Yes, We Do Drink Espresso

The real Israeli creativity can be found in Tel Aviv and among its natives. Nothing has yet to emerge from Bat Ayin, with the exception of violence.

Police Maj. Gen. Shlomi Katabi opened his mouth. He is the outgoing commander of the West Bank District Police, an officer nobody had even heard of. Yet upon his retirement, he decided to share what was truly in his heart. Here are some of his pearls of wisdom: "I love the settlers. They are the salt of the earth. The ease with which people denigrate them is just completely disgusting .... They sit in Tel Aviv, park their SUVs on Sheinkin Street, drink espresso with their legs crossed and allow themselves to criticize. Their willingness to contribute to the state is zero."

Of course, we could have simply ignored the senior officer's statements. So what if he said it? We could have even somehow excused the fact that this lover of settlers was tasked with protecting the law in the West Bank from his beloved rioters. But Katabi is the voice of the masses: The settlers are the salt of the earth, Tel Aviv is espresso with its legs crossed. How humbling it is sometimes to hear the truth coming out of the mouths of security officials who leave their posts. It ought to be deeply disconcerting not only due to their statements, but also due to the baseness and shallowness of the speakers, people who beforehand were anonymous to the public.

Let's call a spade a spade: Those whom the officer holds dear to his heart are criminals. The major general befriended them. The settlers' contribution to the state can be summed up as posing an obstacle to peace while flagrantly flouting the law. Some of them are serially violent, others are property thieves who sit on privately-owned and stolen land. There is no difference between the horse farm that belonged to the deceased crime boss Ya'akov Alperon in Ramat Poleg, which was condemned last week, and 60 percent of the homes in the Ofra settlement. In both instances, the criminals trespassed onto private land.

Katabi likes this. If he had attributed those statements to Alperon, the usurper of other people's private property, he would have been fired immediately. But in his eyes, and in the eyes of many Israelis, the settlers are the salt of the earth. Why? Because they live in mobile homes. And what has the salt of the earth contributed to society besides its criminality? Has a renowned scientist blossomed from the communities across the West Bank? Has one important author? One captain of industry? Nothing. The real Israeli creativity can be found in Tel Aviv and among its natives. Nothing has yet to emerge from Bat Ayin, with the exception of violence. We are thus dealing with crime-ridden neighborhoods.

The line of thinking under which Tel Aviv drinks espresso and so it contributes next to nothing is as twisted as the argument that Tel Aviv is not allowed to voice criticism. If Tel Aviv deserves criticism, it is to be chided for not sufficiently criticizing this criminal enterprise; it does not express enough outrage against it. Tel Aviv should have parked its SUV, sipped its espresso and headed out to protest.

This is not a right, which Katabi hints should have been denied, it's an obligation. The idea that sitting in Yitzhar is a contribution while sitting on Sheinkin Street is harmful is a primitive and dark mode of thinking. Without Tel Aviv, there would be no State of Israel. Without Yitzhar, we would have an even better State of Israel, one immeasurably more prosperous and just.

And those who measure Tel Aviv's contribution by the amount of blood spilled for the cause ought to remember that this city is filled with silent memorials, more than all the settlements put together. From the fighter jets who bombed it before the birth of the state, to the tank shell that struck it in 1967, to the missiles that struck it in 1991, to the horrific wave of suicide bombings in 2002 and 2003, this city paid a heavy price in blood. Perhaps this "contribution" appeals to the hearts of such narrowminded people like Katabi.

Tel Aviv is the oasis of normalcy in an insane country. Between the espresso and the SUV arise art, culture, finance, science, intellect, media, openness and a healthy (albeit insufficient) introspection of the State of Israel, without which it has no real backbone. May God protect Israel if, heaven forbid, it ever turns into Yitzhar: violent, isolated, conservative, religious and backward. May God protect it if the majority of its police officers think like Katabi. Yes, we sit with out legs crossed on Sheinkin Street, sip espresso, and some of us even park our SUVs on the sidewalk. But at least it's our sidewalk, not a stolen sidewalk that belongs to another nation.