“City on a Hilltop: American Jews and the Israeli Settler Movement” by Sara Yael Hirschhorn— Life in the Territories 

Hirschhorn, Sara Yael. “City on a Hilltop: American Jews and the Israeli Settler Movement”, Harvard University Press, 2017.

Life in the Territories

Amos Lassen

Since 1967, more than 60,000 Jewish-Americans have settled in the territories captured by the State of Israel during the Six Day War. This is about 15 percent of the settler population today, and these immigrants have established major communities, transformed domestic politics and international relations, and been involved in and committed shocking acts of terrorism. They demand and command attention in both Israel and the United States, yet not much is known about who they are and why they chose to live at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sara Yael Hirschhorn destroys stereotypes, showing that the 1960s generation who moved to the occupied territories were not messianic zealots or right-wing extremists but idealists engaged in liberal causes who came to Israel to build a nation. I was one of those Americans however, I chose not to go into the settlements and wanted to work as an academic.

These Americans did not abandon their progressive heritage when they crossed the Green Line. They saw a historic opportunity to create new communities to serve as a beacon to Jews across the globe. This pioneering vision was seen in places such as Yamit in the Sinai and Efrat and Tekoa on the West Bank. This movement used the rhetoric of civil rights to rebrand itself, especially in the wake of the 1994 Hebron massacre.

Now some fifty years later, we see the changing face of the settlements and the clash between liberal values and political realities at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

These American Jews are often self-identified liberal progressives and products of the Americans 1960s became the earliest founders and residents of key Israeli settlements outside the infamous “green line.” “illiberal project.” They approached their cause with zeal and were the next pioneers who carried the legacy of generations of Jews who yearned to rebuild vibrant Jewish life in biblical Israel.

Hirschhorn acknowledges that it has been fifty years of “occupation,” of the Palestinian people and of Palestinian land. The settlements that were born in the years after the Six-Day War are now fully realized cities with generations of inhabitants and there are challenges.

Hirschhorn focuses on the development and residents of a few select settlements—primarily those in the West Bank, but also one notable short-lived settlement in the Sinai Peninsula. She explores the realities of the settler-turned-terrorist, and the dichotomy between the isolated but important stories of settler-terrorists. Hirschhorn has done incredible research and she provides us with detailed notes.


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