Thursday, December 13, 2007

Halkin On Settlements And Stereotypes

The December issue of Commentary Magazine features an article by Hillel Halkin on "What the Settlements Have Achieved". Actually, the article is a review and critique of the book Lords of the Land by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar.

Halkin finds the book to be more than just biased--it creates a sterotype by 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.
Halkin writes that there were 2 distinct goals motivating the settlements in the West Bank. One was the belief in 'Eretz Yisrael HaShleima"--which Halkin translates as "Undivided land of Israel," noting that the more common translation "Greater land of Israel" carries with it the false connotation of a desire to expand far beyond Israel's borders. The other goal was to redraw the 1967 borders in such a way as to make Israel more secure. Halkin writes that the 2 motivations, because they commonly ran side by side, were often confused with one another--yet the fact remains that the 2 goals were distinct.

The failure to distinguish those whose goal was the complete and undivided land of Israel from those who saw themselves as working towards secure and defensible borders is on a par with the failure to understand the difference between what the world claims are occupied territories and what is actually disputed land.

You should get a copy of the December issue of Commentary Magazine and read the entire article.

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