Palestinian labourers building new apartments in Beit-El. Photo by Rhonda Spivak
View of Ramallah from Beit-El, with the buffers between the two. The first building with the red roof on the right hand side of the photo next to a parking lot with cars is the PA Ministry of Health. Photo by Rhonda Spivak
Palestinian workers building in Beit el. They looked away so as not to have their faces photographed since they don't want it broadcast that they are working to build a Jewish settlement. Photo by Rhonda Spivak
Barbed wire fence separating Beit El from the outlying areas of Ramallah. An UNWRA school is on the other side of the barbed wire. The school has the long grey fence around it. Photo by Rhonda Spivak
Editor's report: My Visit to Beit El, the Settlement to Which Donald Trump Donated $10,000 and For Which His Envoy David Friedman Raises Money.
by Rhonda Spivak, January 28, 2017
Donald Trump donated $10,000 to the Jewish settlement of Beit El, adjacent to Ramallah, in 2003 in honour of David Friedman, who he has named to be US Ambassador to Israel. Friedman raises some $2 million per year (according to Ha'aretz) for this settlement in his capacity as the volunteer head of American Friends of Beit El Institutions.
In 2010, I visited the settlement of Beit El, only a 20 minute drive across a rocky plateau , north of Jerusalem, towards the capital city of the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah. While the drive isn't long, it takes one well past Israel's security fence, deep into the heart of Samaria (the West Bank).
Founded in the late 1970's by religious Jews, Beit -El is the site of the biblical Bethel, where according to Jewish tradition the patriarch Jacob fell asleep and dreamt of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven.
I don't know what I expected exactly when I went to Beit El, but I was rather taken aback to realize that Beit El isn't only near Ramallah—it has practically merged with Ramallah. In fact, there was virtually no open space left between this Jewish settlement and the burgeoning Palestinian capital.
Of course, when Beit El was founded by a handful of Jewish settler families in the 70's, there wasn't a Palestinian town or village in sight. It may never have dawned on anyone at the time that one day, as each of Ramallah and Beit El grew, the two would converge on each other.
Ramallah is in "Area A," as designated by the Oslo Agreement, meaning that it is land under full Palestinian control. While Ramallah's inhabitants numbered 12,000 just after 1967, today it has a population of about 57,000. Beit-El, which is in "Area C," where Israel retains full control, now has almost 6500 people. With each passing year, Beit -El has grown down the hill, while Ramallah, has grown steadily towards it.
Standing from my vantage point in Beit El, I had a panoramic view of Ramallah , where Mahmoud Abbas has been President for 12 years and his two sons have monopolized much of PA trade, by peddled influence to win major contracts in the West Bank or serve as middlemen in foreign deals, particularly with the United States. (For an eye opening report on this see
David Bedein's investigation on how humanitarian aid to the Palestinin authority has been embezzled for personal gain:
As Mary, an American Christian living in Ramallah, who did not want to give her last name, told me in 2010, " Ramallah is a place where some Palestinians have made lots of money, and yet other Palestinians aren't any better off than they were."
After visiting Beit-El, I realized why Israel couldn't possibly try to include the settlement within Israel's security fence. Geography doesn't allow it. If there ever is to be an independent Palestinian State , Beit- El would be a settlement that Palestinians would want to be evacuated. It's buildings could be given to Palestinian refugees as compensation in lieu of them returning to homes in pre-67 Israel. Beit-El would then effectively become a neighborhood of Ramallah.
When I was there, the only thing that stood between Beit El and Ramallah was a barbed wire fence (see photo #2).
In 2008, Ehud Olmert's offer to Abbas (which Abbas didn't respond to) would have involved evacuating Beit-el, while annexing major settlement blocs.
Beit El is where Arutz Sheva, Israel's right of centre national radio broadcasts. There are many churches in the United States have taken their name from Beit El, or Bethel, and traditional hymn “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” is part of the American school heritage.
While visiting Beit- El , I couldn't help but notice a row of new apartments in the process of being built. This, of course, was occurring despite all of President Obama's calls for Israel to freeze settlement construction.
As young modern orthodox man living in the settlement, told me "The apartments that are being built were approved of before Netanyahu came to power, and are part of Beit-El's natural growth. They have all been already sold and the new owners are waiting to move in. There are other young couples looking to buy. There is more demand but not enough apartments. Some young couples are living in caravans nearby, because of the shortage of apartments." I noticed that the apartments were being built by Palestinian labourers, and asked where these labourers were from. The young orthodox man answered, "From Ramallah, of course…With all of the wealth in Ramallah that the PA has managed to amass for its cronies, there are still unemployed Palestinian labourers who come here to find work."
As I left, I thought to myself, how ironic it is that Palestinians were the ones building new homes in Beit-El. If only the PA would find employment for all of the Palestinians of Ramallah, then presumably these labourers would stop building Beit-El. And then, a real settlement freeze would likely occur there.
I have no doubt that none of the residents of Beit El wish to see a Palestinian State arise, which could well mean their evacuation. On the other hand, if the world wants to se a Palestinian state arise, then why should a Palestinian state be Judenrein ?Could Beit El become a Jewish neighborhood of a Palestine state.
Did Trunp understand the precise geography of Beit El when he donated money there. I rather doubt it. Does his envoy David Friedman understand Beit El's precise geography ? Yes, he must.
Naftali Bennett of Israel's Jewish home party has said that he wants Israel to annex area C, (which would include Beit El and the Jordan valley settlement). This would and mean that according to Bennett, Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus and other Palestinian cities would be given "autonomy." Others say they could potentially become part of Jordan, while Gaza could be absorbed by Egypt. Friedman himself has advocated for Israel’s annexation of portions of the West Bank.
If Trump were ever to mediate an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement (and I really don't see one on the horizon), then I could see David Friedman stepping down as Ambassador if it meant that Israel had to evacuate his pet settlement Beit El, under an agreement.
It will be worth watching to see if construction in Beit-El grows under Trump.
Trump has also indicated he will appoint his Jewish son in law Jared Kushner (who is married to his daughter Ivanka) as his Middle East envoy. The Beit El Yeshiva received $20,000 from the Jared Kushner's family in 2013, according to Ha'aretz. http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.757177. It's hard to see how Kushner would negotiate an agreement that would see evacuating Beit-El to make way for a Palestinian state.
On the whole, the election of Trump (over Hillary Clinton who received 2.5 million more votes than he did) would appear to be rather miraculous for Beit El. What are the chances that the President of the United States, his US Ambassador to Israel and his son -in law who will serve as Trump's personal Middle East envoy would have all donated money to the Jewish settlemet of Beit-El? Maybe Jacob himself will descend his ladder to greet Trump, Friedman, and Kushner if or when they come to visit Beit-El.