Later this year, 21-year-old Ephraim Khantsis will pack a couple of suitcases, say good-bye to his mother, leave his home in Brooklyn, and move to Israel. On arrival in Jerusalem he will enroll in a yeshiva, or religious school, that is popular with Americans. After a few months he will make his way north, to a place this young American feels is his true home: the Jewish settlement of Kfar Tapuach.
Perched on a hill just off Route 60, the main north-south road in the occupied West Bank, Kfar Tapuach is known as a particularly hard-line community. Home to about 600 people, the settlement has a history of welcoming American immigrants whose beliefs and acts raise alarms among Israeli intelligence agencies, leading them to monitor it as a haven for suspected terrorists.
Khantsis, who is in the process of applying for Israeli citizenship, will fit right in. Like the assassinated Brooklyn-born rabbi Meir Kahane, the man some in Kfar Tapuach consider their spiritual leader, Khantsis believes that all Arabs and Palestinians should be forcibly removed from territory controlled by Israel, including the West Bank.
"It's the most humane way to solve the situation," Khantsis—who has just graduated from Stony Brook University, on Long Island, with a degree in computer science—says, sipping a soda in an Israeli-run kosher pizzeria in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, this past June. He acknowledges that he is advocating ethnic cleansing.
While such a view is unlikely to become mainstream in Israel, there's a pledge Khantsis makes, one that it's also possible to hear from Americans already living in settlements, that might be more troubling to Israeli authorities: If the Israeli military comes to remove him from his new home—and many in Israel believe such an event is likely—he will not leave peacefully.
"I would fight against it with all my strength, and I would leave nothing back to try to stop it," says the slim young man wearing a black yarmulke. He speaks so softly that at times it's hard to hear him. "If they use violence, then we're justified doing the same."
Would that include using a gun?
"Yes," he says.
Is he absolutely sure that he would use a weapon against Israeli soldiers?
"That's right. I strongly hope it would never come to that," he says. But "if they're already shooting us, I'd have no option. I don't think the right thing to do is turn the other cheek. It's not a Jewish thing to do."
After Israel won the Six-Day War in 1967 and took control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank—Palestinian areas that had been held by Egypt and Jordan, respectively—religious and right-wing Jews quickly began pushing for the establishment of communities on what they considered land promised them by God. At first the Israeli government refused to let them build on occupied territory, but as the years went by, homes and businesses started popping up.