"The Settler"
"The Settler"Credit: Courtesy

The 2005 "Disengagement Plan" resulted in some 10,000 Jews being expelled from their homes in Gush Katif and four villages in northern Samaria. This summer marks ten years since the expulsion

Right-wing politicians warned about the potential for a terror state being established in the power vacuum as Israel withdrew from the region - and within two years, their fears were fulfilled; Hamas was elected to power in 2007, making the region their enclave in the Middle East. 

"The Settler" explores these themes from the eyes of the civilian. 

Sarah Dakar is forcibly wrenched from her Gush Katif home in 2005, in shock at the crisis that she firmly believes that God would not let happen to her family and her community. Heartbroken and bitter, she escapes to the extreme opposite of her former life: the Tel Aviv nightclub scene. Sarah’s quest to run away from life leads to a larger-than-life adventure in self-discovery, romance, and a hearty dose of secularism. But, ironically, it is in her quest to divorce herself that she returns to find her voice - literally. 

The Settler explores the Disengagement through sincere, human eyes, boldly delving into the psyche of the people behind the stereotype. 

Sarah’s story, which both illustrates and defies sectarian stereotypes across the political and religious divide, offers a distinct balance between criticism over the role of blind adherence to social roles on the one hand, and optimism for the future of Zionism and Jewish values on the other. 

The Settler did present one problem for me on a literary level: Sarah’s character development, at times, is just slightly too radical. 

From a realistic perspective, Sarah’s journey does epitomize the roller coaster many young adults experience as they cement their identities - the tendency to test limits, often recklessly, before finding balance. This, on the whole, is spot-on - except for one crucial element. 

Sarah’s whole-hearted entry into the world of open sexuality, of casual relationships, however well-balanced with doubts at various point in the text, failed somewhat to suspend my disbelief. Young women who usually “go off the derech,” or leave the modest, spiritual, sheltered lifestyle of the type of tight-knit religious community portrayed in The Settler, seem to struggle more with insecurities and fear about their bodies and interactions with men than Sarah does. Sarah, while expressing doubts and some fear about this aspect, copes with the change relatively quickly and, overall, unrealistically well.

Overall, however, Arfa executes the difficult balance between sociopolitical commentary and human development artfully, avoiding veering into caricature with grace and humor. Sarah’s journey to find herself is relatable, and constitutes a refreshingly human face on a sector of Israeli society often demonized in the international media. Arfa ultimately takes a highly controversial subject and makes it relatable to any audience - for an undeniably good read on one level, and spectacular commentary on Jewish life and identity on the other. Why can’t we have more novels like this? 

"My entire Zionist worldview was shaken"

Orit Arfa
Orit ArfaCourtesy

Orit Arfa, a Los Angeles native, moved to Israel in 1999. As a reporter for various publications she covered both Israeli politics and the Tel Aviv nightlife. The contrast between Israeli culture and the Diaspora, religious and secular, nationalist and left-wing politics actualize on all of these experiences in The Settler, which was written as her own response to the 2005 Disengagement. 

This month, it was published in Hebrew form, under the title “המתנחלת." The book has since reached new heights: it gained bestseller status in its category on Amazon.com and Indiebooks; the Hebrew eBook placed as #7 on Haaretz's Hebrew-edition bestseller list; and the founder of Israeli mega-discount brand Coffix publicly posted a pledge to read it on his next business flight. 

Orit has also produced a single based on the novel - "Home (Lives in My Song)" - now available on iTunes and Amazon music. 

Arfa spoke about her experiences writing the novel.

"As a reporter stationed in Gaza during the withdrawal, my entire Zionist worldview was shaken," she recounts. "The romantic affair between the heroine and the owner of the nightclub merges contradictory worlds of which I'm intimately familiar, both professionally and personally: the ideals of religious Zionism and the secular pleasures of Tel Aviv."

"While the novel tackles a political subject, it does so through a human, sensual, and honest lens," she continued. "It's the way I was able to make sense of this traumatic event and its implications."