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What I learned from visiting 15 Israeli settlements

Part one of this series on Israeli settlers explains the background of the movement. In this next video, I go inside the settlements and talk to the people about why they decided to move onto some of the most disputed land on Earth.

Early Israeli settlers were a group of activists who set out to settle the West Bank, at first without any permission or support from their government. They trekked into hostile territory to plant the flag of Israel, risking their lives for a deep ideological conviction that the land was theirs.

But things have changed a great deal since then. Enter a settlement today and instead of a commune of armed militants, you enter a community that is eerily unremarkable. Driving around the settlements, you don't feel that you are on the edge of one of the world's most protracted conflicts.

If you ask the settlers why they moved out there, you may get an earful of ideology about how the Jews are the rightful possessors of this land. But more often these days you'll hear settlers talk about quality-of-life factors: affordable housing, good schools, safe communities, nice views.

The shift in the movement from a fringe group of ideological activists to a mainstream, normalized part of society is the result of decades of often quiet but effective government support. As settler-sympathizing factions of Israeli politics have gained power over the years, state-sponsored programs for settlement growth have helped create communities that are not only secure but also attractive places to live.

The result has been a consistent growth in the settlement population, which is now estimated at 400,000. All of this means that any negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians must now take into account this growing number of settlers, as their communities weave through any future Palestinian state. And as such negotiations languish in a standstill, the settlements continue to grow, making any hope for peace dimmer with every new neighborhood built.

The goal of this video (as well as the subsequent video on Jerusalem) is to explore the lives and worldviews of Israeli settlers, giving a human face to this group that is usually talked about as a category. But there is another side to this story that is just as important to humanize and understand.

I recommend a film called 5 Broken Cameras, which is a compelling look at the Palestinians who live just over the walls of these settlements but live vastly different lives.