Why you should care
Because life in some of the world’s most contested land is never black and white.
“Shalom! Shalom!” shouts Dr. Yitzchak Glick exuberantly as always, waving to several Palestinian children beside the village mosque.
To my surprise, they wave back without hesitation. No rocks thrown, no dirty looks even. “Shalom! Shalom!” they respond.
Are we really still in the West Bank?
These people don’t want to kill me. They just want to live their life and put food on the table.
Dr. Yitzchak Glick
“Welcome to the Gush!” Glick exclaims, referring to Gush Etzion, an area adjacent to the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank. Gush Etzion contains numerous Israeli settlements and is often discussed as becoming part of Israel through land swaps in a possible political agreement with Palestinians.
“Here, people see each other as regular, normal human beings,” says Glick, fresh off greeting old friends at a local supermarket frequented by Israelis and Palestinians alike. “It’s a contrast from Sderot and Gaza, where they’re lobbing missiles. Here, we can live together, just like Jerusalem.”
We drive to the home of Glick’s second patient of the day, a year-and-a-half-old Palestinian child with a rare enzyme disorder. Several Palestinian families surround Glick as the doctor examines the boy, each jockeying to hand him their medical records for a second opinion. Afterward, on the way back to his car, waves of people from the village beckon Glick to inspect their children.
Glick seems to know every one of them, pointing out a member of the Palestinian national soccer team and a man whose son is going blind.
Adoration is mutual between the Palestinian villagers and this Orthodox Zionist settler who lauds U.S. President Donald Trump’s approach to the region — and that’s exactly how he envisioned the relationship a long time ago.
Glick, 59, moved with his family as a teenager from New York City to Israel in 1974. After serving in the 1982 war in Lebanon, Glick decided to pursue medicine, in part because of the regular interaction with Palestinians it often entails. “I felt very strongly that the more people get to know each other on a personal level, the more we are likely to advance peace,” he says.
In 1998, the avid softball player and die-hard Cleveland Indians fan permanently settled in Efrat, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, just south of Bethlehem, where he and his wife raised their five kids. The international community declares Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal, but Israel views them as legitimate and within “disputed,” not “occupied,” territory.
In the Gush, a particularly high number of neighboring Palestinians work in construction in the settlements — normally off-limits to them. Glick became friendly with the Palestinian workers renovating his home. They started asking him medical questions, and he gladly answered them. Then came their friends, and over time seemingly everyone in the Palestinian villages become acquainted with the Orthodox doctor from Efrat providing free medical advice.
As word spread, Glick would visit Palestinian homes in villages like Umm Salamuna to offer medical assistance. “I wanted them to feel comfortable, like they had the home-field advantage,” Glick says. He’s been visiting the same villages in the Gush for years, though he rarely ventures outside the area. “I don’t even bat an eye,” he says. “These people don’t want to kill me. They just want to live their life and put food on the table.”
As we drive through the area, however, he seamlessly transitions between cheerful descriptions of “the thriving life” Israelis and Palestinians enjoy together in Gush Etzion and pointing out where along the road someone he knew was killed by a terrorist. “You see Israelis and Palestinians driving together, no one is out pointing guns at each other,” he says. “This is a healthy way of living.”
During our drive, we pass Israeli watchtowers manned by armed soldiers.
Noor A’wad is a Bethlehem-based activist with Roots, an organization based in Gush Etzion focused on creating a dialogue between local settlers and Palestinians. A’wad praises Glick’s “values” and volunteer work in the villages, but he does not agree with Glick’s depiction of Palestinian life under Israeli control, highlighting, among other issues, late-night raids, hourslong interrogations at the border and a lack of rights and freedom of movement under military law in the West Bank. “We are living in a system under one sovereignty that discriminates between Jews and Palestinians,” A’wad says.
Though Glick acknowledges “hardships” for Palestinians, like facing humiliation by soldiers and long delays when entering Jerusalem with a permit, “Israelis have it a thousand times worse, a million times worse,” he asserts, considering the traumatic rocket attacks Israeli children face when tensions flare with Gaza and the sporadic terrorist attacks.
Glick says he has spoken with the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) top brass about some of the issues he sees for Palestinians, but in Glick’s eyes, Israeli administration of the West Bank does not amount to oppression or even occupation. Palestinians may live under military law, but it’s “totally for security,” he says. Palestinians at the gas station had, in fact, told him “really positive stuff” about the army. Until the terrorism ends and Palestinians agree to “compromise,” Glick views the status quo as enabling Palestinians and Jews to live together in security “instead of [in] a terrorist state like you have in Gaza.”
He casts Israel’s center-right position as a successor to the U.S. Civil Rights Movement: “In the ’60s [in America], we always said integration is a great thing.”
