My first job was at an information center. In the mid ‘80s I served as a kind of research assistant to Meron Benvenisti, who documented and mapped the rapid process in which Gush Emunim and the Likud government were changing Israel’s borders.
Every day I’d report to the office in a small Jerusalem apartment, from which my friends and I would watch in horror the erection of more and more settlements.
Our fear was that one day Meron’s’ doomsday prophecy would come true – the occupation would become irreversible and the sovereign state of Israel would disappear into a binational Israel similar to Northern Ireland, South Africa or the Balkans. If the number of settlers reaches 50,000, we said, Zionism would be in trouble. If their number reaches 100,000, we’re doomed. The great achievement of 1948 (turning the Arab-Israeli conflict into a controlled, bordered, interstate conflict) would be cancelled out and the awful reality of the ‘30s (a borderless, uninhibited, hopeless intercommunal struggle) would be renewed.
If this happens, we warned, life in this country would become a nightmare.
Since then the conflict in Northern Ireland has been resolved, South Africa has fallen apart, the Balkans have undergone a war, and peace. But the number of settlers in the West Bank has grown steadily, reaching about 400,000. Reversible or not, Gush Emunim’s monumental project defeated Israel and shaped a binational reality of a nation living within a nation and a nation living above a nation, instead of a nation living beside a nation.
David Ben Gurion’s immense historic victory has become the ongoing downfall of every Israeli prime ministers in the last generation. After we got to establish a small, robust, defined, democratic Jewish state, we crumbled it with our own hands and turned it into a hybrid of freedom and occupation.
So the hideousness we’re experiencing now cannot be attributed to the fanatic murderousness of the knife-wielders or to the panicky, bestial behavior of the lynch mob. The human insanity we’re living in is a direct, inevitable result of a 40-year-old political insanity. What were we thinking, when we went to Yitzhar and Itamar and to the cursed Har Bracha? What did we expect would happen, when we erased our borders and blurred our sovereignty and created a situation of ongoing civil war?
The writing on the wall was gigantic: In the absence of a separating border, the Israelis and Palestinians will be caught in a whirlpool of blood. If Israel will not be condemned as South Africa was, it will become what Kosovo became, where man turned against his brother, neighbors became enemies and family members attacked each other.
What the stabbings and car rammings and shooting attacks teach us today is that the reality we have concocted here is not viable. The nightmare Benvenisti predicted is becoming a reality.
True, withdrawals from the West Bank could also lead to violent outbursts. Dividing the land will also be agonizing. But while Israel knows how to protect itself from attacks from outside, the aggression from within is tearing it apart and turning it into a country spinning mentally and morally out of control.
Even if the present foul wave diminishes and disappears soon, the next menacing breaker is not far off. There’s no knowing when, where and how disaster will strike us, but disaster is inevitable. After the Zionists have seemingly destroyed Zionism, and after the so-called nationalists have undermined the nation-state, we are closer than ever to the point of no return.
So the only question now is: Will we understand what is happening before we reach that point, or afterward? Will we wake up when it’s still possible to put out the fire, or only when the flames are consuming the house altogether?