Nothing can justify the horrific massacre that was perpetrated by Abdel al-Baset Odeh on Passover eve at the Park Hotel in Netanya, in which 22 people were killed and 130 were wounded, just as nothing can justify the massacre that was perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein against worshippers in the mosque of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994, in which 29 Palestinians were killed. But without this constituting any sort of justification, it is essential to understand that the roots of the present conflict, with the terrible massacres that it has spawned, lie in a different Passover eve seder, in a different Park Hotel.
It all began in Hebron on the eve of Passover in 1968. Rabbi Moshe Levinger rented a few rooms in the Park Hotel, which belonged to the Kawassmeh family, in order to hold a seder there with about 100 religious young people. "About 50 young people intend to settle in Hebron," according to a modest report in the papers at the time. Levinger and his followers brazenly refused to obey the order of the city's Israeli military governor to leave. Two weeks later, on April 23, Levinger had already opened a kindergarten, a first-grade class and a yeshiva in the hotel, where 15 Israeli families were living.
A month later, on May 19, the surrender process of the Labor Alignment government reached a new peak when it moved the group to the building that housed the headquarters of the Military Government, where they were given an entire floor for themselves. On August 8, 1968, the new settlers opened an illegal kiosk at the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The Israeli army again tried to evacuate them. The coordinator of government activities in the territories came to the site and issued an order for three of the settlers to leave the area, but the Labor Alignment government again capitulated and annulled the order. "Just as no one will exile me from [Kibbutz] Ginossar, no one will exile Jews from Hebron," the minister of labor, Yigal Allon, stated. Two years later the government approved the establishment of a "Jewish neighborhood" in Hebron and commissioned a master plan for an "upper city" in Hebron (which eventually became the urban settlement of Kiryat Arba) - and all the rest is history, laced with grief and bereavement.
The settlement enterprise was founded in the Park Hotel in Hebron on Passover eve 34 years ago. This great success story of Zionism has so far realized its major historic purpose: thwarting any prospect of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Today, the 200,000 settlers are the major stumbling block to an agreement, and they are also an obstacle to the achievement of security in Israel. In fact, today the settlements which Yigal Allon justified with the claim that "they are there for security reasons" - have become the cause of a mortal blow to the security of all Israelis.
It does not take any great stretch of the imagination to understand how much easier it would be today to arrive at an agreement were it not for the settlements. No invasion by the army, no bombing, no checkpoints and no liquidations will ever bring about the security that a peace agreement can bring, or at least a true separation with a clear border. Even those who advocate a unilateral separation because they do not believe in the prospect of an agreement cannot deny that the settlements are a critical blow to security, because they make separation impossible.
The settlements also have another harmful aspect, which undermines security just as much. In the course of their existence, they have sent a threatening and provocative message to the Palestinians, the full meaning of which for the Palestinians we usually do not comprehend. The governments of Israel have always tended to ignore this aspect of the situation. No one ignored it more than Ehud Barak when he was prime minister, as his government added 6,045 building starts in the settlements, a record number since the government of Yitzhak Shamir, and thus cast a deep shadow over the sincerity of his efforts in purporting to put an end to the conflict.
In addition, the violent, lordly, provocative behavior of some of the settlers, together with the unjust division of natural resources and of civil rights - which the settlers enjoy while the Palestinians are denied them - have compounded the Palestinians' just feelings of bitterness and hatred.
It was not only our seder night that was ruined; the same thing happened to the Palestinians a month ago on their holiday, the Feast of the Sacrifice. Unlike the Israelis, most Palestinians were prevented from even getting together for the traditional family meal because of the closures and the encirclement of the cities, towns and villages. Tens of thousands of Palestinians, including sick children and the elderly, made their way through wind and rain in a desperate effort to get to their families by any way they could. As they struggled across muddy fields, cars driven by settlers passed by on roads that are open only to Jews. It is not difficult to imagine the feelings that this generates. Six Palestinians were killed on that holiday, three of them innocent civilians, including the father of a pregnant woman who tried to get her to a hospital to give birth. Two pregnant women and the husband of one of them were wounded. That, of course, does not justify the massacre in Netanya, but neither is it possible to erase those events as though they never occurred.
Between the seder night of 1968 and the one in 2002 the situation of both sides, Israel and the Palestinians, continued to deteriorate until the present nadir. Never has the blood of so many Israelis been shed in such a brief period and never have the Palestinians been subjected to such harsh conditions of occupation as they are now. So now, of all times, it has to be stated clearly once again: Interwoven with them as we are, as long as their holiday is ruined, ours will be, too.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now