Hasidic Jews in the West Bank

The West Bank is a chunk of territory that is bordered mainly by Israel, Jordan and the Dead Sea. It is located near the Mediterranean coast of Western Asia, and ever since the Six-Day War in 1967, has been occupied by Israel. The ethnonational group of Palestinians also reside and claim territory in the West Bank, as they claim to have rights of living there. In the recent few years, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has openly announced plans of annexing West Bank territory where Jewish settlements are. While he revoked official plans of annexation, this has caused tension between the two main groups within the West Bank, as Jewish settlements still continue to expand. The possibility of annextion of regions that contain Jewish settlements would likely result in an increased amount of conflict and instability between the Palestinian Arabs and Israels, as tension is already rising from both sides settling in the West Bank.

As both Palestenians and Israelis share history in the West Bank, settlements from both sides have caused a rising tension over who has rights regarding West Bank territory. This piece of land can be drawn from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, where Jordan took control. Jordan annexed the West Bank, then lost control of it to Israel in 1967. The Jews still regarded this territory as rightfully theirs: “the preferred nomenclature among Jewish settlers and right-wing Israelis – is contentious since it suggests a belief that contemporary Israeli policy should be based on the biblical boundaries of the Land of Israel.” The biblical boundaries of Israel includes the territory of West Bank. In addition to this, the city of Hebron, which is located in the West Bank, is considered to be a holy city due to the believed burial theer of Jewish matriarchs/patriarchs. On the other hand, the Palestenians have resided in the West Bank for more than 400 years, and embrace the stance that the Israeli’s have built upon stolen land. Palestenian’s also have been harassed by the Israeli’s expansion, as it has been frequently reported that there have been: “extremist settlers, many of them armed, violently attacking Palestinians, burning their fields and uprooting their olive trees’“. Although millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank are upset, Israeli settlements continue to expand rapidly especially in the previous few years.

The rising tension between the Israeli’s and Palestinians, as well as the possible action of annexation and expansion of settlements from Israel, have caused an unpredictable and unstable future for settlements on both sides in the West Bank. As ultra-orthodox Jewish settlements expand, most notably the city of Beitar Illit, discrimination against Palestinians increases too. This discrimination takes the form of alleged war crimes, as: “Israeli military and security forces killed at least 38 Palestinians, including 11 children, during demonstrations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)”. This can be classified as a war crime under international law, as Israeli’s aren’t allowed to settle in Palestenian territory even though the government of Israel disputes this. Many Palestinian’s that have been killed also have showed no threat to the life of Israeli citizens, but killings occur on both sides. It has also been reported that Palestinian’s have been provoking the Jewish settlers by attacking them in certain situations where the Israeli’s have done no harm, so this issue of violence goes both ways.

Unprovoked violence and killing on both sides can be considered a human rights issue, and has the possibility of turning into a larger ethnic conflict or war. As the two different ethnic groups contain completely different ideologies and both have deep-seeded roots in the West Bank, there is no simple solution to this problem. It doesn’t look like either side will give up settling in the West Bank without a fight, so if they could learn to co-exist peacefully, this would be the best option. This solution doesn’t seem likely as both sides are intolerable with each other due to their strong historic and religious beliefs. An agreement of the partition of territory between both sides looks like the best bet, if the Israeli’s and Palestenian’s can come to a compromise.

In Western Mongolia, Traditional Eagle Falconry Finds New Life

In Bayan-Ölgii, the westernmost province of Mongolia, the sweeping Altai mountain range separates the frigid Gobi desert from the eastern extent of Kazakhstan. These mountains, where the punishing year-round climate can bring winter temperatures to forty and fifty below zero, is home to Mongolia’s Kazakh minority, a traditionally nomadic people whose way of life has been challenged by modern technology and cultural change. Many still live in traditional yurts, travel primarily by horseback, and do not maintain a consistent mailing address. However, younger generations attending Mongolian schools use cell phones, social media, and the internet, just like their peers around the world, pulling them away from their nomadic roots. However, it’s these digital tools that have helped preserve one of Bayan-Ölgii’s most storied traditions – eagle hunting. 

For centuries across the steppes of Central Asia, eagle hunters known as bürkitshi have practiced a type of falconry unique to their part of the world: namely, the type that employs tremendous golden eagles, whose wingspan is nearly three times that of the west’s traditional hunting bird, the peregrine falcon. Hunters, often mounted, ride deep into the mountains and beyond the reaches of civilization to position themselves on peaks and cliffs where they scan for their desired targets – typically rabbits, foxes, and marmots, hunted for their pelts. Once prey has been spotted, the eagles swoop down to collect, although encounters on the ground can sometimes turn dangerous – especially when an eagle and its hunter target wolves and wild cats, whose furs are prized but who pose a danger to the eagles, who don’t typically hunt such large predators. If the hunt is successful, bürkitshi return home to process their collected pelts. 

The practice of eagle hunting is an integral piece of the artwork and oral tradition of the nomadic Kazakh people. It lies somewhere between sport and necessity: While its fruits are put to practical purpose in the traditional fur garments of the nomadic Kazakh people, most contemporary hunters practice for leisure or as homage to their ancestry. The number of true bürkitshi left today is debated; while nearly four-hundred hunters are officially registered, some Kazakh elders claim that only a few-dozen hunters still practice with the same skill as past generations. Part of the tradition’s decline is certainly due to the labor required to train and maintain an eagle; eaglets must be captured from the wild a few months after their birth, and the training process takes immense skill and time. Although the eagles often live for thirty years, tradition stipulates that hunters release their birds after no more than a decade in captivity, meaning trainers must restart the process every decade. 

In 2014, photographs of the teenage eagle huntress Aisholpan went viral, and two years later, a western documentary film titled “The Eagle Huntress” followed her quest to win the central competition of Western Mongolia’s annual Golden Eagle Festival. The immense popularity of the documentary led to a wave of foreign interest in eagle hunting, and now the Golden Eagle Festival draws over a thousand foreign tourists each year. This foreign attention has helped revitalize the sport. While older generations bemoan the commercialization of the cultural tradition, they’ll admit that before the foreign interest, the practice had been at risk of fading into obscurity. Additionally, in a New York Times feature from 2018, reporters in Bayan-Ölgii documented teenagers who went to hunt with their eagles like American teens went to the mall, having fun on horseback and sharing their experience on social media. Youth interest in eagle hunting seems to have helped older generations reconnect with younger ones, stalling fears that the cultural traditions of the nomadic mongolian Kazakhs would be supplanted in younger generations. 

In Bayan-Ölgii, the epic practice of eagle-hunting was caught in decades of generational decline as younger members of the local Kazakh minority slowly forgot a somewhat anachronistic practice that had long defined their culture. Luckily, the young eagle hunters that have chosen to bring their tradition forward have caught the imagination of a global audience and have set their practice on an upward trajectory that should ensure its continued existence for decades to come.

Aisholpan, 2014

Golden Eagle Festival, 2018