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Bennett's New Political Language

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Habayit Hayehudi party leader Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, Jerusalem, Israel, December 8, 2015.
Habayit Hayehudi party leader Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, Jerusalem, Israel, December 8, 2015.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Everyone knows that the proposed legislation to authorize illegal outposts legitimizes stealing private land across the border. Everyone is following developments with great interest. At this moment, everyone sees, the process has run into technical difficulties. State jurists are working around the clock to find ways to bypass the technical difficulties. The newspapers report on the technical difficulties. Will the state succeed in creating a situation in which stealing private land beyond the Green Line is legal? And, if so, how much time will it take, if at all, until the legal theft is also just?

The gap between what everyone knows is happening and the law is an important reminder of the difference between law and justice. This bill makes palpable the artificiality of legal language. The more this artificiality is felt, the greater the lack of faith in it and the political structure it supports. Religious Zionism invests great ideological energy in narrowing this gap, because the bigger the gap the greater the danger to the settlers’ political project. They have succeeded well until now as regards settlement “blocs”. If it is possible to derive a diplomatic picture from the crumbs of slogans and plans from both the right and the left, settlement blocs are “included” in every imaginary future agreement. Still, the gut of the average Israeli prevents him from moving to a settlement. In the gut, the gap is still too wide.

Amona is very important because it touches a sensitive nerve in Israeli society: private ownership. Money is real. If someone paid for land and registered it in the land registry, it is not just a national conflict, religious war or other historic pettiness. If someone paid for land out of his own pocket and possesses a deed, then there really is no argument who owns the land.

Even when we were still in Europe, we believed that land bought with money belongs to its owners. It’s not for nothing that the government is prepared to spend millions to silence those involved, but it is a strategy that will yet cost the right dearly. Not only do they steal private land from Palestinians, but then they drop the payment, including interest, onto the Israelis? The deal is starting to be too exposed. Amona is not theft in the night, as Israelis have grown used to. Amona is theft in the middle of the day.

Sensitive to the local moral metabolism, Naftali Bennett understood long ago that ownership acquired with blood is too much to swallow, even on the right. In other words, Jewish imperialism in the style of what the Americans did to the Indians it too much, even for the right. The Jews cannot bear the image of themselves as conquerors, and it will be very difficult to mobilize them for a premeditated imperialist move.

The military weakness of Israel’s enemies makes progress toward the settlers’ imperialistic goals very difficult. Ironically, during times of war it is relatively easy to create facts on the ground. The notion of moral occupation requires justifications, but how many years can we wait for a casus belli?

Bennett realized that he had to construct and embed a new political language; one that would free the settlers morally. They need a language that will anchor control of the territories in an internationally recognized document – a document which preceded all the historic conflicts and next to which all types of ownership pale, a document of biblical proportions with the promise of God in it. Such a document is the bible, with the divine promise. The bible enables the right, both secular and religious, to demand recognition of Jewish ownership over a real slice of the earth from the entire world.

Until now, the settlers claimed that the biblical right to ownership over the occupied territories precedes and is stronger than any claim of ownership based on a chain of subsequent historic “inheritance.” A nation does not occupy its own land. Now, the settlers want to convince Israelis that this historic right is stronger than the rights of private ownership. That one who steals from a thief is exempt. Because it involves a clash between two “principles” in the soul of the Jews, it will be interesting.

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