Longing for the Settlers of Yore

How did glory depart from this world? Take, for example, the first generation of settlers in Hebron, law-abiding, innocent and honest, who established, with authorization, Kiryat Arba, the Avraham Avinu quarter, Tel Rumeida and the various farms. That magnificent generation beat up soldiers, imprisoned Palestinians in the industrial zone, smashed the windows of their Palestinian neighbors, took over the vegetable market and kept tens of thousands of Hebron's residents in their sealed city. A fine generation, which created parallel laws. But back then their mission was steeped in messianic vision, which even allowed for the establishment of a heroic underground that blew off the legs of mayors with bombs.

That is the generation that became "the leadership" and now it realizes that it has no one left to lead. The first to gnaw away at its authority were the romantic hilltop youth. Girls in scarves and long skirts and boys with their joyful ritual fringes, who had absorbed the lessons of their fathers - the "young lions" as Yasser Arafat used to call the younger generation of Fatah, which the senior generation, growing old and staid, had educated.

Members of the Yesha Council frequented the bureaus of ministers and prime ministers, warmed chairs in the Knesset and saw to funding, while the "wild weeds" tended to the grass roots and the violent fight against the Zionist conqueror. The settlement establishment of 1968 can proudly look upon its spoiled fruit, the children who are continuing its path. The heads of the underground can comfortably tell their war stories to their grandchildren and transmit their heritage. And now, woe to us, the "thugs," as Israel Harel called them, are walking the streets of Hebron.

The council, which is well-structured and knew how to fight a conventional war against the army and the law, that is, against the state, must hand over the baton to the "popular resistance committees" - gangs who no longer recognize the authority of the founding dons. "We have lost control," the council's oldsters whine. But it is not control they have lost - it is the monopoly: the sole right to determine and dictate when and how an outpost will be established, when and how a road will be stretched through the zones of the occupation, and which house will be taken over this week. They lost the authority to "launder" the crime of settlements between themselves and the government, when all at once the thugs pulled the mask of gravitas from their faces. The settler factions have successfully adopted the tactics of the factions in Gaza, and now it is their turn to take over the leadership.

It was quiet in Hebron before the army decided to evacuate the "House of Domination," the elders of the settlements lamented last week, as if they had managed after generations of efforts to set the rules of the game and a ceiling for protection money. Everything was so wonderful, the Arabs knew their place, the torched vegetable stand knew what crime it had committed and the soldiers knew whose orders were supreme. Now the leftist High Court comes along with the damned police and they mess it all up.

And the government? It is behaving as if nothing has changed since 1968 - it treats the Yesha leadership as if it were the Jewish leadership of the ghetto, as a kind of spiritual authority. It is best not to upset that authority, so the government won't be accused of anti-Semitism. Thus the state is negotiating not only with those who admit to having lost control, but with those who, from the start, should not have been given control, with those for whom the law and High Court rulings are merely an opening gambit. Is this not the same "leadership" that bone-shatteringly dislocated the government's shoulders when it established the wildcat settlements? When it planted illegal outposts and burned fruit stands?

And now, this is no longer simply a "leadership" with heads of communities, or even organizational heads. This is ostensibly the "authority" to which the government of Israel turns, as if to a fellow government, with a request to arrange a few legal matters. Almost in the same way the government of Israel approaches the Palestinian Authority so the latter will fight terror, or how it indirectly approaches Hamas, to enforce its authority on members of other factions who fire Qassam rockets into Israel. For this, the settler establishment has to thank the third generation of the thugs of Hebron, who make it seem like a sane leadership, serious and responsible, whose sins have been turned as white as snow; who invite us to forget the searing memory of the way in which the messiah of settlement appeared.

The government of the settlers is now looking respectable, compared to the bandits of the House of Domination, making us long for the obedient hilltop youth; another "authority" within the abundance of authorities operating in the territories, of which the government is not even the first among equals.