Right of Reply A Settler, of All People

Why can't the settlements be the fingers of the Israeli hand that is outstretched in peace? A response to Ari Shavit's interview with Disengagement Administration head Yonatan Bassi in Haaretz Magazine, July 8.

Menachem Froman
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Menachem Froman

The resumption of fighting between Israel and the Palestinians on the eve of the disengagement serves as a reminder of the bitter fact that despite the mighty efforts we have made to bring peace, we still haven't fulfilled the mitzvah of "seek peace and pursue it" (Psalms 34:15). On this verse, our sages commented that one must seek peace in its place and also pursue it in another place. After the bloodshed in the wake of the Oslo plan, and given the fighting that has come in wake of the disengagement plan, maybe the time has come to search for peace somewhere else?

Peace with the other is built on respect for the other. Among leftist peace-lovers are some who quote Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav who said peace occurs between opposites. But what does this saying mean where we are concerned? The pursuer of peace, whose spiritual world is usually the Western, liberal, humanist world, needs to learn just with whom he so badly wants to make peace.

The Palestinians are not in the Western world. Their spiritual world is very different. Therefore, based on the fundamental premises of the civilized Western world, it is possible to reach peace agreements with them in Oslo and Washington. But in order to achieve genuine peace on the hard earth of this land, an effort must first be made to stand outside of ourselves in order to get to know and respect their cultural world. After about 30 years of living amid Palestinians, of conversations with Palestinians of all kinds (sheikhs, academics, army officers, members of the PLO and Hamas and others), I would like to focus here on one basic matter: the attitude toward land. The Palestinian connection to the land is very different from the attitude of the journalist who lives in a fifth-floor Tel Aviv apartment (In the interview, Yonatan Bassi cited as an example of basic misunderstanding an Israeli media person who said that he doesn't' understand what is so hard for the Gush Katif people, since he himself recently moved to a new apartment without any problem).

In order to explain my understanding of the Palestinian's attitude toward his land, I can cite from my own sources the expression in the Torah verse (Deuteronomy 20:19): "Is the tree of the field a man?" and one can cite an even more basic cultural idea: The word adam (human being) must be related to the word adama (earth, land), as it says in Genesis 2:7: "And He formed - the man of dust from the ground."

Someone who defines himself as connected in a basic way to the earth may be called "primitive." One may also argue that someone who is so tightly attached to his land is not a free person (just as a tree does not move easily from place to place). But if you want to look for ways to make peace with such a person, you have to recognize and respect his self-definition. Which leads me to appreciate how important for peace are those Israelis who also live the connection between man and the land. Put more explicitly: It's the settlers of all people who could be a bridge to peace between the Jewish people and the Palestinian people. Or, in the metaphor that I've been repeating for years: The settlements could be the fingers of the Israeli hand that is outstretched for peace; keeping in mind the connotations of touch and sensitivity that the word "fingers" implies.

I know from experience how my way of thinking, which to me seems entirely logical, seems entirely crazy to many others. But what can I do? Can I deny my life experience of many years, in which a "primitive" settler like myself was able to form ties and understandings and agreements with Palestinian leaders such as Ahmed Yassin and Yasser Arafat just because he was a settler, just because he was primitive?

Where does the boundary lie between craziness and the solution to the difficult problem that the accepted way of thinking has so far been unable to solve? The accepted way of thinking (on the left as well as the right) says that in order to liberate a territory from Israeli control it must first be made "devoid of Jews." The political conclusion of the way of thinking proposed here resembles the idea raised by Yonatan Bassi in the interview, saying that just as there is a large Palestinian minority within the State of Israel, there could be a large Jewish minority within the State of Palestine. The parallel between the Arab minority in the State of Israel and the Jewish minority in the State of Palestine could bolster the chance for peace between the two states.

The Israeli government's way of thinking (which is accepted by a majority of the public) aspires to as much separation as possible between the two peoples (The government that is carrying out the disengagement is also the one building the fence). Is it so crazy to ask a few trenchant questions about the accepted mode of thinking? Such as: Is it at all possible to separate the two peoples who live in this land? What will happen with Jerusalem? Does the economic logic of the country lead to separation? Isn't an opportunity being missed - and a fascinating one in my view - to build here an example of what the world so needs at this historic moment: the coveted coexistence between Western culture and Islamic culture?

And the question that touches on hearts and minds: Does the spirit of separation alleviate jealousy and hatred and terror - or arouse it? What can we learn from our blood-soaked experience? Is it possible to evade the need to build mutual respect, to build cooperation? Can a temporary filling to treat the connection between the two peoples really substitute for a root canal when the problem is so deep and so painful? Is there a substitute for peace?

An Israeli public that lives in the Land of Israel but not within the State of Israel - this, of course, would be something new in the Zionist consciousness. Such a possibility is not merely acceptance of a basic fact of life in the country (in which there are also non-Jews who want to live as free people) but also a path to sensitivity and a way for the world of Judaism to connect to the human world. It is not just something to accept reluctantly, but a choice for peace. In my view, this is the way to fulfill the height of the traditional Jewish prayer, which is the prayer for peace. The Jews that will choose this path, that will choose to cling to the Land of Israel (and in many cases, this means clinging to places wherein the foundations of Israeli culture lie - like Hebron, Shiloh and Tekoa) over life under the governance of Israel - can be pioneers of a spiritual process that will advance our civilization.

Perhaps this possibility will purify the love of my people for my land. Love has a clear tendency to become contaminated with imperiousness, as we may see in a mother's and father's love for their children or in a man's love for his wife or in a prime minister's love for his people. Wouldn't it be a boon to the spirit of Israel to purify the love of the land from control over it?

Over the years, I've seen that in many cases - maybe in the majority of cases - I haven't succeeded in explaining myself. So I'm going to give it another try: To me, "rule" (shilton) is a masculine value and "land" (eretz) is a feminine value. And so, for many years, I've felt that the most positive movement being made by the Jewish spirit - together with the human spirit - is the movement from masculine values to feminine values. Therefore, the movement from the value of "conquering the land" to the value of "love of the land" is the movement we must make for the sake of promoting the spirit of Jewish faith.

I don't think I'm hiding the fact that the one suggesting we should aspire to have Jews remain within the territory of the Palestinian state has not chosen the profession of statesman. What interests me in this possibility is the option to use it to connect rootedness with freedom, east with west, love with liberty, left with right - and to make other spiritual connections. But I think this proposal also addresses the painful existential problems facing us at this hour, such as the forcible uprooting of hundreds of Jewish families, the anticipated rift in the army, society and the people, and the cycle of bloodshed that could begin, God forbid, with a new wave a terror.

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