Indeed, a tour of Beitar Ilit quickly reveals the settlement’s secret of success, namely a high standard of living for an affordable price.
“We came here only for reasons of comfort and standard of living, and certainly not because of ideology,” a local 23-year-old resident who declined to be named told Ynet. “We chose to leave the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem or Bnei Brak because there was no more room left there.”
Construction boom in Beitar Ilit (Photo: Doron Sheffer)
According to the resident, the lack of space in established Haredi areas led the government to set up new ultra-Orthodox towns.
“Here we found a new, comfortable two-bedroom apartment for USD 90,000. In Jerusalem, where we came from, such an apartment would have cost us USD 250,000. Who can afford to pay so much?” she says.
Right next to the Green Line
This attitude explains recent figures showing that in the first half of 2005, the population of Beitar Ilit grew by 4.6 percent and is now estimated at 26,179. In Modiin Ilit (also known as Kiryat Sefer,) an even bigger rate of growth was recorded during the same period – 5.5 percent. The number of residents there has almost reached 30,000, making it the second most populated West Bank settlement behind Maaleh Adumim, which is home to more than 31,000 settlers.
Overall, the two ultra-Orthodox towns are home to almost a quarter of all residents living beyond the Green Line.
Beiter Ilit is located near the Green Line, with its western boundaries about half a kilometer (about 400 yards) east of the Green Line. The settlement was established about 15 years ago and has since grown at a dizzying pace.
Mayor Ze’ev Pindros says the Green Line is a political border but does not really exist on the ground.
“We are so close to the Green Line that you cannot explain to people what’s the difference,” he says.
“Nobody comes here because they want to ‘cross’ the Green Line,” he says. “People are looking for a high standard of living, and that’s what they get here. Beyond that, the ultra-Orthodox public never felt part of the country. It was never part of the government elite, even when we had representatives in the coalition.”
‘We came here for purely economic reasons’
For Mordechai, a 26-year-old student from Beitar Ilit, the sights of the Gaza evacuation were difficult to watch, but he says the establishment of Gush Katif was unnecessary to begin with.
“I can’t say I liked the use they made of children there (Gaza) and their conduct, but we’re talking about people who lived there for 30 years,” he says, referring to images of the evacuation. “Yet they had nothing to look for in Gaza to begin with. They lived in enclaves inside a refugee camp near Rafah.”
Growing at dizzying pace – Beitar Ilit (Photo: Doron Sheffer)
Mordechai notes that a leading rabbi said 30 years ago Gaza settlers “will be thrown out of there like dogs one day.”
“He realized there was no reason to live amidst the Arabs, as it would create needless friction. But here it’s something else,” he says. “This is nowhere near refugee camps…we don’t create friction with the Arabs or with secular Israelis. We came here to raise our children in the atmosphere I grew up in as a kid, with a good standard of living and relatively cheaply.”
Mordechai adds that should the government ask him to leave his community one day and compensate him in return, he will get up and leave despite the pain.
Another resident says that Beitar Ilit is not expected to be evacuated under any future deal.
“We are 500 meters away from the Green Line. I don’t think the State of Israel wants the border to be that close,” she says, but adds that “with all the pain, it won’t be a problem for us to evacuate, for suitable compensation. We came here for purely economic reasons. As opposed to Gaza’s residents, we’re not sitting here due to a divine order.”