Occupiers! Occupiers! Occupiers! I hear yelled on my campus, the University of Texas at San Antonio, over and over again, but how can any state occupy land that was never a sovereign state to begin with? How can settlements be an obstacle to peace when the Palestinian Authority preaches the destruction of all of Israel?
It is one thing to know the facts and be able to defend settlements in Judea and Samaria, but to physically spend time in a settlement with its people and experience their customs completely changes the playing field.
On June 24, 2016 I was able to stay with a family living in Nofei Prat which is community or settlement established in 1993 and located in the West Bank. As I stepped off the bus and looked out into the distance, the beauty was striking, but one thing stood out above the rest: all around Nofei Prat was a barren desert void of vegetation or housing. I was taken aback by this fact because if the Palestinian Authority truly wanted that land I would think that the land would be filled with Arab communities all over the West Bank.
Anti-Israel groups on my campus are masters at demonizing these communities and the settlers who inhabit them, so when I arrived I expected a homogeneous group of Jews completely secluded from any surrounding communities or cities. What I found was a family who opened their home to a Christian Zionist with open arms; devoid of seclusion, judgment or skepticism.
As I sat at their table for Shabbat dinner I was overwhelmed with the spirit of love in the room; every few minutes there would be a knock at the door and another friend would filter into an open seat. After the lighting of the candles, the washing of the hands, and the breaking of bread the sweet sound of music ensued as they sang the prayers before the meal. I sat there enchanted by the melody, harmony and conviction of this act. It was a scene straight from a movie as everyone swayed and smiled from the heart.
After the delicious and plentiful dinner I went to the synagogue in the middle of the community where I was bombarded with little kids who were friends of my host family. I was surrounded on all sides! I was asked about my name, I was pestered about my relationship status, I was forced to speak in English and in Spanish, I was prompted to recite the short list of Hebrew words that I new, and I was completely overwhelmed by it all. This was a group of kids who acted like a family and whom so easily accepted me into that family. I looked at each one of them and saw the beauty and life they add to the region.
These settlers and their families are not pawns in the game of politics; these are families trying to make an honest living. They are families who put theological differences aside and pray and worship in the same synagogue. They are families who shop at the same stores as their Arab cousins and speak fondly of them. Being able to meet the them cultivated in me an experience that spoke so deeply to my soul; if I were to move to Israel in the future I would choose to make my home the community of Nofei Prat. Home of the loving, home of the strong, home of the accepting and home of the hopeful. It is a pillar of light and a beacon of hope amongst the dark clouds of violence, of state solutions and of anti-Semitism.