How far the youth of the West Bank are prepared to go to stay on what much of the world considers occupied land is a question that is increasingly haunting a country surrounded by enemies. In November 2008, Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel's internal intelligence service, told the Israeli cabinet that future evacuations would involve "a very high willingness among this public to use violence—not just stones but live weapons—in order to prevent or halt a diplomatic process."
Making peace with Israel's traditional enemies may have to wait until the country has dealt with the enemy within.
Aaron Gottlieb is 15 years old, speaks in a rapid-fire American accent, and has yet to have his first shave. He does not look like much of a threat, but he is part of a group that has many in Israel deeply worried: the Hilltop Youth.
Gottlieb grew up in New Rochelle, New York, and immigrated to Israel with his family when he was 9. Whenever he can get away from his yeshiva in the town of Petah Tikva, he spends the night, along with Yedidya Slonim and other teenage boys, at Shvut Ami. Their mission is simple: to establish Jewish homes on as many strategic hilltops as possible throughout the West Bank. According to Peace Now, an Israeli pacifist organization, there are about 100 such outposts. The mainstream settler movement has largely disowned this radical wing and its frequently violent acts.
"I very much believe I'm a threat to my own government," Gottlieb says. "There will be no giving up."
Shvut Ami sits close to Route 60, near the hard-line settlement of Qedumim, one of the first to be established in the West Bank. Israeli police have tried numerous times to remove the teenagers—arresting some of them and destroying their temporary structures—but the kids keep coming back. In four months over the winter, they used picks and shovels to dig the cave into the hillside. To get rid of it, police will need to use dynamite. The boys live there among dusty blankets and pillows, a gas heater keeping them warm at night while they study the Torah.
Many saw the strong resistance put up by the Hilltop Youth and others at Amona as a harbinger of battles to come. "When bricks are thrown at the heads of soldiers and police officers, a line has clearly been crossed," said then acting prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Like most other settlers, Gottlieb doesn't call the people in the nearby town "Palestinians." That would imply that there was a country called Palestine. Sometimes they're "Arabs," but mostly he calls them "terrorists." Gottlieb says he's not afraid. "God's with me," he says. "This land has been ours forever."
Gottlieb's belief in his right to live in the West Bank despite international condemnation and the laws of his own government is total. There is very little of America left in him. He goes back sometimes to visit his grandmother, who lives on Park Avenue in New York City, but he dislikes what he sees as the sinfulness of the United States.