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You're getting the Israeli settlements wrong.
Rachel Moore, an Israeli settler from the Neve Daniel settlement, joined me to discuss what many people believe are the incredibly controversial Israeli settlements.
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When you hear terms like “Israeli settlements” or “Israeli settlers” what comes to your mind?
Occupation? Colonization? Ethnic cleansing? Stolen land? Violence? Provocations?
It’s this question that inspired me to reach out to Rachel Moore, an Israeli settler from the Neve Daniel settlement in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem and just west of Bethlehem.
I invited her to have an open, honest, and completely unedited conversation (recorded yesterday) about Israeli settlers and the Israeli settlements. She graciously accepted my invitation, and our conversation is below.
Rachel is a mother of eight children and entrepreneur with more than 25 years of experience, mostly in the communications field. In addition to operating Moore Connected Communications, she is also the co-founder of Hub Etzion, the first co-working space located in Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank).
You might be surprised by Rachel’s lived experiences and on-the-ground insights. I certainly was. Like me, you might also be impassioned by her courage, candidness, and vulnerability.
In total, we spent 45 minutes talking about incredibly convoluted topics, such as:
What it means to be a settler
What the Israeli military scene looks like in the settlements
Why settlers carry guns, and what it entails
How mostly peaceful settlers like Rachel view violent settlers
What the situation has been like in the settlements since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7th
What the education system is like in the settlements
The prospects of achieving peace with the Palestinians, from a settler’s point of view
I encourage you to listen to or watch our entire conversation, contemplate it, and even share it with others. If you’re short on time, you’re welcome to keep scrolling and read some of the excerpts from our conversation, below the video.
You can listen to our conversation here:
You can also watch our conversation if you prefer:
Rachel, on her upbringing
“I grew up in New England (in the United States), but my formative years were in a small town in western Connecticut, which at the time had a population of 5,000, almost none of whom were Jews. I went to public school. And our town was a place where being a Republican or a conservative was considered a bad word.”
“I grew up in a place that really didn't have many Jews at all and certainly didn’t have any religious Jews. I had never seen an Orthodox Jew until I was a teenager at all.”
“The other thing that I grew up with there, though, was a very strong sense that in a healthy democracy that took freedom of religion seriously, that you could live a diverse life without ever having any notion that your religion or your ethnicity would be in the majority, and you could still feel like you could have a full life of freedom and prosperity and good things. And it is definitely relevant to my outlook today.”
“I think it is more important for people in the Middle East to have the ability to flourish, to have democracy and freedom and full rights — than it is to have a leader who looks like them and sounds like them and prays like them. And that is definitely something that’s ingrained from the way I grew up.”
On what it means to be a settler
“For me, being a settler means I live in a settlement, and other people define a settlement as a community that’s within the West Bank. I don’t have a problem using the term West Bank, and I don’t have a problem using the term settler, but I don’t live my life defined by that. I think it’s just rather arbitrary.”
“I do live here for ideological reasons, but I have a lot of neighbors who don’t. It isn’t necessarily indicative of everybody who’s here. There are people here because their family lives here, because of the school system, which were also reasons that we came. The proximity to Jerusalem. But it isn’t necessarily that being a settler means that people may need an ideological choice.”
“I share the view with my husband that the settlements are part of the West bank, and the West bank is disputed territory. It is not occupied. We are not an ongoing administrative presence or the government in the West Bank, the Palestinian West Bank, as evidenced by the fact that we don’t make rules or draft laws are not enforced, even though they share our roads. We are not responsible for the infrastructure. They have their own police. They have their own government. They pay taxes to somebody else. That’s not occupation.”
“We are not evolved in the running of their day-to-day lives. We live in a portion of land that was seized from Jordan in a war that Israel didn’t start in 1967, and that Israel seized with the desperate hope that the Jordanians would take it back in exchange for peace. And Jordan said, ‘We don’t want it. We are not interested in the problem.’ In the same way, by the way, that the king of Jordan has now said, ‘We will not take a single refugee, not one. We don’t want this problem. You can have it.’”
“I wasn’t in the room and I wasn’t making that decision. But for whatever reason at that time, Israel did not make a decision to annex it and claim its territory and make it sovereign Israel, nor did it abdicate any responsibility. It maintained a presence, hence becoming a disputed territory. Because that disputed territory includes Jewish residents, there is obviously a military presence to protect those citizens. And that somehow got translated into an occupation, which is not reflective of legal, of international law or of the reality on the ground.”