Driving through the rolling hills of the West Bank, he keeps highlighting the nice Palestinian cars and houses we pass as proof of how they benefit from Israel’s presence here — while noting the vast space in between. “Look at all this emptiness everywhere! Why can’t we just live together?” the bright-eyed doctor says.
A’wad does not see Glick’s economic “miracle” but rather an employer-employee relationship. “I think the average Israeli settler has a very narrow perception or understanding of what the Palestinians want,” he says. “We are really not living together.”
But with Glick and his Palestinian patients, there is a human connection that goes beyond the usual marketplace relationship, if still under specific circumstances. “Mwa! The doctor is a blessing,” says one 72-year-old hijab-wearing woman, who suffers from chronic pain as a result of her diabetes. (To avoid retribution from the Palestinian Authority [PA], Glick’s patients and associates in Palestine spoke only on condition of anonymity.) The grandmother, who worked in a kitchen in Efrat for more than 25 years, expresses no antipathy toward the settlements. “Efrat has been nothing but good to us,” she says.
Glick began an emergency health clinic in Efrat, where some 10 percent of the patients are Palestinian. He and others in Efrat have also helped fund Palestinian medical clinics nearby, though Glick and the villagers remain low-key about the aid and his village visits so the clinics don’t run afoul of the PA.
I ask Glick if he and patients ever talk politics during his home visits. “Yes, but we don’t get heavily into it, because Palestinians have very little control of their life,” he responds, alluding to the PA, which hasn’t held elections in more than a decade. “The majority talk about living in peace and let’s stop killing each other.”
This seems odd considering the political bent of many Palestinians in the West Bank. I ask the Palestinian father of a child Glick is treating if he ever brought up what he considers to be an occupation. The man shook his head. “Why would I? He is here to help my child. That is all that matters.”
If there were 100,000 more Jews in Hebron, they would get along with the Palestinians, just as they get along in Tel Aviv and Haifa right now.
Dr. Yitzchak Glick
Many of the Palestinian villagers in Areas B or C — under Israeli security control — have more interaction and economic relationships with settlers than do those in Area A, largely made up of Palestinian cities. But relations still vary based on the given village.
Glick typically doesn’t enter Area A, which is under the civil and security control of the PA and technically off-limits to Israelis, but as we drive around the area, Glick removes his kippah and takes a short turn into Bethlehem to show how wonderfully the Palestinians are living there as well. A couple of blocks in, we pass several IDF vehicles, with soldiers around a corner. “Oh my God! The Israeli army is here,” Glick exclaims. “They’re not allowed to be in here. They must be making an arrest or something.”
Under the Oslo Accord, the Israeli army is not supposed to enter Area A, but it regularly makes late-night arrests there. A Palestinian man nearby explains that the soldiers were arresting a 14-year-old boy for allegedly shooting a bullet at the separation wall nearby. “OK, let’s get out of here. We’ll see it all over the internet tomorrow,” Glick says.
The incident went unreported.
Glick puts high hopes in Trump’s ability to reduce the area’s tensions. A peace plan drafted by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was due out this month — until Israel’s politics were scrambled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inability to form a government, requiring a new election. Even though details of the U.S. plan are yet to be released, Glick praises Trump for offering “another model” that provides financial incentives as well as “human rights, human dignity and civil rights” for Palestinians. Glick personally suggests something along the lines of a confederacy or a demilitarized Palestinian state one day — once Palestinian terrorism is reined in.
Palestinians, however, have largely rebuffed Trump’s plan as little more than a bribe. “You are literally asking a nation to forget about their right to be a nation,” says A’wad, who believes “building trust and understanding” must come first.
In the micro sense, Glick does that every day he goes on his village visits. But thinking bigger, Glick champions more “integration” in Judea and Samaria as the way to peace. “I honestly believe if there were 100,000 more Jews in Hebron, they would get along with the Palestinians, just as they get along in Tel Aviv and Haifa right now,” he says.
In the Old City of Hebron, some 800 ideologically driven Jewish settlers live within the Palestinian city of 100,000 under heavy — and, according to Palestinian locals, brutal — military protection. “It can be hard to convince other Palestinians not to commit violence because the settler project is based on violence. The occupation is a form of violence,” says A’wad, who advocates for nonviolence.
Talks of “integration” by Glick will continue to face criticism from activist Palestinians and the international left, not to mention the Israeli far-right, some of whom want to simply expel the Arab population. But in Glick’s daily interactions with Palestinian patients and friends, there is a shared feeling about the basic nature of his actions — good. During those heartwarming moments with patients, the prospect of Israelis and Palestinians living together doesn’t seem simply possible to Glick. It’s already reality.
As Glick leaves her home, the Palestinian grandmother with diabetes showers him with praise. “Bless you, Doctor!” she exclaims. “You are a good man. Please come back with your wife for tea sometime!”