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"The Zionist Enterprise," said Berl Katznelson in 1929, when he summed up the first 10 years of the Ahdut Ha'Avoda movement, is a "conquest enterprise." And in the same breath he added: "It is not by chance that I am using military terms to describe the settlement of the country." And in fact, Zionism was a movement of conquest, and all means were permitted to carry out the task.

However, what was essential and therefore justified in the pre-state days is now assuming an ugly and violent form of colonial occupation: the authoritarian regime in the territories, the creation of two legal systems, the placing of the army and police at the service of the settlement movement, the robbing of Palestinian lands. These all symbolize not the fulfillment of Zionism but rather its burial. It is there, between Hebron and Yitzhar, that the settlements are burying the democratic Jewish state.

Like other colonial regimes, the government in the territories is trying to operate under cover of darkness. A visit organized by Peace Now three weeks ago, with about 250 participants, was forbidden to enter Hebron. The area was declared a closed military area by the head of the Hebron Brigade, but the Hebron police did not prevent local toughs from trying to attack the tour's participants. Nor did the police stop other cars that left and entered Hebron undisturbed. We can reasonably assume that had members of Likud and the National Religious Party come for a visit, the area would not have been closed, and the army would have been at the service of the visitors.

The head of the Hebron Brigade is the same person who on another occasion could be seen on television rudely arresting the B'Tselem photographer: The man was recording what was happening before his eyes, and in the territories that is a serious crime. When there is a camera on-site, there is no possibility of denying cases of abuse and humiliation, or incidents such as shooting at a bound Palestinian.

But worst of all is the fact that behind the brigade commander - who is only a minor cog who operates in the spirit of his commanders, behind the battalion commander whose soldier pulled the trigger in Na'alin - lies the entire chain of command in the territories. These are the people in whose responsibility young soldiers are placed.

However, as far as the public is concerned, Ehud Barak is the person who bears overall responsibility for the partnership between the settlers and the security forces. We must immediately put an end to this and once and for all end the culture of violence that dominates in the territories, a culture that nurtures Jewish criminality and the daily harassment of the civilian Palestinian population.

Tours of the land of the settlers are a vital necessity for anyone who wants to learn about what is happening around him. Anyone who goes out in the field understands immediately that the problem does not lie in the so-called "illegal" outposts. Although the unwillingness to confront groups of toughs who flout the law and government decisions is a disgrace in itself, it is not the major obstacle to ending the occupation. The problem lies in the settlement movement itself, in the Israeli hunger for land.

The real reason for the settlements, first in the Golan Heights and later in the Jordan Valley and the central hill country, was occupying the land: The spiritual heirs and disciples of Berl Katznelson, and even those of his generation who were still alive, saw no reason not to continue the work. Realistic people like Levi Eshkol and Pinhas Sapir did not have an intellectual and moral answer to the demand to continue in the path that until then had been considered the only one known to Zionism. On the other side of the map stood the Revisionist right and Gush Emunim.

In sum, right and left were partners to the act. The nationalist-messianist fervor and the desire to end the War of Independence merged into the momentum for occupation: The entire right and most of the left - We have returned to the land of the Judges and the kings of the Davidian dynasty, said defense minister Moshe Dayan emotionally in the summer of 1967 - bear joint responsibility for the gradual creation of the disaster in which Israeli society is wallowing.

Since it was impossible to take control of the lands legally, a mafia-like culture of theft, lies and deception developed in the territories, in which the various government authorities are still wallowing, from ministers in tailored suits to the last of the policemen sweating on the highways. Contrary to the rules of international and Israeli law, contrary to elementary rules of justice, contrary to all logic and every genuine Israeli interest, broad areas were confiscated for the sake of the settlers and huge sums were poured in.

But over the years, the golem has risen up against its creator: When the public finally realized that if the Jewish national movement does not absorb universal foundations of human rights, democracy and the rule of law it will doom itself to destruction, a force had already arisen over the Green Line that now threatens to drown all of Israel.

Thus a minority took control of the fate of the entire society and held it hostage, due both to the left's ideological impotence and a lack of character, determination and leadership. If society does not find the emotional strength to remove the noose of the settlements, nothing but a sad memory will remain of the Jewish state as it still exists.