Some settlers in Asfar, Ma’aleh Amos not phased by enclave idea
Yehoshua Kleinman, a resident of Asfar in Judea. June 3, 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Yehoshua Kleiman feared his home in the Asfar settlement could be in danger when he first heard the Trump administration planned to roll out a peace plan.
“We were afraid, We thought they could throw us out of here,” Kleiman recalled for The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
The young father of three lives in an ultra-Orthodox community of fewer than 1,000 people on a hilltop that is 14.1 kilometers over the pre-1967 lines, and borders West Bank territory under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority.
The road from Jerusalem ends at the bottom of Asfar’s hilltop, at the back end of the Gush Etzion region. A large red sign warns Israelis that if they travel any further they are entering Area A of the West Bank, which is Palestinian territory where they are forbidden to travel.
Drivers can only progress if they turn left onto the small asphalt road that leads to Asfar. When Israelis and the international community speak of isolated settlements, they include communities like this one, where the wind is the loudest sound and the heaviest traffic is from parents with baby carriages and children on bicycles and rollerblades.
Kleiman’s home, like those in the rest of the settlement, would always have been slated for evacuation in any peace plan for a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
So there were those who feared the worst when US President Donald Trump unveiled his “Deal of the Century” peace plan in January.
A month before the plan was published, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visited the community and met with people, so it was clear that the community would likely be impacted, he said.
Kleiman was relieved, therefore, to learn that the plan allowed for sovereignty over the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, including in Asfar.
But Asfar is one of 15 settlements which, under the Trump plan, would be turned into small enclaves of sovereign Israeli territory, surrounded by what could eventually become a Palestinian state.
Settler leaders have warned that the plan could lead to the eventual destruction of these communities. It is one of the bases for their opposition to the plan. In Asfar, with its view of the Dead Sea and affordable homes with yards, not all residents were as concerned as the settler leaders.
There are people “who are happy” that sovereignty would be applied, even at the price of becoming an enclave, because it would make it easier to build, Kleiman said. Others do fear it would stunt the community’s growth, Kleiman said.
There are those who are worried the road to Asfar will be more dangerous, he said. Then there are those who believe the plan would offer them more security.
The young father wore black pants, a white button shirt and a black skullcap. A tefillin box was wrapped with leather on his forehead and leather straps were wound on his arm. He held onto a baby carriage with one hand.
Kleinman said that he falls into the optimistic camp. There is the possibility that the Palestinians won’t agree to engage with the plan, and then they will only benefit from it, he said.
Kleiman first came to Asfar three years ago to be near his brother Yochanan. Many of those who lives here do so because their relatives are here, he said.
“People who do not know the place are slightly afraid of it. It is far, desolate, small. But then one person in the family is courageous, arrives and everyone else sees how nice it is,” Kleiman said.
Asfar was built in 1983. Its growth was slow and for many years stagnant but picked up around 2008, when it registered a population of 287 according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. That number went up to 376 in 2009 and nine years later, according to the CBS, its population had more than doubled, with 835 people living there.
It’s slated for additional growth, with plans for 200 new units deposited with the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria this summer and the authorization of the nearby outpost of Ibai HaNahal, where plans are underway for the construction of 96 new homes.
Kleiman’s brother Yochanan recalled for the Post how, when he first arrived from the Jerusalem’s Old City, there were many empty homes and his stood on the community’s edge. Now there are is row of new homes behind it.
He came not just for a quieter life, but also for ideology. When he looks out at the terrain around him, he sees the land of his Biblical forefathers. “I am from the Old City, redeeming the land is one of the most important of the commandments,” Yochanan said.
He has been so inspired by life in Asfar that he personally recruited people to join him. Now that Trump’s sovereignty plan is pending, he said, it is hard to tell if it would be positive or negative, but either way they were continuing on with their lives in Asfar.
The community is not alone in facing the possibility of becoming a small enclave. A slight distance down the road, the ultra-Orthodox community of Ma’aleh Amos, created in 1981, could also face a similar fate. Like Asfar, it too hard a similar pattern stagnant growth, but then began to move upward in 2012, when it registered a population of 332, up from 264 residents the previous year. By 2018, that number had grown to 535.
It’s slated to grow more as there are 53 units now under development in Ma’aleh Amos.
One young mother in Ma’aleh Amos Haiah Sofer said she was not concerned by Trump’s plan. “Aren’t we already an enclave in the middle of a Palestinian state?” said the pregnant mother of two.
She didn’t fear the plan, Haiah said, but then she explained wasn’t the type of person who is fazed by such things.
“This could even be good for us. We will have more help from the IDF and protection on the roads. We already are stoned on the roads once or twice a week. Maybe with the plan, the response will be more harsh.”