The West Bank, 2008-2009: Researching “The Outpost”

In his last posts, Assaf Gavron wrote about moonlighting as an Israeli mover in New York City and about Israeli fast food. His most recent book, Almost Dead, is now available. He’s blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

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The Jewish settlers in the West Bank have fascinated me for many years, and especially those living in the illegal outposts — a few mobile homes on remote hills with no running water or electricity, who are in a constant cat-and-mouse chase with the authorities. Regardless of political opinion (if such a thing is possible in our region, especially in this part of it), the extreme situation in which they live seemed like the perfect setting for a novel: the combination of lawlessness, lack of clear borders, the sense of adventure and of conquering new frontiers, as well as the breathtaking landscapes, religious fanaticism and the violent national conflict, make it feel like a modern, surreal kind of Western -– it is, in fact, the Wild West Bank.

The West Bank (often referred to as Judea and Samaria) is geographically nearby the Israelis who don’t live there: from Tel Aviv, where I live, it is less than a 30-minute drive. Yet most Israelis keep as far away as assaf gavronpossible. Seen as dangerous and controversial, some of it blocked by walls and parts forbidden, it is indeed “abroad†for many. Yet it is ever-present on the news, on political and at dinner tables discussions. So after I realized it could be a great setting for a novel, I decided to go there. For over two years I traveled, sometimes once a week, sometimes more, sometimes staying overnight, or for the day. I went all over the West Bank -– the desert lands of Judea; the greener, hillier Samaria; bigger, established settlements; and the tiniest outposts.

I wanted to see life behind the news headlines. I wanted to test the stereotype of the settlers as a crazy, secluded, fanatic, violent and racist bunch, armed with God’s orders to settle the Promised Land by Jews, regardless of other inhabitants, international law, Israeli government decisions or other petty “earthly†matters. I was curious to learn about the people, their thoughts, their way of life, and the ways in which their private life converge with the larger, political story. I wanted to find out what actually happens on the ground when the president of the U.S., the most powerful man on earth, forces Israel to freeze construction in the settlements, and how it actually affects the inhabitants of the mobile homes in a tiny outpost on some neglected hill in Judea (hint: they don’t care much).

In one outpost, a stunning place on the edge of the desert, I found a small hut to sit and write. The bath and toilet were outside under the sky, the floor was hard rock and the wind whistled through the cracks, but it was inspiring and authentic. I met the locals and encountered their architecture, their pets (including a camel), their organic fields and olive groves, and their Arab neighbors. Obviously, I have found a much richer and more complex world than the stereotype predetermined. The novel is still in progress…

The Outpost (working title) will be published in 2011 in Israel. Assaf Gavron’s most recent book, Almost Dead, is now available. He’s blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog.

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