Effi Eitam's Demonstration

The sheer nonsense in Eitam's decision to move south can be seen in its very declared purpose: to increase artificially the number of Jewish settlers living there. But no empty gestures by public personages will change the tangible numerical reality.

When the young officer Effi Eitam went to the Golan Heights and made his home in the religious moshav of Nob, he did something authentic. Against the background of the spiritual crisis engendered in him by the Yom Kippur War, he began a process of turning religious, and one of its results was his bidding farewell to his kibbutz, Ein Gev, and settling in Nob. On the other hand, when MK Effi Eitam announced that he plans to move to Gush Katif with his family, there is something counterfeit in his voice and his highly publicized search for a house in the south - it's the sight of a hollow demonstrative act.

The young Eitam who settled at Nob was seeking meaning in his life and the meaning of the disaster of the Yom Kippur War for Israel. He chose to live in the Golan Heights to hold onto it, and his wife, Ilit, was one of the leading activists in the public campaigns against returning the heights whenever the idea came up. There was no doubt that the Eitam family is identified with its Golan home and the national-security values that it attributes to the possession of the Golan.

On the other hand, when MK Eitam tours Gush Katif looking for a house where he will live until the coming July, he is doing something hollow. If he were to just make do with joining the protests against the withdrawal from Gaza, there might be something persuasive about his demonstration. The minute he chose to pretend that he intends to leave the Heights for the sake of the Strip, he undermined his own credibility. The symbolic significance supposedly to be found in his move lost its value: Those who blow trumpets to declare intentions to settle in Gush Katif three months before the slated evacuation look like a juggler or an acrobat, not someone demonstrating readiness to struggle to the end against the withdrawal.

The sheer nonsense in the highly publicized decision by Eitam to move south can be seen in its very declared purpose: to increase artificially the number of Jewish settlers living there. Thus, Eitam joins a few hundred rightists who have lately been infiltrating the area designated for evacuation, and settling there. The trend is clear: to make things as difficult as possible for the security forces sent to evacuate the area by putting many more people there than actually live there. This indeed is the essence of the Israeli settlement experience. After 38 years of occupation and abuse of the Palestinians living in the territories, the number of Israelis who chose to live there is only 7,000 - as opposed to the 1.2 million Palestinians. The Israeli public voted with its feet and chose to live elsewhere.

That balance is what dictated the emerging result as July approaches - the concession of Gaza. The result is not accidental, but derived from the spontaneous definition of the borders of their state and its characteristics by most Israelis. Despite enormous investments and enormous government efforts, the vast majority of Israeli society chose to live inside the Green Line. Only very few preferred Gaza and less than 5 percent of the population chose to live in the West Bank. Only some 250,000 Jews decided to live opposite some 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank.

Rightists of Eitam's ilk are now throwing their hopes on God. They believe that the demographic inferiority of the Jews in Eretz Yisrael will change one day as a result of some wondrous divine intervention. They tend to count on the surprising immigration from the former Soviet Union, which brought some 1 million people to the country - though about a quarter of them are not Jews, according to halakha. But in fact, the demographic data points to a real threat poised over the Zionist idea if Israel does not quickly give up the territories.

One of the clearest expressions of that numerical balance can be seen in the original number of settlers living in Gush Katif and the number designated for evacuation. No empty gesture by public personages moving to the strip will change the tangible numerical reality.