Plastic Flowers

Yes, the settlements are no more than plastic flowers - wedged into foreign soil and never producing anything but their own ugliness.

A large pot stands on our windowsill, full of plastic flowers. The colors are bright and loud, but anyone coming close can see that the flowers are not real. They are rootless, lifeless, without an ounce of grace, and they obscure the real landscape. Anyone visiting our home immediately notices the plastic flowers that make our home unrecognizably ugly.

Our guests seem to be asking: Why do you need them when there are so many real flowers infinitely more beautiful? But we insist on keeping them, no matter what people say. For years we have struggled to add more plastic flowers to that flower bed; we even surround them with barbed wire lest someone try to uproot them and save us from their ugliness.

Yes, the settlements are no more than plastic flowers - wedged into foreign soil and never producing anything but their own ugliness. Artificial and out of place, they have never managed to grow anything but the damage they have caused. Consumed by the spat over the theater in Ariel, we didn't notice the most important thing: Around 40 years have passed since the settlement project began, and the settlements still need to import art from sovereign Israel.

They haven't managed to produce anything of their own. No theater, no museum, no music and no dance, very little literature and no meaningful creative work. To freeze or not, build or evict - the entire struggle is about a large lump of bedroom communities in the real sense of the term.

These are comatose cities in which no advanced or meaningful industry has ever grown except one bagel factory and a few workshops, most of them imported from central Israel, despite all the benefits and discounts lavished on the settlements. They're migrant villages that haven't established serious agriculture, except some spices and mushrooms. Ghost towns during the day, since most settlers work elsewhere, except their countless lobbyists. Their desire to spend as little time there as possible is understandable: The architecture in the settlements is best left unmentioned.

You might say, this is how it's like in any peripheral town. Wrong. We have many peripheral towns that have produced important creative work, but not from the settlements, even though their budgets are so much richer than in any Israeli town. Holon has a museum, as do Bat Yam, Petah Tikva, Ashdod, Herzliya and Ramat Gan. Be'er Sheva has a theater, Acre, Metula and Safed have festivals, and Sderot has a cinematheque. Wonderful music has come out of Haifa's Krayot suburbs, and the kibbutzim have produced not only impressive agriculture and industry, but real art.

The periphery produces competitive sports teams, but the settlements don't even have that. Hapoel Ariel? Beitar Ma'aleh Adumim? Yeah, right. True, there's one university center there, but even this is artificial. Many of the lecturers and students come from Israel proper. There are certainly many religious seminaries of all sorts, but what comes out of them but religious studies accompanied by education geared toward nationalism and hatred?

"Baruch the man," a song praising Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Muslims in the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994, and "Torat Hamelech," a theological treatise licensing the killing of Gentiles, are the fruit of settlement literature. Their icons are powerful dealers who could frighten governments, and rabbis who are not considered particularly revolutionary but are radical and even somewhat insane. And not one important religious seminary has come out of there. Their contribution to society in recent years boils down to providing the Israel Defense Forces with more and more combat troops, some of whom threaten to refuse to carry out orders.

Crowded but empty, this should have been the ultimate proof of their uselessness. Such a vacuous project should have collapsed on itself years ago. But though plastic flowers don't live a real life, they never wither, so they need to be removed. This then is the project we're fighting for and paying for. So we're perfectly allowed to ask: What are we fighting for? What has this project given the country and society? And above all, why do we so insist on not removing this ugly plastic flowerpot from our windowsill?