Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Confessions of a Left Wing Settler

And now, with all this '67 Cheshbon Nefesh, here are two of my thoughts.

I read this in the London Times today:

I was watching a documentary about the West Bank… with my 14-year-old daughter. Narrated by someone not hostile to the Jewish state, it was nonetheless a catalogue of arrests, imprisonment, harassment, land and water grabs, Berlin walls and checkpoints. A girl with moral sense, she was amazed by the fundamentalism and foul behaviour of some of the settlers, and bemused by their American accents. Why were they there? Who had let them take the land? How could there be peace with them around?

And this:

“With the passage of time, it became clear that there is no such thing as an enlightened occupation. The longer the occupation continued, the less enlightened and the more inhuman, insufferable, corrupt and corrupting it became,” Sever Plotzcker wrote in the Yedioth Ahronoth, the largest-circulation daily newspaper in Israel.

As many of you know I live in Gush Etzion. I guess that makes me a settler. There are many assumptions about what somebody over the Green Line believes and looks like. I match some of them: I am religious-Zionist. I believe that we have a right to all of Israel. I believe in contesting the Arabs for that right. I try to find Religious and Zionist significance in virtually everything I do here. I still believe in Old Time Zionism. But, I don't have a bushy beard. I don't have seven children, or carry a gun. And worse of all, I don't always vote for Right Wing parties. I believe that we should not be "ruling over" a nation that doesn't want us.

I believe that we are in a very difficult situation when it comes to Yehuda VeShomron. There is much talk about how the Peace Process is dead. After all, with whom can we negotiate? – an impotent Abbas, or a Hamas government that wants to see is in the sea. Fine! – Point taken!

But here is the point not taken. Who on the right wing, who of the settler community thinks about the human toll on the other side, the genuine suffering and harassment that Arabs face daily? When I go passed the roadblock and see them waiting, when I am on Shemira in my Yishuv and I have to take their i.d. cards when they enter the Yishuv – all these I hate. And that is the tip of the iceberg!

Someone said to me the other day that Israel building the Separation Fence is like a child who covers his eyes and then thinks the object in front of him has disappeared. We think that if we build a big wall, we won't need to think of "them" – that they have dissapeared. Out of sight, out of mind. But "they" are still there.

Now, I do know that the Arabs are firing rockets daily at Sderot and I am quite sure that they would prefer us gone. I don't think they love us. And yet, the situation of our controlling a hostile population endlessly is deeply problematic.

Is there anyone in government who is addressing this problem? On the Right? Why aren't we bothered by this more? As religious people, are we not bothered by this?

Don't get me wrong – I think the Arabs have stage by stage plans to run us out of the land. I am not naïve. I also believe that we have to tenaciously show them that we are here to stay. It pains me that our governments want to give away 95% of the West Bank. I also understand that for security reasons we need roadblocks and curfews and raids and walls etc. But look at the big picture! Stand back. Look at what we are doing to them! There is so much that we are doing to supress them. And what hope do they have that they will see a real future? So if you have nothing to lose, then if you are an Arab kid, why not go out and throw stones at an army jeep?
So a Right winger can say that "it's their fault" and that they should curb their violence and build their society and leave us alone, and then we will leave them alone. There is some truth in that.

Sometimes I think that the foundation of Left and Right Camps stems from their attitude to the Arabs.

The Right Wing fundamentally see the Arabs as the enemy, as an adversary, and hence, feel that we need to resist and fight back, and that only by clearly demonstrating to them that they cannot get what they wish, they will eventually back down and accept that they have lost the battle, and then they'll move on and build their own new lives.

The Left Wing think the Arabs are just like us – Peace loving people who just want their kids to grow up healthy and prosperous. But they also want their country – just like us. If only we can grant them normalization, then they will abandon the conflict.

The Right Wing flaw is that 1 and a half million Arabs, even if they give up on their national aspirations, are still under our governance. What about their lives? Their rights? Their national aspiration?
The Left Wing argument is flawed because I do believe that the Arabs genuinely, at least by this stage, are so passionate about Palestine that there will be a large group who will not be content with '67 borders. If the occupation of '67 is immoral, then why is the '48 "occupation" more moral?

