Time for Zionism to Grow Up

An inhabitant of Netzarim, Eli Feinsilber, raises a new complaint in Nekuda: The withdrawal from Gaza is robbing the Jewish settlers of their childhood and forcing them to grow up.

The latest edition of the settlers' monthly magazine Nekuda oozes misery. On the cover stands a girl with her back pressed up against a barbed wire fence and a martyred look in her eyes. The impression is that the whole world is against them and that they are alone in a small land surrounded by enemies. They are also depicted as needy and pitiable: The Netzarim Yeshiva is publishing an appeal for funds "in these particular times."

Until now, they have complained mainly about the damage to the wholeness of the land, to democracy, to their property and to the fabric of their communal life that could be harmed upon implementation of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Here and there they have sent a message to the media of nearly hysterical impotence: Where will we go, no one is talking to us.

One woman from Alei Sinai said this week on the radio that she would not leave her home, and that if soldiers beat her with a truncheon she will fall apart like a puzzle and end her life in the Beit Levenstein rehabilitation facility. One can hear in these words both the complaint of the "robbed Cossack" and genuine distress.

An inhabitant of Netzarim, Eli Feinsilber, raises a new complaint in Nekuda: The withdrawal from Gaza is robbing the Jewish settlers of their childhood and forcing them to grow up. Feinsilber, who teaches at the Netzarim Yeshiva, is demanding the right to remain a child. The Zionist movement was a childish story, he writes, referring to the first pioneers. It was not realistic considerations that impelled them, but rather youthful fervor: Making the wilderness bloom, draining the swamps, creating the infrastructure for a state, a willingness to sacrifice themselves. "Some will say - `this was nothing but childishness,' and we shall say: `Correct indeed, it was such childishness that established the state.'"

Historically, he is correct: The Zionist revolution identified itself from the outset as an expression of youthful rebelliousness. "Do not listen, my son, to a father's morality or lend an ear to a mother's belief," wrote the poet David Shimonovitch.

During the early years of the state the national leadership still promoted youth as an important value, always with an eye to the future. Victory in the Six Day War and the first Jewish settlements in the territories were also perceived by many Israelis as the beginning of a new youthful era.

Most Israelis have matured since then and Feinsilber does not forgive them for this: "The childish spark that was identified and defined in Zionism can now go off to kindergarten and let the adult run things," he writes. "Like a maturing child who gradually abandons the dreams of his childhood - the strong desires that throbbed within him to contribute to society as a policeman or a fireman - and allows cold, rational sense to rule his judgment and select his mission in life according to the dry, logical criterion that your own life takes precedence over that of your friend."

Here is the return home as the crisis of adolescence. A child of 30 returns home to his boyhood room, as Ehud Banai wrote: He lies on the sofa in his parents' home, with a high temperature, without a job, without love, nostalgic for the stories that accompanied his life, asking his mother to tell him about the child he once was, how he delighted in the first rain.

There is something accurate about the description of the withdrawal as a separation from a childhood dream; there is perhaps something accurate in the description of the Jewish settlement in the territories as a phase of the Zionist project.

But there is also scope to describe the withdrawal as an expression of the real Zionism, which has always preferred a solid Jewish majority to territory populated by Arabs. Zionism has always known how to compromise on its dream. In this sense, from the beginning it showed a large degree of pragmatic maturity. The withdrawal from Gaza also reflects a sensible and adult recognition: It is impossible to control the Palestinians, and it isn't worth trying.

Feinsilber expresses bitterness about this: "The disengagement plan represents the peak of the victory of practical-technical rationalism that tramples every childish aspiration under its boots."

This is more or less how the children of the dream who served in the Palmach spoke; the state did not measure up to their ideal. To a large degree, this was a crisis of adolescence, the transition from childhood to adulthood. For many years they carried this disappointment with them, but it also turned out to be a source of great strength, as in the meantime they occupied important positions in the Israeli elite: Many became major generals and politicians, directors general and educators. The Six Day War offered many of them a second chance to do what they had not succeeded in doing in 1948, and afterward they flourished even more.

It is possible that something like this will also happen to the Peter Pan from Netzarim and others of his generation: The trauma of the withdrawal will not make them disappear. Like the generation of 1948, they are expected not only to grow up, but also to find places for themselves among the country's elites: The army and politics, the economy and culture. In this sense, the settlers' struggle to preserve their childhood is also a struggle to shape their adulthood.