I Couchsurfed with Settlers in the Holy Land

By Andy Tenido

A crumbling building with an easy chair lookout in Tifzi.

My impression of having found a completely normal settler family ruined, I headed back to Ramallah and set up my final CouchSurfing trip, in the artists' community of Tifzi outside the settlement of Giv'at Ze'ev. Natan, the guy from Tifzi I talked to, had told me to get off the bus at the co-op supermarket. I asked the driver to tell me when we got there and he let me off outside a supermarket, but it quickly became apparent that I was in the wrong place. It was after dark, and wandering aimlessly around a settlement full of strangers brought back visions of all the terrible stories I'd heard of stonings, beatings, and other random settler attacks. But luckily I had Natan's phone number and he figured out where I was.

We climbed a hill to get to Tifzi and I got the impression I was in a particularly colorful Occupy camp. It's basically a series of tents built up around an abandoned, crumbling house with a giant Israeli flag flying over the whole thing. I'd come on the night of a Hanukkah trance party, which meant that there would be music blasting from midnight till noon. A bunch of weirdo hippies arrived to dance and paint abstract glow-in-the-dark art. There was also a Japanese guy on an acid trip who didn't seem to speak any English or Hebrew, but who kept yelling "HANUKKAH!" and running off.

A German dude wandered around taking dozens of pictures of Tifzi's resident canine. "I've been taking so many pictures of that dog in different situations!" he exclaimed. "The life of a dog in a Zionist hippie commune! It's crazy!" And of course everyone was obsessed with the apocalypse. The most striking example of this was Jacob, a middle-aged American guy who approached me while I was standing at a fire. Our conversation started out normal enough, with him telling me he'd been in Israel for the duration of one three-month visa, before going to Jordan, where he got it renewed and came back.

Then, out of nowhere, he started yelling, "That song 'American Pie'—everything in that song came true this year!" He was working himself up into a rage about the secrets revealed by the famous prophet Don McLean. He was so angry about the song coming true that for a moment I was afraid he was going to hit me. But he was just explaining the prophecy.

"And Lennon read a book of Marx! Barack Obama is a Marxist and the US is a Marxist country!" He told me that "Barack Obama" in Hebrew means "Lightning from the heights," a reference to Satan in the Book of Revelations, or something, and further proof that the end of the world is imminent. He said there were some righteous people in America who will be saved on Judgement Day, "but just by the skin of their teeth!"

All the righteous are leaving America, according to Jacob. I actually agreed with this, but for reasons having nothing to do with the song "American Pie." I eventually excused myself and went to the sleep tent. Before I retired, Jacob told me, "I've been praying I'd meet a righteous person, and you're him." It was a little scary to have a raving, right-wing, religious nut job tell me I'm a "righteous person," but I'll take compliments where I can get them. I somehow managed to sleep for an hour or two, despite the fact that the sleep tent was about ten feet away from gigantic speakers blasting Israeli techno.

The next morning, I explored the camp in the daylight and discovered that their idea of "art" seems to mostly involve putting bicycles in trees. I ran into the Japanese guy, who yelled "Konichiwa, motherfuckers!" and disappeared again. On the roof of the crumbling building, I ended up talking to Rafael, one of the guys who started Tifzi. Looking over the wall at Ramallah, I asked him how he felt living so close to it. He said he didn't care, he just didn't want to hurt anyone. And if they tried to hurt him, well, everyone at Tifzi has been in the army, so let them try. Then, out of the blue, he started in on the apocalypse, too. "I have something to tell visitors to Israel," he said. "Soon, every army on Earth will be fighting on Jerusalem."

I asked what he meant. "Armageddon, whatever you want to call it." I asked if he thought it would be coming soon and he said it had already started. I asked if a lot of people in Israel felt that way. "Yes, even if they don't say it out loud, I think everyone feels it." I said my goodbyes and headed out of Tifzi. It's Shabbat, so there were no public buses running and I had to hitchhike back to Jerusalem. Luckily, a car pulled over almost immediately. I walked up to try to stammer out the Hebrew name for where I needed to go. There were two guys in the car, both American. They introduced themselves as "Pimpin'" and "A-Time." (I've changed everyone's name in this story, but I let Pimpin' and A-Time keep theirs.)

Coincidentally, Pimpin' and A-Time are also armageddon-obsessed trance music promoters. "The apocalypse has already started," Pimpin' told me. "Everything's going crazy. Bath salts, man." They stopped to buy unspecified drugs somewhere and then dropped me off in Jerusalem, ending my adventure CouchSurfing the settlements.

If I learned something from it, I guess it's this: just because someone lives on stolen Palestinian land, doesn't necessarily mean they're a hyper-violent psychopath. But it doesn't seem like many of them are what you'd call sane, either.

More settlements in the West Bank:

Bab Al-Shams: The Short Life of a Palestinian Settlement

The Israeli Election: Settlers Are Here to Stay

Watch - Renegade Jewish Settlers