Louis Theroux spends time with a small and very committed subculture of ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers. He discovers a group of people who consider it their religious and political obligation to populate some of the most sensitive and disputed areas of the West Bank, especially those with a spiritual significance dating back to the Bible.
Throughout his journey, Louis gets close to the people most involved with driving the extreme end of the Jewish settler movement – finding them warm, friendly, humorous, and deeply troubling.
Louis Theroux spends time with ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers and discovers a small, but very committed subculture.
On a hilltop in the Northern West Bank, not far from the large Palestinian city of Nablus, I met 17-year-old Yair Lieberman.
A part-time labourer and student, Yair’s home was a makeshift canvas-covered structure, only slightly more solid than a tent, which he shared with three other young men. The bed was a tangled mess of sheets, in the style of a conventional teenager’s, and hung around the dwelling were posters – though not of pop groups, but of favourite rabbis. Outside, in the neighbouring lots, was a scattering of fifteen or so caravans and trailers – the outpost of Havat Gilad.
Like the settlements up and down the West Bank, Havat Gilad is illegal under international law. It lies miles inside the territory won by Israel in the 1967 war and the vast majority of the surrounding population is Palestinian. But Havat Gilad is also illegal under Israeli law. Electricity comes from a generator. Water is trucked in.
Yair moved up to Havat Gilad a couple of years ago. On a tour around the hilltop, I asked him why he’d decided to make his life in this ramshackle encampment, at the end of a dirt road, on an inhospitable hilltop among Arab olive groves.
“If we’re not here there’s a [Palestinian] city and we don’t want another [Palestinian] city,” he said.
What, I wondered, would be so bad about another Palestinian city?
“Because it’s my land! It’s the land of Israel. It’s not the land of Palestinians.”
Yair’s beliefs are shared by a hardcore religious nationalist fringe of Jewish Israelis who have chosen to make their home up and down the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. They say that those areas belong by right to the Jewish people – a title claim based mainly on the bible.
The fact that there are nearly ten times as many Arabs as there are Jews in the West Bank, with their own dreams of a national homeland, they regard as a side-issue.
I was making a documentary about these ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers, called The Ultra-Zionists. For several weeks I’d been spending time in some of the most hardcore and uncompromising sections of the Israeli nationalist community – the Jewish enclave in Hebron, in the hilltops in the north of the West Bank, and in the crowded Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem – choosing to come at a time when peace talks were ongoing and the extreme settlers were therefore more embattled.