The Legacy of the Settlers

I usually refrain from writing about politics in Israel, avoiding in particular the current debate regarding the Gaza disengagement plan. But after last week’s lynching of a Palestinian by Jewish teenagers, the “high point” of a week of daily violence from the “orange” side of the spectrum, I feel compelled to post here an op-ed piece Uzi Benziman in Ha’aretz. Benziman simply tells it the way it is.

Not an isolated spectacle

By Uzi Benziman (Ha’aretz July 3, 2005)

The recent events in Gush Katif are a clear reflection of the settlers’ grasp of Judaism: First you take over an abandoned Palestinian house, then set a mezuzah in it and declare it as Jewish property. Then you hold prayer sessions and Hasidic dancing in it. Later you provoke the Palestinian neighbors – an act that leads to stone throwing and ends with attempts by Jewish youths to stone to death an unconscious Palestinian teen.

This, in a nutshell, is the story of the Israeli takeover of the territories since 1967: seizing foreign lands, vindicating the robbery in the name of halakha and the right of the forefathers, creating friction and causing violent confrontations with the Palestinian neighbors, using force to ensure the hold on the new properties and relying on the state’s powerful security apparatuses to eliminate the Palestinians’ resistance to the injustice inflicted on them.

The sanctimonious rhetoric accompanying last Wednesday’s attempted lynch at the Tal Yam outpost is typical of the entire settlement project. (Pasting Hebrew names, usually biblical, on outposts and communities in the territories, is part of the process of converting them to Judaism.) MK Shaul Yahalom called on the public in Israel and the world to believe that the thugs who stoned Hilal Ziyad Majaida were not religious Jews, they were only dressed up that way. Other settler leaders, some of whom sounded sincerely shocked by what they had seen, also said things to that effect.

We may assume that at least some of the settlers’ leaders, rabbis and political representatives are sincerely disgusted with the murderous behavior of the hilltop youth and the Kahane youth who gathered in the hotel in Neveh Dekalim. If this is so, a few truths should be made clear to them: The settlement project has turned into an institute for contemporary Judaism. This is the assembly line that produces the neo-Jew or the neo-Israeli believer.

The settlers came to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and forced their view on the feeble Israeli governments (throughout the generations) in the name of a primordial right, taking over territories that were not theirs and usurping the Palestinian residents of their rights and lands. The state, after being dragged into this manipulation, retroactively backed it. It then found itself painted into a
corner from which it was obliged to support the project with quasi-legal military and security tricks. This is how the Jewish enclave in Hebron was established in `68, followed by most of the 122 settlements and 105 illegal outposts. The process, a fundamentally distorted act of government, was politically stupid, immoral and inhumane, and it created dynamics whose inevitable results are, among other things, along the lines of the spectacle that shocked Yahalom last week.

From the outstart, deranged and radical people accumulated in a few communities in the territories. The violent friction with the Palestinians created conditions that unleashed the animal in man. Whether or not these were the causes, the outburst of the skinheads in Gush Katif last Wednesday was not a rare spectacle. The history of the settlements is full of killing and robbery, disgraceful violations of the rights of the Palestinian neighbors and trampling on their dignity.

The Talia Sasson report is filled with examples of law violations on the part of the settlers, their collaborators in the state and the politicians above it. This air of lawlessness derives from the original sin – the urge to settle in the territories – and provides the petri dish for murderous urges, as displayed in the Machpela Cave massacre, the murder of innocent farmers, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the attempted lynch in Gush Katif.

The settlers reject this description. They see their settlement in the West Bank and Gaza as an implementation of the Jewish nation’s right to its forefathers’ land. They justify the contradiction between their motives and the fatal, corrupting consequences as the isolated acts of “wild weeds.” This is their mistake. Even taking into consideration the Palestinians’ contribution to the conflict, even taking care not to generalize and being aware of the humaneness of many settlers, there is no escape from the conclusion. The settlement project has created the circumstances that generate the terrible acts carried out by the state and by individuals, in the name of the Jews’ right to a national home.


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