What the Settlers Know

What has happened to the settlers' usual show - the demonstrations in the city centers, the kids giving out stickers at intersections?

A photomontage on the cover of Nekuda, the journal of the Yesha Council of settlements, shows a settlement floating in what is supposed to be the sea and next to it the words of the poem "Dugit" ["Dinghy," and also the name of a Gaza settlement] by Natan Yonatan. The same poem also supplied the inspiration for the title of the lead article in the journal, "All its Sailors Fell Asleep," written by Uri Elitzur. "By now the world's top experts in marketing strategy should already have been here, standing by our side. By now we should have already been organized in groups, with tens and hundreds of thousands ... By now we should have been filling the city squares day and night, nonstop," Elitzur writes, accusing the settlement movement of being dormant, if not comatose, in light of the "terrible danger" that is looming in the form of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. Another veteran Yesha activist, attorney Elyakim Ha'etzni, moans: "No one is rising up. As with the Pied Piper of Hamlin or with [the false messiah] Shabtai Zvi, people are following Sharon mutely, even the best people, into the river."

What has happened to the settlers' usual show - the demonstrations in the city centers, the kids giving out stickers at intersections? The rhetoric against Sharon and against the cabinet ministers of the National Religious Party (NRP) hasn't softened. The controversy over the call to Israel Defense Forces soldiers to refuse to evacuate the settlements is also at its height. But not much more is happening. The reason is that the settlers are quick to feel, and more acutely than others, when true danger lurks for their enterprise. Israeli public opinion, or a particular political constellation, was never a consideration for them. They were always adept at bending reality to their caprices. After all, it was only after they were solidly established that they came up with the slogan "settlement in people's hearts," which was intended to win over their opponents, too, meaning the majority of the public.

Now even that slogan has become unnecessary. "Within one minute Sharon's dubious advisers brought about a situation in which a large part of the public is certain that if you strike at Kfar Darom and the other settlements of Gush Katif [the settlement bloc in the Gaza Strip] and make their residents homeless, you will thereby be saving the people of Israel," wrote Rabbi Yaakov Medan, a leading Yesha rabbi. "This fact raises retrospective harsh thoughts about the meaninglessness of actions undertaken by many from the left and the right, including the present writer, in which not inconsiderable efforts were invested to heal the rifts in the nation, to reach an orderly agreement between left and right, and to emphasize what we all have in common. In an instant, all that has unraveled."

Rabbi Medan can relax. Nothing has unraveled yet, because no "national understanding" was ever achieved. Not on the security importance of the settlements, not on their deep religious significance and not on the importance of Greater Israel. At most there is some sort of faith in the slogan that says one doesn't withdraw in the face of terrorism. That slogan is being recruited even by the settlers, to explain the terrible crime of the Sharon plan. In the past three and a half years, it has become more clear than ever that the settlements have become the symbol of security and political prestige at an intolerable financial cost. Hence, every withdrawal from some ramshackle outpost is tantamount not only to a searing military defeat, but also entails the loss of the investment.

Medan continues: "In the struggle that is looming for us, and with our readiness to mobilize for it with all our heart and all our soul, the truly important question of settlement in the hearts will no longer be in first place. The central question will be how ready we are to invest and sacrifice without fear in order to preserve what we believe in ... to preserve in the face of the caprices of transitory rulers." Now they're moving to defend the private project of the settlers, and that's already a far more difficult struggle than the one for an idea - a struggle that should have raised more acutely the question of "where everyone is."

It would probably not be off the mark to say that the settlers, more than others, know Sharon's plan doesn't have a leg to stand on, and therefore there is nothing to rise up against. How did MK Nissan Slomiansky (NRP) put it: "Why make decisions now? As the old saying has it, `Either the paritz [nobleman] will die or the dog will die,' and I am referring, of course, only to the plan." The dinghy can go on sailing.