Opinion

I Helped Destroy the Israel I Love. Apartheid Will Do the Rest

I see it now. Because of that new law, potentially Israel's worst ever. I was too cooperative, too long. I was not crazed enough, not aware enough of my own power. I wasn't fierce enough early enough. I wasn't loud enough soon enough.

A picture taken from Hebron shows a view of Israeli settlement Kiryat Arba in the West Bank, February 7, 2017.
HAZEM BADER/AFP

The first place I ever occupied was called the House of God.

I was new here. In the army. I was young and in love with a still young, still hopeful country, its democracy still a work in progress. 

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There were only a handful of settlements anywhere in the West Bank. Beit El, Hebrew for the House of God, was new, too. Desolate. A few shacks, a few trailers, and one huge, handsome, glass and limestone house of worship.

When the army issued me a submachine gun and taught me to use it, the first thing they did was to send me to the gleaming synagogue, to keep it safe. There was only one person there at the time, a yeshiva kid from Chicago. He showed me the plaque that said the building was funded through the kindness of the Ministry of Agriculture.

I'd come to Israel to be a farmer, so I had to ask. "What, exactly, do you guys grow here?" His answer came without hesitation. "Rocks."

I thought about that conversation a few days ago, when I watched young pro-settlement Jews not far away from Beit El at the Amona outpost, throwing rocks at Israeli troops and police officers ordered to expel them from the outpost, which even Israel acknowledges was built illegally. 

Not only rocks. Heavy, sharp-tipped iron fence posts, bleach, a fire extinguisher, bricks, car tires, a kitchen table.

From past experience, the settlement activists at Amona knew what the government would do in response to their attacking Israeli forces, calling them Nazis, breaking the windows of police vehicles and buses, and defacing the outpost's synagogue with an Israel Police shield bearing a large swastika where a Star of David is supposed to go:

Shower them with rewards.

They were right. And they only had to wait a day or two. Late Monday night, the Knesset awarded settlers defying the government their most spectacular grand prize yet. 

The bill the Knesset passed late Monday sounds pretty much like any other law. 

>>> Everything you need to know about Israel's Palestinian land-grab law >>>

They gave it the blandest name they could. Hok HaHasdara, which means the Law to Make Things Alright.

But this is not just another law. This is one small step for settlers, and one giant leap for Apartheid.

The law says Israel can expropriate land which Israel itself confirms is Palestinian-owned, and on which thousands of settler homes have already been illegally built. 

Nowhere but in the West Bank – not within Israel's 1967 borders and nowhere else – can a government do this. Take land from private individuals – denied basic rights for 50 years under military occupation – and grant it to other private individuals, who are citizens of the government.

The Knesset passed a law saying that the proper response to decades of settlers stealing land, threatening the government, abusing and intimidating and defrauding law-abiding Palestinians, is to grant them the grand prize.

But that's not all it says. It says that Israel is now officially ruled by the worst fanatics of the right. They no longer need to listen to the prime minister. Benjamin Netanyahu now takes his orders from them. 

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To begin to get a proper grasp on this, you have to go back a whole century before George Orwell. You have to go back to the heyday of colonialism, when the French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon asked "What is property?' and answered "Property is Theft."

Monday night, with Netanyahu ducking responsibility by leaving the country, the Knesset officially asked the question "What is Theft?" and by a vote of 60-52, the answer is now "Theft is Property."

Think what you like, but be honest about this. Don't ever let anyone tell you that settlements are not an obstacle to a peace process. Because that is exactly, literally, what settlements are there for. To seize land permanently. 

What's the problem? The right has a sophisticated strategy for taking over the West Bank, but no workable plan for sharing it with the millions of Palestinians who live there, denied basic human rights to movement, assembly, immigration, property, speech, exercise of religion, the vote.

Entirely separate sets of laws for Israelis and Palestinians living in the same place? Literal Apartheid? No problem. What are laws, anyway? And what about that democracy which was once a work in progress? That country I love.

I helped destroy it. I see it now. I was too cooperative, too long. I was not crazed enough, not aware enough of my own power. I wasn't fierce enough early enough. I wasn't loud enough soon enough.

I should have learned the lesson of the rocks of Beit El, where in Genesis 28, a fugitive and crafty Jacob uses a stone for a pillow, dreams a dream in which God gives the land to him and his descendants, and Jacob pledges in return that the stone will mark God's House – provided that God keeps him safe and fed and clothed.

I should have known that over time, when people come to imbue particular stones with holiness, they may begin to have a certain contempt for people who don't see things their way. 

Twice I was almost shot to death at the entrance of a settlement. Both times, I was told, it was because I looked too much like an Arab.

I truly believe that Israelis will keep outside enemies from destroying their country. But with every new law, with every unimpeded mass contempt of court, the march of Apartheid is annihilating Israel from within. 

>>> U.S. Jewish leaders come out against land-grab law: 'This isn’t the Israel we want to see' >>>

In just the past few weeks, as a sop to the hard right and the settlement movement, we've seen unusually large numbers of abrupt demolitions of houses of Palestinians in the West Bank and within Israel. Many of the structures belonged to families who had tried but were unable to receive construction permits from Israeli authorities. In the worst example, during one demolition operation, police shot dead a Bedouin Israeli under circumstances which seem increasingly unjustified.

In the meantime, Israel spent years of time and an estimated $58 million to evacuate a few dozen houses at Amona, promising the evacuees every incentive under the sun as compensation.

On Friday, veteran settlement leader Daniella Weiss refused to condemn the rock-throwing, Nazi epithets, and synagogue defacement on the part of pro-settler activists. 

"The one who defiled a synagogue and destroyed a synagogue was Netanyahu, and even more serious, [pro-settler Bayit Hayehudi party leader Naftali] Bennet. 

"I saw everything, and I believe that the defective one is anyone who does not protest against the destruction of a synagogue."  

No problem, says the right. It's on a roll. The Geneva Convention, the Hague, the army, the police, Israel's own attorney general and Supreme Court be damned.

The right's next step is to try to annex land in the West Bank, without extending rights to Palestinians. This is their replacement for the two-state solution. 

A new step, but one which already has a familiar name: Apartheid.

I haven't given up. I'm more crazed now. I accept that I helped destroy the Israel I love. I'm going to try like hell to save anything I can. Before apartheid does the rest.