Thursday, November 25, 2010

Subtleties Of The Settlements--And The Settlers

Gil Troy writes that not all Israeli settlements are the same--in fact, it is possible to distinguish among four different types of settlements:
  • Once-settled settlements, restoring communities like the Jewish Quarter or Kfar Etzion.
  • Security settlements, following the Allon Plan among other strategies, building outposts along the Jordanian border and at critical military junctures.
  • Suburban settlements, within commuting distance of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, absorbing some of the demographic pressure choking the middle of the country.
  • Salvation settlements, initiated by Gush Emunim and other diehards, to restore a Jewish presence in Biblical lands.
Keeping that in mind, Troy goes one step further and suggests that if any sort of compromise is going to be reached about the settlements, it will become necessary for the world to acknowledge that there exists at least 4 distinct initiatives in these disputed areas:

  • Jerusalem – which is not a settlement but is and was the capital of the Jewish people. Even if its boundaries are renegotiated it remains a special case.
  • Organic suburban settlements – part of the outer ring of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which most analysts agree would remain Israeli in a land-swap.
  • Outlying settlements – geographically more removed from centers of Israeli life, their presence would disrupt the contiguity of a Palestinian state, because almost all assume that a Palestinian state must be Jew-free even as Arabs will continue to live in Israel.
  • Outlaw settlements – the few unauthorized settlements which should be dismantled immediately, asserting the rule of law, independent of any diplomatic dynamics.
Troy explains:
In labeling settlements accurately I do not necessarily advocate holding all of them permanently. But we need a coalition of conscience to stand for the truth, in all its complexity, to fight demonization, from all sides, and to work for peace, improvising a solution based on mutual accommodation rather than stubbornly and artificially freezing boundaries in one random historical moment or another.
But by the same token, if we are talking about a better understanding of the settlements and fighting their demonization, then there should be an equal effort towards a better understanding of the settlers themselves and their demonization.

In the December 2007 issue of Commentary Magazine, Hillel Halkin writes "What the Settlements Have Achieved"--a review and critique of the book Lords of the Land by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar.

Halkin writes that the book is not only biased--it also creates a sterotype, taking the image created by Gush Emunim and applies it to all settlers:
But even as biased history, Lords of the Land does not begin to cover its subject. The story it tells is not that of Jewish settlement in the West Bank but that of Gush Emunim, the "Bloc of the Faithful," a militant settlers' organization founded in the early 1970's that combined religious fervor with political activism and a readiness to brave physical danger. It was Gush Emunim and its ideological heirs, with their Zionist messianism, that established dozens of small settlements and hilltop outposts deep in the West Bank and that have been frequently in conflict with their Palestinian neighbors and with Israeli governments felt by them to be insufficiently supportive. The stereotype of the West Bank settler as a belligerently bearded Jew with a knit skullcap on his head, a Bible in one hand and a rifle in the other, is a caricaturized version of the Gush Emunim ideal, and Zertal and Eldar have done all they can to perpetuate it.

And yet such settlers account for barely 10 percent of the more than 400,000 Israelis living today beyond the "green line," the pre-June 1967 Israeli-Jordanian border. Roughly half of the total reside in urban neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Most of the remainder are in middle-sized towns that are close to the old border and/or within an easy commute of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. An increasingly large proportion of them consists of non- or even anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jews who have moved to such rapidly developing locations as Betar Illit and Kiryat Sefer; another sizable element, found in places like Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim, is composed mostly of secular Israelis; and a much smaller group inhabits moshavim and kibbutzim, collective farming settlements, in the Jordan Valley.

Few of these 350,000 Israelis have moved to the occupied territories for ideological reasons or have ever been embroiled with local Palestinians or government authorities. Most chose to live where they do because they have purchased affordable housing in well-planned and pleasant communities not far from their places of work. And none of them is dealt with in Zertal and Eldar's book. As far as Lords of the Land is concerned, West Bank settlement and Gush Emunim are one and the same.
And just as Gush Emunim does not monopolize in terms of the numbers of those who live beyond the 'Green Line', so too--they have no monopoly on the deep attachment that Israelis feel towards the land:
Despite Zertal and Eldar's absurd assertion to the contrary, a deep religious and emotional attachment to the land of Israel was not something "imagined" by Gush Emunim. It was part of the patrimony of the Jewish people, which would never have turned to Zionism in the first place had that attachment not existed. As fate would have it, when Israel's war of independence ended at the 1948-49 ceasefire lines with Jordan, most of the sites most deeply engraved in Jewish historical memory—the old city of Jerusalem, the Western Wall, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem, the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria—were left on the Jordanian side of the frontier, and Jewish access to them was denied.

To think that, when these areas were suddenly and unexpectedly restored to Jewish control in 1967, there could have failed to be a surge of popular sentiment for settling and retaining them is to be ignorant of Jewish history and Jewish feelings. This sentiment crystallized without the help of Gush Emunim, which did not appear on the scene until several years later. While strongest on the political Right, it was by no means confined to it.
Read the whole thing.

Dealing with the question of the settlements goes beyond understanding the legal justification of the settlements under international law. It also involves understanding that what is behind the settlements themselves and the motivations of the settlers themselves.

Unfortunately, Israel is faced with a world that is once both unsympathetic and ignorant--preferring the rantings of self-appointed human rights activists and would-be experts in international law whose goal has nothing to do with peace.

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