I spent last Shabbat with a few friends and a family in Beit El, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. I’m happy to report that the weekend was so great, and it was so, so interesting learning more about our host family’s life and why they chose to live in the settlement. Beit El is a technically illegal, religiously observant town with a population of about 6,000. Some choose to live in settlements because of ideological reasons while others are attracted to the low cost of living. Our family explained that Beit El is inexpensive, has good schools for their kids, a close-knit religious community, and it is easy to commute from there to Jerusalem.

The town itself is like any other religious town in Israel. We honestly weren’t sure where exactly we were going when we got on the bus from Jerusalem but wouldn’t have even realized that we were in the West Bank if it weren’t for the street signs. The first image is of kids playing in the street; unfortunately for me, it is forbidden to photograph on Shabbat so I just snuck one photo with my camera hidden in my bag. What is certainly unusual about Beit El, however, is that it borders Jalzone, a Palestinian refugee camp. The two towns are extremely close together, but separated by a wall and barbed wire fence as shown in the second image. The camp is larger than Beit El and I was surprised by how built up it looks. The view from outside our host family’s house (3rd image) was beautiful, but I can only imagine how they feel when they look at it everyday, in addition to constantly hearing Jalzone’s calls to prayer and celebratory gunshots.