“And with all of that said within the context of being disputed territory, whatever negotiations happen in the long run, having Jews where we are is strategically valuable and important to Israel. It has created jobs and infrastructure for everybody else that lives here.”
“And I’ve been saying for years, we are a buffer that creates greater security for Jerusalem. Today, this morning, the gate to my community was locked and I could not leave because a car full of terrorists were checked at a checkpoint and they shot soldiers and they killed somebody and they injured five more at the tunnels of the checkpoint where I live.”
“They were leaving Hebron and they were on their way to Jerusalem to carry out a much larger scale attack against Jerusalem citizens. Which means that we are a buffer that protects was like unfortunately proven out today. A Jewish presence in this part of the West Bank saved lives in Jerusalem, protected Jerusalem. It’s not theoretical.”
“Jews live in less than 12-percent geographically of the West Bank. We are not knocking on people’s doors and taking them out of their homes. We are not bulldozing people and saying, ‘You get out, we’re taking over now.’ Neve Daniel, my settlement, was built in a place not only that was deeded to Jews before the State of Israel, but didn’t have anybody living here. And opposite my house, there’s this one lonely hill that nobody builds anything on because they think that it might be pending, that maybe somebody has a claim, so nobody will touch it.”
“That is not occupying someone’s land, that’s not taking anybody over, that’s taking empty land and choosing to make a presence that is Jewish. I don’t ideologically believe that there should be the ethnic cleansing of any area, anywhere in the world where you can just say, Jews can’t live here. The notion that because the West Bank is not property of Israel means it’s okay to say that no Jews should live there is morally problematic to me. On an international scale.”
On Israel’s military presence in the West Bank
“In my day-to-day life, I don’t really feel or see the military presence a whole heck of a lot. They have, like, stations where they’re guarding at the entrances of public areas, like a shopping area. Or if you go from one community to another, then you’ll see a gate where somebody is vetting the cars and wants to make sure that you’re meant to be there. My mother-in-law lives in a gated community in New Jersey, and there’s also somebody sitting in security box that’s making sure that it’s okay to go in.”
“When Neve Daniel was created, there was no checkpoint. Before the Second Intifada, you drove from Jerusalem to here, and there was no checkpoint. Israel didn’t create the checkpoints because we’ve decided we’re going to let Jews live here. Suicide bombers got through and blew people up in Jerusalem. The same way that one guy had a bomb in his shoe, and we all suffer security in every airport, because somebody decided to ruin it for everyone.”
“The checkpoints were created to save lives, not because Israel’s decision to let Jews simply live somewhere meant, by definition, creating a military presence.”
On gun-carrying settlers
“I wish that we didn’t live in an environment where I felt that it wasn’t necessary. I can tell you that my training made me feel much better about having a gun because the emphasis was on all the times you shouldn’t and can’t use it. How a civilian should always try to make sure that there’s somebody with training and in a position to handle a situation rather than me, and that I have a weapon that can kill a human being.”
“And I need to take that extremely, extremely seriously, with far more of an emphasis on the precautions and the safeguards and the times not to use it than in anyone focusing on making me a good shot.”
“And my children know that. It’s not a toy and it’s not cool, and it’s not a status thing, and it’s not fun. It’s a machine that’s used to kill people, and I never want to use it, and I never want to have to come close to using it. And I don’t appreciate the fact that other people have put me in a position where I feel good about being a competent gun user, that this is not the default of what I want for humanity.
“I also know that if my family is in danger and I’m the only person that can prevent something happening, I will use it without the slightest hesitation and no guilt at all whatsoever. If you force me to be prepared to defend my family, I resent the fact that you created that situation. But I will do it, and I will not apologize. It doesn’t cause me to lose my humanity, my faith in humanity, and my desires for peace. But if you mess with me, then that’s your choice. And I would strongly suggest that you not do that.”
“I am proud of the fact that empowerment comes along with very serious gravitas of training, that this is not something to be taken lightly. And we’re not cowboys and we're not vigilantes. Most of the time it’s not use it. May that be true for a very long time, but I think it’s a wise decision on the part of the government to empower people and make it easier for people to carry arms.”
“The analogy I make is that sometimes in the United States government declares a tax break, and day-to-day, it doesn’t massively change the household income for a family over the course of the year. But it’s a statement on the part of the government that we understand that you’re hurting and we want to do something to alleviate that more than anything else. And I think that the Israeli government made that gesture and, that was a good reading of the room.”
On how Jews in the West Bank are feeling about the Israel-Hamas war
“At the beginning, when there was an infiltration, I think we felt particularly vulnerable. The directives that we were given to keep the place on high guard made us feel that way even more. And to put our house in full lockdown every single night was scary.”
