A Disturbing Symmetry

It seems that the most right-wing government to ever rule in Israel considers construction in the territories as akin to a terrorist attack in the heart of the Palestinian population.


The response came swiftly. On Saturday night, just 24 hours after the terrorist attack in Itamar, the government's ministerial committee on settlements approved the construction of hundreds of residential units across a few West Bank settlements. During Sunday morning's cabinet meeting, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said that Israel needed to build "at least 1,000 new housing units for every murdered soul." Even Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias also expressed his support for building in the West Bank as the apt response to the murder of the five members of the Fogel family. "We need to change the equation and to build in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria," he said. "We need to strengthen the settler movement, and the time is now."

During the debate, a number of plans that called for building in the settlements in response to the attack were considered, among them the founding of a new settlement or the expansion of Itamar. Ultimately, the cabinet resolved to build 500 residential units in the settlements.

On Sunday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the parents of those who were murdered. "They murder, and we build," the premier told the Fogel and Ben Yishai families in Jerusalem during his condolence visit.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak also weighed in on the issue, saying: "This is a measured response to the attack in Itamar."

The murder in Itamar was appalling in every respect. It is difficult to fathom how one can be capable of slitting the throat of an infant. It is hard to grasp how a human being - irrespective of his mental state - is capable of taking the lives of five family members with his own bare hands, face to face, and without the use of an automated, technological device that would distance himself somewhat from the situation.

The extreme nature and brutality of the operation activated the Israeli leadership's most basic instincts. The fuse jumped. A rare moment in political terms occurred, one in which instincts acted directly to remove any pretense of usual diplomacy. That is how diplomatic considerations - those that are supposed to camouflage the instinct for vengeance with a veneer of rationality - were left outside the discussion. That is how the formula as expressed by Netanyahu was unwittingly coined: They murder, we build.

This equation has the fingerprints of copywriters all over it, for it redefines the symmetrical relations between the two nations: us and them, builders versus murderers. Yet beyond this symmetry and the simplistic, pleasing-to-the-ear nature of the equation, there is a fascinating glimpse into the depth of the world view held by the Israeli government regarding the settlement enterprise.

It seems that the most right-wing government to ever rule in Israel considers construction in the territories as akin to a terrorist attack in the heart of the Palestinian population. According to this logic, the brandishing of a knife is tantamount to a brick in the wall. The life of one soul is worth 500 housing units. The comparison between the value of a human life and that of a brick is understood to be a matter of cultural refinement - Israel prefers to build rather than to kill. But even this refinement does not negate the negative values which the government ascribes to construction in the settlements.

Since the attack is a brutal Palestinian act against Israel, the latter acknowledged in response that the settlement enterprise is a type of vengeful deed, a brutal yet nuanced Israeli act against the Palestinians, particularly after "construction in the settlements" was brandished as a weapon against the killings. Simply, the urge for vengeance has "culturally" actualized the basic principle of "an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth." The result was that for every criminal act of theirs, we will respond with a criminal act of ours. A special emphasis must be placed on the word "criminal." That is the nature of the equation, and the nature of symmetry.