The 38th anniversary of the Six-Day-War was marked recently. Some 70 percent of Israel's citizens were born after this war ended. Even among those that were born earlier and were old enough to remember, many are immigrants who did not live in Israel at the time. This is significant because the vast majority of citizens now living in Israel are unaware of any political reality other than the one that was forged in the shadow of the occupation and the settlements.
Most Israelis alive today cannot imagine an Israel that does not invest a huge share of its resources in oiling the machinery of the occupation and the settlements. Without a doubt, this is one of the keys to understanding the secret of the settler right's power.
Given a situation in which the majority of Israelis knows only one reality, this places a heavy burden on the political camp that viewed and continues to view settlements as a historic crime. It is incumbent on this camp to convince the Israelis not only that it is possible to live differently, but that they even deserve a different quality of life.
One way to explain the destructiveness of the settlement enterprise to the Israeli public is by means of a comparison between occupation of the territories in 1967 and the occupation of a large part of Lebanon, exactly 15 years later. It should be noted that this occupation ended only after 18 years.
Much verbiage has been devoted in the past few decades to describing the criminal folly on which the megalomaniac scheme of then defense minister Ariel Sharon deceptively led the State of Israel deep into Lebanon. Nevertheless, there was one sin from which this scheme was entirely innocent - the sin of settlement. Not that there was a lack of reasons to settle in Lebanon. For the same convoluted web of arguments that had been formulated by backers of the West Bank and Gaza settlement enterprise was just as valid - according to these individuals - when Israel completed its occupation of over half of Lebanese territory in 1982.
Rabbi Israel Ariel, a religious Zionist leader, said in an interview with the settler magazine, Nekuda, that appeared two months (August 6, 1982) after the outbreak of the Lebanon War, "If the Israel Defense Forces stays there for a year, there will be good reason to start talking about settling. In my opinion, this is our real trial. It is a region that was given to us to comfort us after we lost the south (referring to the withdrawal from Sinai, D. E.). In His righteousness, the Holy One Blessed Be He, gave us a new land to possess. The settlements will usher in a reawakening of the people. The same should be done in Lebanon. Israel should settle there."
Two months later, the rabbi of Kiryat Arba, Dov Laor, expressed himself in the same way: "Now, as well, after the war, we must aspire to settle in these territories" (Nekuda, Issue No. 84).
In the same issue of Nekuda, Land of Israel Studies expert Yoel Elitzur, one of the founders of Ofra, wrote a scholarly article that was entitled "Is Lebanon the Land of Israel too?" Elitzur answered his own question in the affirmative, except that for understandable reasons he was careful not to draw operative political conclusions in the light of this determination.
This selection of statements demonstrates that those settlers who at the time were the powerhouses behind the settlement enterprise in the West Bank and Gaza Strip saw much similarity between the situation in 1967 and the situation in 1982. These two situations exposed the inherent tension in the relationship between the State of Israel and the Land of Israel - a tension that the settlers are still unable to resolve today, nearly 38 years after the establishment of the first settlement.
It is now easy to describe the terrible whirlpool of violence into which the State of Israel would have been dragged had the idea of those settlers - of implementing the settlement enterprise in the territory of the "Land of Israel" that is designated in the Book of Joshua to the tribes of Zevulun and Dan - been accepted. It is easy to describe, as this has been the norm for the past 38 years.
The only difference is that the existing settlements were not built in a region identified with the tribal lands of Dan or Zevulun, but in territories identified with the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim. The fact that the Israeli political leadership at the time was not drawn into adopting the peculiar ideas of these rabbis and settlers is to its credit, of course, but it also shows what might have been the situation now had we known how to withstand the alien Messianic fire that the settlers ignited back in 1967. This fire has yet to be extinguished.
The writer is coordinator of the Peace Now settlement surveillance project.
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