“We feel that the more people know what is happening inside East Jerusalem, the better our chances of building a lasting peace in the Middle East are.”
Meet Hagit Ofran.
Hagit is the director of the Settlement Watch project, part of the Israeli Peace Now movement. Widely-recognized as Israel’s foremost expert on West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements, Hagit is responsible for monitoring and analyzing Israeli construction and planning of settlements in the West Bank.
Born in Jerusalem and raised in a politically-minded, Orthodox family, Hagit avidly studied the history and identity of the Israeli and Jewish people. Hagit says her grandfather, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, had a big influence on her life and her political ideology. A prolific writer, philosopher and Torah scholar, Leibowitz’s critiques of Israeli policy made him a reviled figure among some, while being an intellectual hero to others.
Beginning in 1990, Peace Now determined that one of the most problematic elements of Israeli policy — and one which would potentially derail any future peace talks — was the building and expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
Thus, Hagit’s work with Peace Now includes traveling daily throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem monitoring settlement-related developments, commissioning and examining aerial photos of settlements and scrutinizing official Israeli documents. Focused and fastidious, Hagit has been involved in providing evidence for several appeals on behalf of Palestinian communities, the majority of which deal with illegal settlement and outpost construction.
Hagit says she aims to demonstrate the acute moral dilemma to decent people who live on what she argues is essentially stolen property. “I’ve met people who say, ‘OK, this may be true, but why are you doing this? Why be a stinker? You are giving Israel a bad name,’” she says. “I have no interest in giving Israel a bad name; I’m interested in Israel not being bad.”
Hagit’s commitment to her work comes at a personal cost as she faces intimidation and death threats from those who disapprove of her work. Yet, Hagit presses on, recognizing the importance of exposing the truth of Israeli occupation on Palestinian land and urges her fellow citizens not to be afraid to speak out about the truth. “It is precisely at the darkest hour that we need a torch to illuminate what others are trying to silence and conceal,” she says. “We will not stop fighting for what is important and fateful for our future. The answer to the attempts that try to silence us is to shout louder.”
Eyes on the ground in East Jerusalem (Hagit Ofran’s blog)
Outposts & the abuse of law in service of the settlements, the Huffington Post, 11 Oct 2011.
Peace Now activist’s home vandalized for the third time in a year, Haaretz Daily Newspaper, 16 Jul 2012.
NGOs petition to restrict EU imports from West Bank settlements, the Times of Israel, 30 Oct 2012.