A Product of His Environment

The settler leadership must consider whether it wants to be counted among those walking on the central boulevard of Israeli society, or to assimilate into the group of zealots from which murderers like Eden Natan Zada spring.

The reaction of the heads of the Yesha Council of settlements to the terror attack in Shfaram reflects the yawning gap between the public in whose name they speak and the mainstream of Israeli society: Bentzi Leiberman said the murders were carried out by an extremist who had nothing at all in common with the settlers' protest against the disengagement, and Pinhas Wallerstein determined that the attack was the act of a single individual and would not impact the continuation of their struggle.

These comments on the murder of four Israeli citizens, Arab residents of Shfaram, attest to the depth of settler leaders' state of denial of settler acts, and the intensity of their self-enclosure in the bubble they have created around themselves.

Eden Natan Zada, like Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein, was dragged into committing his despicable acts by the climate in which he lived. The role of the right-wing leadership, including the settler leaders, is not a negligible one when it comes to nourishing the soil from which such murderers spring.

The objective reality - a bloody national conflict that engenders mutual enmity and an unbridled desire for revenge - encourages people who are sufficiently unbalanced to vent their murderous aggression. A wise and responsible leadership would take this into consideration in managing a public struggle.

Generations of settler leaders have not been blessed with the necessary wisdom and restraint. They did not employ the appropriate reasoning, they did not do the appropriate things, and they did not shake themselves free firmly enough and soon enough from the extremists who attached themselves to their camp.

Their failure has been so abysmal that in retrospect, it seems the extremists have taken over the center, and it is they who set the tone in expressing opposition to the disengagement. When the heads of the settlement movement publish the slogan, "Jews don't expel Jews"; when a portion of Yesha rabbis calls on Orthodox soldiers to refuse orders; when some rabbis instruct settlers to obey halakha (Jewish law) - as they interpret it - and not the laws of the state; when the Yesha Council does not go out of its way to weed out acts of hooliganism, murder and abuse by extremist settlers in Palestinian villages; when Wallerstein, Leiberman and their friends define the goal of their struggle against disengagement as to thwart it, despite the decisions of the cabinet and the Knesset; when they declare their intention to break the law to reach their goal; when they describe the withdrawal from Gush Katif as a national disaster of gigantic proportions, and some in their camp equate it to the Holocaust - while all this is going on, the settlers are keeping bad company which behaves according to a racist code of violence and alienation from the rules of the game and the values held by most of the public.

The real concern is that the settler leadership is being swept up in the mood of extremist members of the camp, not as the result of tactical errors, but rather as a reflection of a genuine identification. It is not clear that the belligerent words used by the Yesha leaders to attract demonstrators to their protest marches are merely utilitarian; it seems increasingly to be an authentic echo of their feelings and their beliefs.

They look and sound like people whose world has indeed been destroyed because of the uprooting from the Gaza Strip; like people who have actually concluded that there is no purpose to their lives in a country that gives up territory; like people who really believe that the rulings of rabbis outweigh the rulings of the Knesset; like people who agree that any means justify the end of preventing withdrawal from the territories.

The idea that continuing to hold on to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is like the agonies of surviving the Holocaust necessarily leads to murderous acts of the kind carried out by the soldier, wearing his orange bracelet, in Shfaram. To escape from hell, any action is legitimate.

According to the Shin Bet security service, there are no small numbers like him, living mainly in settlements in the mountains and in Hebron - and some even live within the Green Line.

The settler leadership must consider whether it wants to be counted among those walking on the central boulevard of Israeli society, or to assimilate into the group of zealots from which murderers like Eden Natan Zada spring.