On the eve of evacuation, Migron projecting tranquility

A trailer home in the West Bank settlement of Migron with graffiti writing in Hebrew, A wood and tin shack in the West Bank settlement of Migron with quotes from Rabbi Hillel of the mishnah:

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A wood and tin shack in the West Bank settlement of Migron with quotes from Rabbi Hillel of the mishnah: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?” (Ben Sales)

MIGRON, West Bank (JTA) — Off a rough, paved road atop a mountain, on the thin stucco wall of a trailer home, black graffiti proclaims “Private Jewish land.” And underneath, in red, “Migron.”

The trailer home is among dozens in Israel’s largest settlement outpost, deep in the central West Bank and not far from the Palestinian metropolis of Ramallah. To reach Migron, cars must exit a main highway and ascend a twisting road that barely has room for two lanes.

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Founded more than a decade ago, Migron remains unrecognized by Israel’s government. Security forces plan to evacuate most of its 50 families on Tuesday based on an Israeli Supreme Court decision that they are living on private Palestinian land. 

But as bulldozers dig at the bottom of the mountain, installing new government-approved trailers for the soon-to-be evacuees, Migron persists in tranquility. Children crowd around a plastic airplane. A pregnant mother loads her car. Workers rest in front of a warehouse.  

A woman leaves the trailer emblazoned with graffiti and walks through a yard of gravel, dirt, litter and toys. About an hour later, the black and red writing is covered by a whitewashed square incongruous with the trailer’s off-white and brown exterior. 

The sense of calm, and the whitewashing, are intentional. Even as they are locked in a fight with the government to maintain a settlement far from Israel’s recognized borders, Migron’s residents do not speak of ideology or biblical promises. Rather they portray themselves as nothing more than a coalition of citizens, loyal to the country, that is fighting to preserve its democratic rights through legal means. Graffiti is not part of that strategy. 

“We try to work only with democratic tools in a good, just system,” said Elisheva Razvag, a 27-year-old mother of two and one of the only residents authorized to speak to the media. “The state broke the rules in acting like this.”

Razvag hopes that the Supreme Court will approve a petition on Tuesday allowing some of Migron’s families to stay, and that in fact the entire evacuation will be delayed. But should the residents have to leave, Razvag said “it’s possible that part of the settlement will move” to the newly built trailers. 

Asked about possible violent settler opposition to an evacuation — as has happened elsewhere — she would say only that the community is waiting on the court’s decision. 

“We are also the state,” she said. “I have no other place.”

Although only a fragment of an Israeli flag remains flying on a lamppost above the main road, Razvag said it was not torn down in protest. Rather, she said, Migron raised many flags for Israeli Independence Day and Jerusalem Day in the spring, and some have since been damaged naturally. A full flag flies on a post down the road. 

But beyond the end of Migron’s main road and across a rocky field, loyalty ends and open ideology begins. A shack built of thin wood panels and a corrugated tin roof stands in defiance not just of the state but also of Migron’s residents. On one of the walls, green and red grafitti quotes Rabbi Hillel of the Mishna: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?”

There will be no whitewashing here. 

This cabin is the latest iteration of Ramat Migron, an outpost that the government has evacuated and demolished multiple times. Both Migron’s residents and a young man from Ramat Migron stress that despite being adjacent to each other, the two have no connection. Razvag and Itai Chemo, Migron’s spokesperson, say they haven’t been to Ramat Migron in at least a year, and do not communicate with its residents. 

Nor do they share common cause. Unlike Migron, whose continued existence depends on government recognition, Ramat Migron is a project of the Hilltop Youth, a group of young, ideological settlers who build outposts in spite of Israeli law. 

With thick payos hanging from his light brown hair and a black velvet kippah perched askew on his head, the man wore dark green pants, sandals and a gray t-shirt that said “Jews buy from Jews.” 

“The most important thing is to build the Holy Temple,” he said. He added that he was not a Zionist. 

“We’ll watch,” said the young man of how he would react to a government evacuation of Migron. And if the bulldozers come to his cabin? “War.” Ramat Migron’s lack of weapons did not seem to bother him. 

“We’re two different places,” Razvag said, “definitely two different places.”

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