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Zionism Is Not Colonialism, and Israel's Settlement Enterprise Is Not Zionism

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Israeli settlers, students at the Homesh Yeshiva (religious school), gather in a tent at the former settlement of Homesh, west of the West Bank city of Nablus, last month.
Israeli settlers, students at the Homesh Yeshiva (religious school), gather in a tent at the former settlement of Homesh, west of the West Bank city of NablusCredit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP
Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

Zionism is not colonialism, despite the efforts of the politics of blame and identity to place it under this heading. Colonialism is a historical phenomenon in which European powers (the “Old World”) took over swaths of Africa, Asia and the Americas (the “New World”) and built colonies there for their citizens, who dispossessed the natives and exploited their natural resources. What major power sent the Jews to settle Palestine for it in the early 20th century? Czarist Russia, in which Jews were restricted and persecuted? Britain, which administered Palestine under an international mandate and restricted Jewish immigration and settlement? Was it Germany, which passed racial legislation against them and then undertook to exterminate them? Or perhaps it was Yemen, Morocco or Iraq?

In Palestine-Land of Israel, a national struggle with religious and cultural characteristics developed, in tandem with global upheavals (the two world wars, the dissolution of empires, the start of the Cold War). Most of the Jews arrived here after the Palestinians, some of whom settled here as a result of population shifts during the Ottoman Empire. The Jews did not come to “a land without a people”: That was condescending nonsense, willful blindness. To their credit, it must be said that until 1948, they made a point of paying for the land on which they settled. The international community recognized the necessity of partitioning the land into two nation-states. The war that erupted in the wake of the UN resolution, at the initiative of the Arabs, was a matter of life and death. When it ended, with the cease-fire agreements, Zionism had achieved its stated goal: establishing a national home for the Jews within defensible and internationally recognized borders.

The settlers fancy themselves the heirs to the Zionist project, and liken themselves to the kibbutzniks and moshavniks who set the nation’s borders through the rifle and the plow. But they are doing precisely the opposite: Their actions undermine Zionism. They are not enabling Israel to sit securely within defensible and internationally recognized borders. They are the antithesis of Zionists: They aspire to keep Israel in perpetual limbo, with part of its territory effectively held under an oppressive and dispossessing military occupation. That is already colonialism. The settlements are colonies populated by citizens of a regional power (Israel) in territory that was never annexed to it, and whose original inhabitants are denied basic rights in almost every area of life.

The settlers outside the settlement blocs adjacent to the separation barrier (one of Israel’s two official eastern borders, that includes a physical obstacle and border crossings) impose on the state and its army defensive lines that are impossibly long and devoid of any strategic logic. When Akiva Novick proclaims that “a true right-winger goes up to Homesh” (Haaretz Hebrew, December 26), he is also proclaiming that a true rightist is not a Zionist. Homesh is utter foolishness, as is every other intrusive and isolated settlement inside the Palestinian space. For good reason, Ariel Sharon took advantage of the Gaza disengagement to evacuate Homesh and a few of its ilk. Not long before he fell into a coma, he recognized the strategic stupidity of the settlement enterprise to which he’d devoted the better part of his life and effort, and sought to carry out the “realignment plan,” to be rid of as many settlements like Homesh, Itamar and Yitzhar as possible.

Novick also laments the disengagement. In his view, Israel should still be in Gaza. Even when they speak and write eloquently, without brandishing an Uzi, the ideological settlers oppose any withdrawal from territory captured after 1948, because they know that would serve the strategic logic of pragmatic Zionism, not the messianic logic of the post-Zionist settlement project. On these pages, Israel Harel often mourns Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon. Last week he claimed that Menachem Begin erred when he uprooted the Rafah settlements as part of the peace treaty with Egypt (Haaretz Hebrew, December 24).

Non-messianic politicians who pay lip service to settlers are lying to themselves. Thus we had Gideon Sa’ar declaring, after the most recent terror attack, “In response, we need to strengthen the yeshiva in Homesh,” and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett again proclaiming that “The settlers are our defensive shield.” Outside the settlement blocs they are exactly the opposite of a defensive shield, and of Zionism.

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