In the vast and complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one issue is particularly contentious: Jewish Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, territory Israel has held since the Six-Day War in 1967. As the 50th anniversary of that conflict approaches in June, it continues to complicate the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Donald Trump visits Israel this week, but ahead of his visit, an American diplomatic aide reportedly challenged Israel’s claim to the Western Wall, a holy site that has been contested since the 1967 conflict. Trump touted his support for Israel during the campaign, but has cooled on the settlements, telling an Israeli newspaper in February that they “don’t help the [peace] process.” On the other hand, Trump’s newly arrived U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has strongly supported the settlement movement, and members of his family helped found Bet El, one of the West Bank communities.
Friedman’s story is not an anomaly. According to new research by Sara Yael Hirschhorn, a lecturer at Oxford University, about 60,000 out of the 400,000 settlers currently living in the West Bank are American—roughly 15 percent. In a new book about this group, City on a Hilltop, Hirschhorn writes that the Americans who came to Israel in the 1960s and ’70s defy today’s common stereotypes about settlers. Instead of being ultra-religious and conservative, “these new arrivals were usually young, single, highly educated, upwardly mobile, and traditional but not necessarily Orthodox in their religious practice, voted for Democratic Party candidates, and were politically supportive of and active in … the civil-rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War struggle.”