A Special Place in Hell / Confessions of an Israeli anti-settler bigot
The bargain's over. The settlers are not my enemy, but the settlements are. I want my country back.
I needed to hear it. Even though I knew that when I did, I'd be livid.
The freeze still had eight hours to run, but in a small settlement outside the shinbone-in-the-throat settler city of Ariel, it was time to humiliate the president of the United States. I needed to hear it. I turned up the car radio. A drainage ditch of a voice.
"From this stage I turn to Hussein Obama and tell him, 'The Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel.'"
It was Gershon Mesika, head of the regional council of the settlers of the northern West Bank, laying a cornerstone for new construction, and he wasn't through with the president yet.
"Throughout history, leaders have conspired against the people of Israel, but [the people of Israel] live on, while [the leaders] have disappeared off the history pages," Mesika announced.
"So we will continue to build and develop the communities, in spite of the opposition of all the oppressors, inside and outside."
They say the first step in dealing with rage is acknowledging it. So here it is: I have become a bigot where it comes to the settlement movement.
I believe that the officials, the activists, and the Diaspora bankrollers and rooting section of this movement have ruined my life. They ruin it a little more every single day.
The extent to which they have embittered the lives of millions of Palestinians is incalculable. I won't pretend to know what they go through or how it feels. For the moment, I just want to talk about what the settlement movement does to its fellow Israelis, and why so many of us are so fed up.
We struck a bargain years ago. This was how it worked for me: I would donate a month a year away from home to keep them safe and in exchange the movement did everything it could to antagonize the Palestinians, to make it impossible for them to have a state of their own, to make it impossible for Israel to make peace with them.
I wanted to make peace with the Palestinians. I wanted them to have a state. I wanted the occupation to end. Some bargain. I lost.
I struck another deal. Year after year I would pay high taxes to subsidize settlement houses, their private highways, their utilities, their yeshivas, the bottomless cost of safeguarding remote and illegal outposts. A theater in Ariel.
In return, settler leaders and activists spearheaded civil and military policies that trampled Palestinian rights to water, highway use, personal security, and housing, and to medical, educational and vocational opportunity. Rabbis and yeshiva directors whose salaries I paid, turned a blind eye to, or actively encouraged attacks against Palestinians, their livestock and property. Rabbis and yeshiva directors whose salaries I paid incited their students in uniform to refuse government orders to evict settlers, and stood up for their students in outlaw enclaves who branded IDF soldiers as Nazis.
I kept trying. I watched from the sidelines as vast resources were diverted from decaying and depressed towns and villages within Israel, to support ever-expanding settlements, many of them receiving official permission only years after they were built.
In return for my acquiescence, the settlement movement blackened Israel's democracy and its very name. We gave them Yitzhak Rabin and they gave us Avigdor Lieberman.
Settlement has long been, and remains, the fuel for the fire of de-legitimization of Israel, the basis of charges of apartheid and ethnic cleansing. It undermines the foundation of the idea of a Jewish state. It turns the very word settlement into an obscenity.
The movement blackmails and terrorizes and intimidates fellow Israelis into fearing the price of evacuating settlers more deeply than they fear the diplomatic isolation, the wars, the loss of majority rule that leaving settlements in place entails. To make its members feel better, it declares that anyone who says Jews can’t live wherever they want is a racist. Even though in the real world, no one simply gets to live where they want, no matter whose land it is, no matter where, and certainly not just because God told them to.
Now they are set to ruin Jerusalem. A toxic cocktail of shady foreign donors, government backing for cockamamie tourism projects, and bottom-feeder activists in the volatile Palestinian quarters of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, threatens to set a new definition of chaos. New evictions. Fresh violence. New bargains, new casualties.
Every morning the settlements expand, the democratic and Jewish character of Israel is undermined, Israel's standing as a member of the community of nations is called further into question, and the support of this country's indispensible American ally is clouded, casting a shadow over the security of everyone here.
Like many a bigot, I truly have no quarrel with the vast majority of the Jewish residents of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But I do not want them to force the majority of Israelis, myself included, to live in a new Arab country which retains the name of Israel. I have no problem at all with Arab countries. But I didn't come here to live in one.
The majority here wants a state of Israel alongside a sovereign and separate state of Palestine. The majority is fed up. The majority sees the settlements as a bad bargain for Israel. The majority is tired of being pushed around. The majority loves Israel and wants it to continue to exist.
We need a new bargain, this time with the Palestinians. And we need more courage than we know. In a Yom Kippur sermon on the meaning of courage, Rabbi Keith Stern of Newton, Mass., said "If we are afraid to fail, then we are useless. If we are afraid of criticism, we are useless. If we are afraid to stand up and speak the truth because the truth is not a popular commodity, then we are useless."
The majority must make a choice.
I've made mine. The actions of Ariel in rushing out bulldozers to break the freeze this week made the decision for me. I support the boycott of Ariel. My taxes and my betrayed votes for Labor and my army service built that place. As far as I'm concerned, the deal's done. The bargain's over. The settlers are not my enemy, but the settlements are. I want my country back.