Celebrating 50 Years of West Bank Settlements Is Cheap Political Theater

A real state ceremony would have emphasized what we agree on and what unites us rather than what divides and separates us

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at an event marking 50 years of Shomron near the settlement of Barkan, August 28, 2017.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at an event marking 50 years of Shomron near the settlement of Barkan, August 28, 2017.Credit: David Bachar
Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak

The ceremony in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc marking the 50th anniversary of our return to every part of the Land of Israel, the cradle of our birth as a nation and as the bearer of a universal mission, is anything but a national ceremony. It’s a cheap, crude political attempt by the right to appropriate the achievements of the Six-Day War and love of the land – and to hell with the truth and the facts.

A national ceremony would have emphasized what we agree on and what unites us rather than what divides and separates us – not to mention what incites. A national ceremony would have reflected the contributions made by every segment of society to the achievements of settlement in Judea and Samaria, and would even have reflected the legitimate disagreement over both the ends and the means.

A national ceremony would have noted that the people who built the Israel Defense Forces and led the war to liberate these parts of the land were Yitzhak Rabin, Haim Bar-Lev, Motta Gur and others (who later turned out to be “leftists,” heaven forbid), and that the party that consolidated and led the settlement enterprise for a decade, mainly on the basis of security considerations, was the hated Alignment, the forerunner of the Labor Party.

A national ceremony would have included Maj. Gen. (res.) Elad Peled on the dais, a man who liberated Safed at the age of 21, as head of a Palmach unit, and then liberated all of Samaria at age 40, as head of the 36th Division. This wise, modest man of action, who never demanded “applause” and never complained about “zero media coverage” of his achievements, contributed more to the liberation of Judea and Samaria than all the planned speakers and guests put together.

Or Dalia Rabin, daughter of Yitzhak Rabin, the IDF chief of staff who presided over the victory and architected the peace, who was murdered by an evildoer from the extremist, incited right. Or Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition and son of former Military Intelligence chief and President Chaim Herzog, who dispelled the public’s fears before and during the war in special appearances on television – a brand-new medium at the time – and served as the first governor of united Jerusalem. Or Hila Elazar-Cohen, the eldest daughter of Maj. Gen. David Elazar, who demanded the assault on and conquest of the Golan Heights from the very first day of the war, and led it from the fourth.

A state ceremony would have lavished praised on the clear-sightedness of the Allon Plan and the internal logic of establishing settlement blocs, building Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and establishing settlements along the length of the Jordan River – the dimensions dictated by a sober security perspective and agreed on by all segments of society – instead of deliberately blurring the critical difference between the settlement blocs that are home to 80 percent of settlers and whose security value we all acknowledge and the isolated settlements that even settler leaders admit don’t contribute to security, but exist only to observe the religious commandment “to settle the land.”

But a ceremony like that won’t take place, because the goal is to appropriate, divide and deceive by blurring the line that separates what is common to all of us – security first, the belief that the unity of the people takes precedence over the unity of the land, and the values of the Declaration of Independence – from what serves a benighted, nationalist agenda tainted with messianism that threatens all of our futures.

The wonderful story of our return to Zion and our settlement in the parts of our homeland that are essential to ensuring our future is a continuation of the proud Israeli national story. But in the consciousness of the right's leadership, it has been replaced by a lunatic vision of one state with an ongoing civil war and “Jewish apartheid” – or alternatively, an Arab majority. This is a vision whose focus today is the effort to thwart any chance of an agreement with confidence in the future through isolated settlements, and it’s a prescription for disaster that must be halted.

Therefore, justice lies with those who say as follows: We’re proud of our role in returning to every part of the land and in the settlement enterprise that is essential to our security. At the same time, we reject the cheap, embarrassing attempt to politically appropriate ownership of this achievement to one side of the political spectrum, while deliberately blurring the difference between, on one hand, "no choice," moments of marvelous unity and the great Zionist act that came in its wake, and on the other, benighted nationalism that has woken a messianic dream whose fulfillment threatens the entire Zionist enterprise.