Wednesday, June 24th, 2009
JTA has just posted a timely series on the settlers of the West Bank, exploring their potential extremism and the very real possibility of Jew-vs.-Jew violence should Israel eventually decide to evacuate them, as much of the world, including the President of the United States, would like.
Of course, we’ve been down this road, just a few years ago. The evacuation of Gush Katif was heartbreaking, but thankfully didn’t erupt into violence. The same goes for the evacuation of Sinai Jews in the early 80s. But those settlers were trying to hold onto the beautiful homes and life they had been encouraged to build, not defending land that is as biblically tied to their people as Jerusalem.
In 1992, Robert I. Friedman wrote a book, “The Zealots of Zion,” in which he sought out the most extreme settlers and depicted them as mainstream. I criticized the book then. But in the 17 years since, one has to wonder how those zealots have multiplied, especially when considering how real the possibility they will be displaced has become. It’s safe to say there are a significant number who would not be carried out kicking and screaming as they were in Gush Katif, and are indeed ready to die, or kill others, before that happens.
Binyamin Netanyahu, like any Israeli leader, knows that significantly evacuating the settlements would not only be politically unpalatable but a logistical nightmare. So should anyone else who wants to include that idea in a final status agreement.
But you don’t have to believe that God will punish the Jews for surrendering holy ground, as a large number of these settlers do, to believe it’s a bad idea to give up all or most of the West Bank. Any general worth his stars would assert that it would create a jigsaw Jewish land with indefensible borders, on the ground and in terms of missile and rocket range. Too often, people forget that the West Bank is not some external or satellite territory bordering Israel, like the Golan Heights or Alaska to the United States, but the very heart of Israel’s land mass. West Bank Jewish communities, roads and sites such as Rachel’s Tomb are already encased in concrete like prisons or fortresses. Further walling in both Jews and Palestinians will only increase tension and paranoia, not build harmony. The only realistic policy is for both Israelis and Palestinians to accept the map as it is now, and begin coping with the idea of each other’s permanence.
Numbering more than 500,000, it is impossible to paint the West Bank settlers with one brush. A great many were drawn by affordable, modern housing. But most are there for religion and the ideology that “facts on the ground” in that area are a buffer to protect the rest of Israel.
You don’t have to be delusional to believe it’s important to keep the West bank settlements. But you might have to be to believe something good will come out of giving them up.