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The different Hebrew words for "settlement" are at the heart of the debate about where it is okay for Jews to build homes. Photo by Emil Salman
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Settlements to Israelis are like snow to Eskimos. While English only has one word for "settlement," Hebrew has many. Their usage varies according to cooperative structure, geographical location and level of consensus or controversy. Feel free to choose your own nomenclature depending on how you engage – or disengage – with the issue.

One basic root is y-sh-v ישב, to "sit" or "settle." This column has yet to discuss the wondrous Hebrew grammatical structures know as the binyanim, or literally "buildings." The binyanim, which traditionally number seven, are the different forms that verbal roots can take. By varying the vowels – remember, roots consist only of consonants – and a few prefix or suffix letters, roots are transformed into active, passive, transitive, causative and reflexive forms with different meanings.

For instance yashav ישב means "sat" in the most general sense. The noun form is yeshiva ישיבה, "sitting," and can also refer to a place where Jews sit on their yashvanim, "tuckuses," and learn.

Another form is yishev יישב, to "settle a particular area," which gives us yishuv יישוב, "settlement." The "Old Yishuv" is the small, largely-religious Jewish presence in the Land of Israel prior to Zionist immigration. The New Yishuv is the pioneers who settled the land from the 1880s onwards.

Members of the New Yishuv initially formed moshavot מושבות, "villages" or "colonies." The first such development, Petah Tikva, is known as Em Hamoshavot אם המושבות, "The Mother of the Colonies."

Later waves of pioneers built a more cooperative type of community, the moshav 'ovdim מושב עובדים, or the "workers' cooperative." It is called "moshav" for short, although this word is very general and can refer to the seat in your car or a session at a conference. And a toshav תושב is simply a resident of any type of locale.

A third binyan is hityashev התיישב, which means something more like "settling down" or the "settlement process" in general. Its abstract or collective noun form, hityashvutהתיישבות , encompasses the rural labor settlements – moshavim as well as kibbutzim – around the country. 

But these are not "the settlements" that are argued about in the press. For that we have a different root n-ch-l נחל, meaning to "possess" or to "bequeath" or "inherit" depending on the binyan. Someone's nachala נחלה is their "portion" or "lot."

Those settlements – the ones across the Green Line – are called hitnachluyotהתנחלויות ,and those who live there are called mitnachlim מתנחלים. These were originally general terms but later came to refer almost exclusively to settlements built after 1967 and the people who build them.

Happy Holiday from the mitnachlim of Hebron

On Passover 1968 – less than a year after the momentous victory of the Six Day War gave Jews renewed access to the West Bank – Moshe Levinger and a group of settlers telegraphed then secretary of defense Moshe Dayan from the Park Hotel in Hebron, saying simply, "Happy Holiday! From the mitnachlim of Hebron."

Soon thereafter, they agreed to leave the hotel in exchange for permission to build Kiryat Arba next door. And so the hitnachlut project was born.

I'm sure Levinger and Co. meant to emphasize the strong possessive connotation of the word they chose – Israel is the Jewish people's nachala after all. But many settlers now protest the verbal distinction between settlements within and outside of Israel's declared borders.

This parallels another linguistic question: What do we call the land where these contentious settlements are being built? Settlers prefer the historical Jewish names of Yehuda ve'Shomron, "Judaea and Samaria." Together with 'Aza, the Gaza Strip, this gives us the acronym Yesha' יש"ע. The settlers' slogan Yesha' Zeh Kan, "Yesha' Is Here" expresses the ideathat all of Israel is one big settlement, with uniform moral and political validity. Ironically, many Palestinian would agree with this all-or-nothing perspective.

Often these areas are called simply the shtachim שטחים, "territories," with the adjective "occupied" implied.  A future column will be devoted to the richly nuanced root for "conquered" or "occupied," k-v-sh כבש, which also gives us "pavement" and "pickles" – all things pounded or pressed. Territory in Hebrew is shetach שטח, from a root meaning "surface" or "flat". Using this term, you'd better be sure to get your vowels right, because shtichim שטיחים are "carpets" while Shtuchim שטוחים is a new brand of flat pretzels.

The government, settlers and the courts are in a protracted dispute about dismantling the hitnachlut known as Givat Ha'ulpanah, or Ulpana Hill, and resettling the occupants. Here too different terms testify to different ideological positions.

When leaving Gaza in 2005, the government used the word hitnatkut התנתקות, "disengagement" or "uprooting," from n-t-k נתק, to "discontinue" or "cut off." Nominally emotionally neutral, the choice of this term actually allowed for, or even encouraged, a certain amount of trauma.

But settlers often play a higher trauma card. They would call such an attempt a gerush גירוש, "expulsion," as when the Jews were sent packing from Spain in 1492. Hitgaresh התגרש, from the same root, means "divorce."

Expulsion is certainly an "unsettling" idea, but the idea that a sovereign Jewish government resettling its citizens back within the boundaries of the Zionist State is somehow "expelling" them shows just how warped this "newspeak" has become.

But we're not done. There is yet another category of settlement. Since the early 1908s, settlers – some already second generation mitnachlim – have been building patently illegal settlements, unrecognized even by Israeli law, called ma'achazim מאחזים. From the root aleph-ch-z אחז, meaning to "hold onto," there are now dozens of these illegal outposts among thePalestinian populations in the shtachim. They are designed to increase Jewish territorial contiguity, and thus achiza אחיזה, or "hold," on the land.

All of this raises the not-at-all-"superficial," shitchi שטחי, question of what Zionism is all about. Is it about the nature of Israeli society or the quantity of its territory? Even the late prime minister Yitzchak Rabin – murdered for his belief that the potential for a just and lasting peace was more important than holding onto land – defined Zionism as "Judaism with real estate."

But it is becoming increasingly apparent that this striving for an achuzat 'olam אחוזת עולם, an "eternal estate," in the greater land of Israel is nothing more than an achizat 'einayim אחיזת עיניים, a "diverting of the eyes." Or as the term is conventionally used: a fraud, swindle or deception.

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