“I cannot speak for everybody here, but every day that goes by that the West Bank, that Judea and Samaria remain quiet and calm, makes me more worried, not less. The quiet is unsettling. We definitely feel like there’s a waiting and watching for the right opportunity, because we’re not seeing a condemnation of Hamas. We are not seeing an effort to say there was an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, we’re not them.’ We saw all the chips being put in with Hamas, at least in public statements.”
“And so we are living in a heightened state of precaution for week after week after week, which is taking its toll. We are very protected, but it’s hard on the functionality and the productivity and the resilience of a community to live that way on high alert all the time.”
“And when, you know, I made a voluntary choice to live in a way where I gave up on the world’s approval, most of the people here did. Meaning by making the choices that we did, we don’t really care if the world does not think that we’re on the side of right, because we gave up on that a long time ago.”
On Israeli settlements being an impediment to peace
“The Palestinians, when they were in negotiations over a peace deal, did not insert the idea that development of the West Bank, having a Jewish presence in the West Bank, was an impediment to peace. The person who innovated that notion was former U.S. President Barack Obama.”
“Nobody is marching the streets of London or in Massachusetts and saying get out of the West Bank. They’re not saying get out of Gaza, because Israel is already out of Gaza. They’re saying ‘from the river to the sea.’ They don’t see the moral distinction between where I live and where you do, Josh (in Tel Aviv). It’s the weeds. They don’t care.”
“And I’m actually glad that it’s come to light because there was this false notion that we (Israeli settlers) knew was ridiculous.”
On the possibility of achieving peace with the Palestinians
“I think the Palestinians have been built as a people. They did not start out as a people. They were different tribes, and they were built as a people on the narrative that their success is determined by no longer having a Jewish state exist. So to take that as the core of their national identity has failed time and time and time and time and time and time again.”
“I will always hold out hope that the Palestinians will hunger for peace and prosperity for their family more than martyrdom for national aspirations that involve the obliteration and annihilation of me and my people. I don’t see the pathway to that right now, and it’s disheartening. But I would like to believe that there are people who are silenced, who want that and are willing to do what Israel did, which was take less than what it thought was fair and less than it wanted. And try to make the best out of the situation.”
“I want people to have a state and a passport and a national identity and a democracy and a vote and a say and taxation with representation and a future and equality and an education that involves democracy and potential and flourishing, and not oppression and misery. I don’t think it’s the Jewish job to give that to the Palestinians.”
“I wish I had a clear roadmap on how we’re going to get there, but I don't think that this is an Israel problem, or even an Israel-Gaza problem. I think it’s like a humanity problem, and that every day the war is going by, it’s getting clearer and clearer how many people are focused on how do we create that kind of flourishing and democracy for humans versus they should have a state and Jews shouldn’t, and hate and kill.”
On any anti-Palestinian curriculum in Israeli settlements’ education system
“My kids get a religious education. There is nothing in Jewish law that is higher than the Sabbath and keeping the Sabbath, except life, the sanctity of life. My kids are taught, we save lives. We love lives. We have a country that sent a group of people to save Turkish citizens from an earthquake and were kicked out. We’re going to go into enemy territory just to save lives? Oh, you hate us that much? Fine, we’ll leave. That’s insane, right?”
“Having said that, and this is something I wish that more Jews learned, Jewish philosophy, the Jewish law is that we are supposed to be a light. We are supposed to be way ahead of the world in compassion. We are supposed to help the weak. We are supposed to not live by the laws of nature. We are supposed to help the underprivileged. We are supposed to do everything we can to be compassionate, including to the stranger.”
“And we are also supposed to vanquish evil. And we are supposed to stand up and say, ‘Oh, you’re misunderstood. Oh, you’re having a tough time. Oh, you’re disadvantaged here. I will give you everything to help you. You do not have an understanding of the difference between right and wrong.’”
“But Jews are not supposed to make room for you if you are of the dark side, and you want to celebrate death and you think that there is a moral rationalization for beheading babies, ever, under any circumstances, burning people alive because you’re angry or upset and you think that’s okay. I’m not supposed to leave any room for that at all.”
“Jews are supposed to hold this dichotomy and understand that it’s what’s wanted of us and that we have to set an example. I think we’re being forced into the position of setting a tone and setting a bar that we don’t want. We want the world’s approval. We don’t want to have to be different. And that we’re being forced into that position, which is the mission that God gave us to set that example, is so beyond the pale.”
“And that’s not a dichotomy that the world is comfortable living with.”