Israeli brothers, raised in West Bank, at odds over occupation

18.12.2020

They shared a childhood in a West Bank Jewish settlement but as adults Yaakov and Yonatan Berg have developed radically different views about Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory.

The brothers were raised in a settlement called Psagot, which like all Jewish communities in the West Bank is regarded as illegal under international law.

Yaakov, 44, has become a prominent public defender of the rights of Israelis to live in the territory that Israel has occupied since the Six-Day War of 1967, which some Jews refer to by the biblical names of Judea and Samaria.

Yonatan, 39, is an activist and writer who publicly denounces the occupation and campaigns for peace with the Palestinians.

The brothers spoke to journalists as they met to celebrate the publication of the French edition of Yonatan's memoir, "Leaving Psagot".

 

The dedication in Yonatan's book summarises the core tension in their relationship.

"To my brother, with whom I share the same view, but not the same point of view," it reads.

Pompeo wine

Yaakov's notoriety as a settler advocate hit a new peak last month when he hosted U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at his Psagot Winery.

Anti-occupation groups say the winery near Ramallah, which has a stunning panoramic view overlooking the Palestinian village of Mukhmas, was built on land stolen incrementally from Palestinians.

Pompeo's controversial trip made headlines because it marked the first visit to a Jewish settlement in the West Bank by a top US diplomat.

Yaakov, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, reiterated his insistence that Jews have not "stolen" Palestinian land.

"We are not illegal occupiers," Yaakov said. "Pompeo told the truth when he came here. The Jewish people have an ancestral link to this land. Saying it is illegally occupied makes no sense."

After Pompeo declared last year that Washington no longer necessarily regarded settlements as illegal, Yaakov named a wine in his honour, presenting the blended red to him during last month's visit.

"Different perceptions of reality"

Shortly after the Pompeo event, Yonatan visited his brother.

The writer, who has long curly hair tied in a ponytail, moved to the West Bank when he was four. He left in his early 20s, after completing his mandatory military service.

"Leaving Psagot" is both a personal narrative about his drift away from his family's religiosity and pro-settler ideology as well as a critique of the occupation.

Yonatan does not challenge Yaakov's assertion that Jews have ties to the land dating back millennia.

"I agree with you when you talk about the deep connection between the Jewish people and this land," he said. But he insisted that ancient land claims aside, all West Bank residents must be treated equally, "which is not the case," he said.

In his book, Yonatan recalls how Palestinian youths used to throw stones at his school bus on its way into Jerusalem.

He recounts how one day he and his classmates decided to throw stones back, and fantasises about a stone flying over Ramallah then hovering over the occupied land where his family lived, "like a comet in search of somewhere to land."

Yaakov counters that he does not remember events as his brother describes them, but concedes that "Leaving Psagot" has given him cause for introspection.

Yaakov maintains that he has "excellent relations" with some of his Palestinian neighbours and employs many through his winery, which pays higher wages than most Palestinian-owned businesses in the West Bank.

He accuses peace activists of seeking to divide Palestinians and Israelis, not unite them.

Yonatan countered: "We have different perceptions of reality."    (AFP)

 

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