Ideology was what brought the first waves of settlers into the land Israel captured on the west bank of the Jordan River in the 1967 war, some of them keen to return to earlier settlements they'd lost in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that led to Israel's establishment. In the early 1970s, a socioreligious movement called Gush Emunim, or bloc of the faithful, drew to settlements people motivated by the concept that Israel's success in 1967 was divinely inspired, that the Jewish people's return to their biblical homeland signaled the coming of the messianic age. While that worldview continues to attract some, the majority of today's new arrivals come primarily for practical considerations.
"Around 1981, many Israelis started moving out for better housing and the general environment – quality-of-life settlers – and that represents the majority who are coming now," says Michael Feige, a sociologist and anthropologist at Ben-Gurion University and author of the recently published "Settling in the Hearts: Jewish Fundamentalism in the Occupied Territories."
"Economically, it's a good deal to go to the settlements. It always has been," he says. But whereas moving to a settlement once meant living a slightly more precarious existence, it's now becoming a largely safe, suburban one. Settlements in commuting distance to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are particularly popular.
"There are places where the metropolis is moving east," says Professor Feige. So settlements feel so close for commuters that "people moving there don't think they're moving to the West Bank."