements built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be illegal because the land is occupied. Israel disputes this. More than 600,000 Israelis live in these communities today. The residents represent a powerful force in Israeli society.
The U.S. government, under President Barack Obama, has called the settlements “illegitimate” and “obstacles to peace.” It is not yet clear what the Trump administration will call them.
President Donald Trump, who says he wants to make “the deal of the century,” a permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians, has cautioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to go slow on building in the West Bank while his negotiators, led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, explore the possibilities.
Still, Netanyahu has announced plans to build thousands of new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The U.N. envoy for the Middle East reported a “substantial increase” in recent months, nearly 4,000 new units and 2,000 new tenders for construction.
Netanyahu recently posted a photograph on his Twitter feed announcing that construction of Amichai had begun.
The prime minister boasted in an earlier news release, “There wasn’t and there won’t be a government better for the settlements than our government.”
Netanyahu promised, “We are building in all parts of the country, we are doing it with determination, along with being methodical and wise.”
For now, the residents of Amona are living in student dorms at a field camp in the nearby settlement of Ofra, where many of them were originally from before they established Amona 20 years ago.
Elad Ziv, 47, is an architect with seven children. Six of them are living in bunk beds in a single room. He pointed to a sink. “That’s the kitchen.” He pointed to a desk piled with school books. “That’s the library.”
Ziv is still upset about their eviction from Amona and wary that the construction of their new settlement will move forward. He blamed the Europeans, the Israeli left, Obama and others. He felt betrayed by his own leaders.
“It should have never come to this,” he said. “We’re living like refugees.”
“Only the left wants a Palestinian state,” Ziv said. “The only thing the Palestinians export is terror.”
The Israeli anti-occupation group Peace Now called the new settlement “a significant blow to the two-state solution” and said it signals that the Netanyahu government has no intention of reaching a deal with the Palestinians.
The residents of Amona are not going anywhere, they said. Ziv alluded to the settling of the land by the tribe of Benjamin 3,000 years ago, to the exile to Babylon, their Roman conquest.
“This is our home,” Ziv said. “This is the most natural place for us to be.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · William Booth