Dear Settler, Please Respect Israel's Democracy

At first, I did think you were using a cynical ploy in comparing the settlers to Rosa Parks.

Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger
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Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger

Dear Karni,

Reading your op-ed piece I first felt that I must be dreaming. You are using the same words that Israel's liberals are using all the time. We speak of racial discrimination against Palestinians, of attempts to pass fascist laws that want to forbid Arabs to commemorate the Naqba. We feel that Israel's democracy has failed us time and again; because governments since Yitzhak Rabin have promised to move towards peace, and at the same time allowed settlements to expand, making the two-state solution ever more difficult to implement.

Hence for a liberal, it might be easy to think that you are just using a cynical ploy in comparing the settlers to Rosa Parks, the African American woman who played an important role in sparking the civil rights movement in the U.S. The natural reaction for a liberal is to tell you, "how can you conceivably say that you, the settlers, are being discriminated against? It is you who discriminate; you think that the rights of Palestinians can be trampled without end; that their lands can be taken away, their olive trees uprooted, and that they can be kept endlessly without civil rights! You are not the analogue to Rosa Parks; you are the analogue of the white supremacists who seriously thought that whites have rights that blacks do not have!"

To tell you the truth, this was my first reaction. I thought, "What a joke! Here a settler seriously trying to play the role of the victim, whereas they have been the victimizers all along! Here one of the settlers who have undermined every democratic decision of Israel's government and citizenry to move towards a two-state solution, complains that she is let down by the democracy that they are pushing to the brink through their colonialist undertaking!"

I wanted to tell ask: "Can you now understand what Palestinians felt when they were torn from their homes, not of three generations, but often for hundreds of years? Can understand that we Jews, who have been the victims of persecution and who were denied the most basic political rights, must not continue doing the same to another people?"

But then I realized that you mean what you say. You feel let down by the State of Israel, because for 42 years, the state has kept telling you that you are the outpost of the Zionist project, that you are the halutzim of the present, who settle the land of Israel with Jews. As you say, there are already children who are the third generation of settlers in the West Bank. And now you feel that the same state that encouraged you to build your home and your family in the West Bank no longer allows expanding your home.

The question is this: How do you and I communicate across the abyss between our world views? This abyss is tearing apart Israeli society and endangering our democracy, because we live in two different languages. You have grown up in a family that speaks in the language of the eternal right of Jews to live in all parts of what you call the greater Land of Israel. I speak in a language based on the idea of universal human rights irrespective of religion, race or ethnicity.

I believe that Israel will not survive if we do not leave the West Bank; I see no alternative to the two-state solution, because there are two peoples here who have a right to live in dignity. I am deeply convinced that the connection between Messianic dreams and politics is a recipe for disaster, tragedy and bloodshed, and that we all, Jews and Palestinians must speak in a universal language of international law and human rights, if we are ever to live in peace here.

Two-thirds of Israelis want the two-state solution, because most of Israel's citizens have realized that religion and politics need to be separated to the fullest extent possible. Israel's impossible political system is what requires Benjamin Netanyahu to go through the contortions of playing both sides, even though even he seems to have come to the conclusion that there is no alternative to the two-state solution.

I have little hope that my words will reach your heart. And yet I wonder: Is the only way to reach peace through another painful process in which you and many others will have to go through the trauma of the settlers of Gush Katif? Is there any way in you can be prevented from feeling that Israel is failing you?

I am skeptical, because the dream of peace and Israel as a democracy that respects the human rights of all requires you to give up your dream of Jewish sovereignty over the Biblical Land of Judea and Samaria.

I respect your call to refrain from violence. But I don't think that your proposal to continue building in the settlements is a solution. Hence I can only ask you: please respect that Israel's democracy has come to the point at which we must fulfill the obligation towards the international community, the U.S. and the Palestinians. Maybe it will be easier if you realize that this is also an obligation we have to create a future without bloodshed for generations of Israelis to come.



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