The Israeli Settlers' Mighty Struggle for Control

When it comes to the minds of young people who are members of the foreign, secular minority, the settlers also want to be the only ones in control.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

A study tour by high school students to Hebron became a big success for the settlers. Not just because the police prevented people from the NGO Breaking the Silence from serving as guides, and not because right-wing activist Itamar Ben-Gvir took over the tour. The visit laid the cornerstone for the settlers' lastest monopoly as they turn Israel into the state of a minority.

It was a short but decisive battle, and strategic. It recalls the settlers' battle in the mid-to-late 1970s over the Elon Moreh settlement, after which - despite a High Court of Justice injunction - the settlers received a huge legal gift: "State land" was allowed to refer to occupied land in the territories. By invoking that term, the settlers would be able to establish "hundreds of Elon Morehs," as then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin put it.

The study tour joined their victory in establishing outposts, whose high point was the open ridicule of the High Court in the Migron affair. And that's no different from the legislation the settlers have dictated to the Knesset - and from there to all Israelis - prohibiting calls for a boycott of Israeli products, or the law that will soon be passed to legalize outposts.

The settlers' takeover of the "molding of national memory," or simply put, the curriculum on key issues like the Land of Israel's history and geography, gives them the status of a state within an Israeli-settler federation. Each province of this federal state, Israel and Outpostia, has laws and leaders of its own. One has laws enacted by the Knesset and the other has ad-hoc laws, sometimes determined by rabbis and sometimes by the hilltop youth and other criminals.

But within this federated framework is a mighty struggle for control. Outpostia no longer makes do with partial independence that gives it the power to manage its affairs as it sees fit, to live according to its own interpretation of federal laws, to rob land at will and to establish settlements that become a burden and political threat to the entire federation. It no longer wants to rely on the mother state's education and legal system, which has embraced Outpostia. The goal is to turn Israel into a minority satellite state and force the settlements' laws and rules on the federation.

In the past, the settlers' motto was "Yesha is here," referring to Judea and Samaria. That meant Yesha was part of the State of Israel and Israeli citizens must embrace the Jewish extention in the occupied territories. Now the motto is becoming "Israel is Yesha," with the state of the settlements willing to give Israel equal rights under conditions dictated by the invaders of the hills.

According to this recipe, Israel must adopt the settlements' laws, view the settlers as a superior population, and accept that the settlements and the holy places in the territories belong first and foremost to the settlers. And it must accept that the Zionist, religious and national narrative is no longer controlled by the mother state.

With the easy part already behind the settler state, now it's time for the settler narrative to push out the Zionist narrative. While the State of Israel presents the demographic threat of "its" Arabs as the most terrible menace, the settler state sees different demographics as a threat. The Guttman Institute recently reported in a survey that most Israelis "believe in God," but secular people are still making too much noise. Those secular people tried to ignite the social protest, they still dare to portray the settlers as robbers of the public purse, they put on plays with Arab actors, they refuse to appear in shows in the capital of Outpostia, and they insist on pushing the Nakba into the school curriculum.

Having once been an invasive minority themselves, they fear, not unjustifiably of course, anyone who tries to preserve the traditional Zionism that might sabotage their narrative. A tour by high school students guided by Breaking the Silence might yet persuade young people that Baruch Goldstein was a murderer not a saint, that the Arab residents expelled from Hebron's Shohada Street are victims, and that Hebron's Jewish quarter is stolen Arab property.

The settlers have chalked up a major achievement in that the government and Education Ministry allow such tours of occupied territory - has anyone heard of American young people touring Iraq or Afghanistan? But when it comes to the minds of young people who are members of the foreign, secular minority, the settlers also want to be the only ones in control.

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