The settlers are the only people who make me ashamed of what I am - an Israeli and a Jew. The enemy, with its reprehensible and vile actions, makes me feel resentful and furious. But it cannot cause me shame because it is our enemy. What is it to me? I am here and the enemy is beyond the hills of darkness.

Shame is the most difficult of feelings. It is like a third-degree burn, but a skin transplant cannot cover the redness of our cheeks. The settlers are Israelis and Jews like I am and in that sense they are from my very own bone marrow, a cut from my very own flesh. They are the only ones who cause shame both to my identity and to my self-determination.

Sometimes I think that if they are the Jews, then I must be something completely different. It is not possible that we are all of the same identity, of the same family. If they, as Jews, speak and act in my name as well, then I want to be a Hottentot. I have nothing in common with them and we are strangers to each other. But perhaps the opposite is true, and we are the Jews and they are the Hottentots. At all events, we are not human brothers and if that is the case, there is no danger of a "civil war."

The disgrace, rather than the anger, makes my stomach turn and does not allow me to rest in peace. Where are we heading? What use is it to define Israel as a Jewish state a thousand times a day when every day we again realize that this is nothing but a hollow definition? What exactly is "Jewish" here - the famous "Jewish head" or the well-known "Jewish heart?"

For many years we have been aware of what is happening in Hebron, how Jews treat their neighbors there. It was a mistake from the start to plant this cancerous growth in the heart of a densely populated Arab town. It was a recipe for perpetual calamity to settle Jewish zealots alongside Muslim zealots. The second fateful mistake was when they did not uproot the growth after the massacre at the Cave of the Patriarchs.

Now a curfew has been imposed on 150,000 Palestinians in order to permit several thousand Jews to hold festivities. If they want to make merry, let them do so in their own compound. But guided tours are also held in the alleyways of the deserted and closed town with soldiers accompanying the Jewish holidaymakers and explaining the sights to them while the Palestinians peek out through the crevices. The Palestinian children cannot go to school, but the settlers can go out for a hike.

It is not the difference of outlook that makes me feel shame. There is a type of political rivalry that is dignified. But in the case of Hebron, this is not a question of a different outlook but of a different planet, one that shows signs of life, but from people who do not have human shape.

It is not merely Hebron. In recent days, we have again been enveloped by shame as settlers pick the olives of the Palestinians. There are very few acts that give rise to shame more than the act of plundering. Pillaging the produce of the villager who by the sweat of his brow has cultivated the olive tree is doubly reprehensible. They pick, they shoot and they kill - but so far, just as in Hebron, no one has been apprehended, cross examined, or paid any price. It is no-man's land.

The settlers claim that the plundering was aimed at keeping dangerous Arabs at a safe distance from the settlements. Rubbish. When they need them, they bring the Palestinians into their settlements so that they can harvest their crops and build their houses.

I also feel shamed by those who have allowed the settlers for so many years to act on whatever evil intent they want in the territories. I am ashamed of the attorney general and the state attorney and the police deployed there, who are afraid of the settlers and their political patrons. And the chief of staff, who actually speaks out sometimes but now holds his tongue as if he has not seen or heard.

I am ashamed also of ourselves for not being determined and courageous enough to eradicate this wicked element in our midst. Perhaps it is indeed easier to feel ashamed than to actually rise up against Sodom which has expanded its borders so that today it includes greater Sodom with its daughters, Tapuah and Itamar, with its capital, Hebron. This is a Sodom that is deceiving to the eye, for all we see are beautiful vistas of olive trees. This is the Sodom of the Jewish state.

The writer is the leader of the Opposition.