Gedalia, 41, lives on a hilltop with his wife Shira and their seven children. Their house is built from steel, particle board and telephone poles, will be reinforced by tires packed with earth, and has been declared illegal by the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, and the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention. It’s part of a settlement of eight families in the region of Judea and Samaria, more commonly known as the West Bank.
Gedalia was born in Minsk. Of the 290,000 Jews who fled Soviet anti-Semitism in the 1970s, around half sought refuge in Israel, while the other half went to the USA. His family flew to New York and settled in Dayton, Ohio, where Gedalia struggled to fit in. Raised a secular Jew, his spiritual journey to the Holy Land was catalyzed by psychedelic rock when he moved to Chicago aged, began attending Rainbow Gatherings and following the Grateful Dead on tour.
Aged 23, he had a breakdown in a bookshop. “I was considering going to Israel,” Gedalia remembers, “and I felt like if I didn’t do something I was going to die.” Arriving in Jerusalem with no plans or possessions, he fell in with the Na Nach movement, an ultraorthodox Jewish sect whose members dance in the street to religious techno music. While serving chai at a rave in the Negev desert, he met Shira. They married and moved to northern Israel “to find land.” For the same reason, 12 years later, they moved to the West Bank.
With the support of successive Israeli governments and in breach of international law, Jews have been building homes in the West Bank ever since the Israeli Army captured the territory in 1967. Over 341,000 Jewish settlers now live there, three-quarters of them in small villages scattered across the region. Their numbers grow by five percent every year, more than half are religious Zionists, and one in six, like Shira and Gedalia, was born abroad.
The couple lives simply. He feeds their goats, repairs the house and sells Na Nach bumper stickers in Jerusalem; she homeschools their seven children. Asked how he makes ends meet, Gedalia says, “I pray to God, and then money – no, not money – food, sustenance falls from the sky into our mouths.” Shira adds that their security comes from God, too. The reality may be more prosaic. As protests over the cost of living grip Israeli cities, the government continues to encourage migration to the West Bank. Through direct subsidies and funding funneled through the World Zionist Organization, considerably more financial support per person is sent to settlers than to ordinary Israelis. “They want us here,” says Gedalia. “If it wasn’t good, they would make us leave.”