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City on a Hilltop

American Jews and the Israeli Settler Movement
Harvard University Press
Publication Year


Since 1967, more than 60,000 Jewish-Americans have settled in the territories captured by the State of Israel during the Six Day War. Comprising 15 percent of the settler population today, these immigrants have established major communities, transformed domestic politics and international relations, and committed shocking acts of terrorism. They demand attention in both Israel and the United States, but little is known about who they are and why they chose to leave America to live at the center of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

In this deeply researched, engaging work, Sara Yael Hirschhorn unsettles stereotypes, showing that the 1960s generation who moved to the occupied territories were not messianic zealots or right-wing extremists but idealists engaged in liberal causes. They did not abandon their progressive heritage when they crossed the Green Line. Rather, they saw a historic opportunity to create new communities to serve as a beacon—a “city on a hilltop”—to Jews across the globe. This pioneering vision was realized in their ventures at Yamit in the Sinai and Efrat and Tekoa in the West Bank. Later, the movement mobilized the rhetoric of civil rights to rebrand itself, especially in the wake of the 1994 Hebron massacre perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein, one of their own.

On the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 war, Hirschhorn illuminates the changing face of the settlements and the clash between liberal values and political realities at the heart of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.


“In vivid, approachable, yet deeply informative prose, City on a Hilltop zeroes in on the diverse personalities behind the phenomenon of the ‘American settler.’ …But what is perhaps most fascinating in the work is Hirschhorn’s examination of the settlers’ motivations in leaving the comforts of the United States for the undeveloped and often hostile territory of post-1967 Greater Israel.”

—Amanda Borschel-Dan, The Times of Israel

“Hirschhorn’s illuminating and timely study punctures many myths concerning these settlers, and places them not only within an Israeli context, but within an American one as well.”
—Jonathan D. Sarna, author of American Judaism: A History

“Provocative, challenging, and revealing, City on a Hilltop takes us into the lives of American-Israeli settlers fighting for the most hotly disputed real estate on Earth. Hirschhorn chisels away at stereotypes and monoliths with a disciplined, scholarly touch, graced with humanity, revealing nuanced perspectives of a community that ultimately reveals the deeply fractured soul of a contested land.”

—Wajahat Ali, author of The Domestic Crusaders

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