In the eyes of many, Emily Amrusi is the Israeli settler movement’s “It Girl.” The fashionable 32-year-old former spokeswoman for the Yesha Council is now working as a journalist and author. Amrusi writes for Israel HaYom a widely circulated free right-wing newspaper, including a regular column for the political supplement of its weekend edition.
Her loosely autobiographical first novel, “Tris,” published in 2009, is about a young settler woman who develops thyroid deficiency after childbirth. When she discovers that the condition also afflicts not only other mothers in the settlement, but also women in the neighboring Palestinian village, she befriends one of those Arab women and forms an alliance to change the environmental conditions causing the medical problem. “It’s a book that allows a peek into a small settlement in Samaria,” Amrusi said. “I presented a very authentic picture…I wanted to sketch a truthful portrait of our lives – the good things and the less good things. Some people didn’t like how they came out looking. It was like having a hidden camera filming us.”
Amrusi was born and raised in Jerusalem in a Sephardic family which has lived there for twelve generations. Her entire family became religious when she was in 6th grade. Amrusi now lives in Talmon, a 200-family settlement on a hilltop in Samaria, with her husband and three young children.
We recently spoke in Hebrew, at a café in the town of Reut. Amrusi said that she does not give interviews in English. Although she is regularly sought out for interviews by Israeli media, this is her first one for the foreign press.
Renee Ghert-Zand: You declined to run for the Knesset and decided to leave your position as spokeswoman for the settler movement. Do you still have any political aspirations?
Emily Amrusi: I want to influence politics, so I write. I much more enjoy the writing and the creativity. In Israel there aren’t any artists or creative types with right-wing opinions who are appreciated for their creativity. If you are a creative person or an artist, you have to be from the left…So it is important that I write…Everyone always thinks that I am representing a certain side, but I am saying and writing my own truth. So I see myself primarily as a creative person and an independent artist. And by coincidence, my thoughts are those that also relate to the sad political situation we have here in Israel.
But is that really possible, since in Israel you represent the settler movement?
To be honest, I have advanced because of this positioning of myself. Because I have a hat that says on it “Settler” and its very obvious and its very unique - it’s a brand. “Emily Amrusi – The Settler” is a brand that is very easy to advance with. On the other hand, it really hurts me that the general media won’t turn to me to speak on the radio about the status of women or violence in the streets - subjects that concern me. They always talk to me about the same topics, and I admit that I put myself into that drawer. This serves me and it’s good for me. At the same time, I suffer from it because I always am in a place where people know ahead of time what I am going to say. I’m trying to figure out whether this is a good thing or not. At least in my column, I write about what I want.
Why do you choose to be a settler?
The answer that I have to say is that I feel part of the chain of the Jewish people and I am living in what is the true homeland of the Jewish people. That is true. But to be frank, the real reason is because I see it as the right way to live. It’s community. And today, there are hardly any communities in Israel. I’m not talking about a social network on Facebook. I’m talking about a real social network…I enjoy living in a community, and in particular a religious community with a lot of solidarity. People are concerned about one another, and it’s easier to raise children. The social relationships are great.
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about the settlers?
The settler over the years, in the news and in creative works like theater and literature and films, is always presented as someone with a lot of confidence. And the truth is that the settlers, in terms of their psychological makeup, are very afraid of outside Israeli society [mainstream Israelis]. They are always looking for validation. They are people with a lack of self-confidence. The settler is always worried about how he is being portrayed. He can’t get rid of this phobia. It’s a very Jewish syndrome. Because we are a very modest group, we feel we are being persecuted…because we are an abused population. This feeling is justified because for thirty years a character assassination has been carried out against us.
Do you consider yourself a Jewish feminist?
I don’t know if I am a feminist. I don’t deal so much with labels and definitions. But I am very egalitarian. Both my husband, who is a building project manager, and I work full-time. But we split the work at home 50-50.
There are a lot of things that exclude women in Judaism, or prevent them from getting certain places, and I don’t like it. But there are a lot of things I don’t like in the Torah, but I don’t take a stance against them, because that’s the whole point of being religious. You take things as the kingship of God.
One of the women’s issues I have been very vocal about is the extreme pressure on us to have huge families and to have children right away after marriage. I personally feel it. I live in a young settlement, and when there is a family with three children, like ours, people are always taking pity on us…they think there is something wrong with us.
I think everyone should do what is good and right for them, without pressure. We are not from the Haredi sector. We are from the sector where women are working, educated to be self-confident and self-fulfilled and to have careers. Some people pay a high price to live according to this norm [of having 7-10 children] that is not suited to them. I married at age 20. I was ready to be a wife, but not a mother. I waited six years to have children. I wanted to finish my B.A., to work and we also traveled in South America before having a first child. I saw the world, I matured, and my husband and I established our relationship. And I think we did the right thing economically, too. As far as this childbearing issue goes, I’m known as a troublemaker.
What do you think is the most important issue facing Israel now, and what do you think about the J14 Revolution?
I think the security issue is and always has been paramount. Right now it’s the escapism of summer and it’s okay to argue about the price of housing, baby carriages and cottage cheese, but Israel’s real problem is its security. We are a small island in a sea of Arab enemies, and we can’t be taken in by illusions.
Sure, I also don’t have money to buy a house. The protester’s claims are justified…I agree with the claims, but I don’t agree with the conclusions. They want to bring down the government of Israel, and I don’t agree with that.
The relationship in your novel between the female settler protagonist and the woman from the neighboring Palestinian village is imaginary. Why has something like this not happened in real life?
A lot of people ask me why I didn’t really do it. It’s a block of fear, and of language. It’s a problem of communication. We live very close to them, but we don’t know how to get to them.
I’d like to go in that direction one day. We have a national conflict, not a personal one…I don’t think they should not have rights as individuals, I just don’t think that we should give them a state, because that would endanger our state…Right now Israel’s population is 20% Arab, right? So, if we were to give the Arabs in Judea and Samaria citizenship, the Arabs would be around 30% of Israel’s population. So there would be a couple more Arab Members of Knesset. I can live with that…
We were taught as we grew up that peace means giving up territory. But there is a different kind of peace that doesn’t require giving up land. There is peace between people. There’s enough space here for everyone.