So we are quite stuck. The bottom line with all this '67 stuff is that the thing that haunts me is that I do believe that we are not acting as morally as we would like to the Palestinians. And this is certainly a negative mark on our ethical conscience. There might be no other practical way, but we have to acknowledge that this is a dreadful price to pay.

A Second Point: Yearning for Jerusalem.

I heard the following train of thought on Yehoram Gaon's radio show this Friday. He told the famous story of a Zionist activist who works in NY for every Zionist cause. He is passionate about it. But he is such a macher, that every time his visitors come from Israel, they ask him: "If you are so Zionist, then why don't you make Aliya?" and he always deflects them. Eventually he capitulates: "Next year I am finally making Aliya." And so he makes Aliya.
The next year, a Zionist leader is visiting NY and he surprised to see his friend back in NY. "What are you doing here?" he asked; "I thought you made Aliya?"
"Well I returned to NYC," came the reply. "It was too hard to be in Israel. I missed the yearning for the Holy Land."

For 2000 years we yearned for Yerushalyim. Now we have it. Having something is very difficult. What do you yearn for. We might be worried that now we have our Jerusalem back, we would feel a collapse of yearning. But do not fear!

On the one hand "Har Habayit beyadeinu!" On the other hand, Jerusalem is more elusive than it ever was. A Jerusalem that symbolizes, malchut, tzedek, taharah, peace; all these seem so distant from the Yerushalayim shel Matta that we know and love.

There was a danger that with Jerusalem in our hands, we might become so familiar with it, that we would miss the yearnings for it. But here is the irony. Exactly because now we have Jerusalem, and we understand just how complicated and tangled it all is; precisely now, we understand the true yearning for Yerushalayim:

ישעיהו פרק א
(כה) וְאָשִׁיבָה יָדִי עָלַיִךְ וְאֶצְרֹף כַּבֹּר סִיגָיִךְ וְאָסִירָה כָּל בְּדִילָיִךְ:
(כו) וְאָשִׁיבָה שֹׁפְטַיִךְ כְּבָרִאשֹׁנָה וְיֹעֲצַיִךְ כְּבַתְּחִלָּה אַחֲרֵי כֵן יִקָּרֵא לָךְ עִיר הַצֶּדֶק קִרְיָה נֶאֱמָנָה:
(כז) צִיּוֹן בְּמִשְׁפָּט תִּפָּדֶה וְשָׁבֶיהָ בִּצְדָקָה:


ADDeRabbi said...

i think the two are linked, as you alluded at the end. i wrote about it at the link below, but didn't address the Palestinian side of it, though I could and should have.

Rebecca M said...

adderabbi-- I'd be interested in your perspective, if you were to write a post about the Palestinian side of making Jerusalem into Ir Hatzedek.

Alex Israel said...

(Thanks for ALL your comments BTW.)

Interesting thought. I don't know very much about Islamic philosophy of Justice or Peace especially to non-believers such as ourselves.

I do remember however a comment years back in Haaretz Magazine piece, by Shlomo ben Ami (after the failed Camp David talks in 2000.) There he spoke about how the Palestinians are trapped by a psychology of victimhood. They have built their entire national culture upon their status as Israel's victims. And hence
1. they have no positive vision or cultural concept of how to build a society etc.
2. They are afraid to cross the Rubicon of "end of Conflict" because it basically means that they have to jettison their most powerful raison d'etre.
All that Ben-ami.

My point is that I am really not sure that the Palestinians are anywhere near developing a culture of Tzedek. This is a worrying prospect (that had shlomo ben-Ami ... a noted Peace-nik ... predicting that Peace was simply impossible!)

And yet, we are Jews and have a rich history as victim, and a an equally rich literature and culture of Law, kindness, compassion, and Justice.

We have to hold ourselves to our own standards.

Rebecca M said...

Last year I met some pretty extraordinary people from Betlehem:

-the principle of a school promoting non violence and democracy and teaching hebrew, who welcomed the gush and hamivtar boys as his neighbors

-a local politician advocating non-violent nationalism (he lost the election by a landslide) who spoke movingly about how visiting the concentration camps in poland gave him a new understanding of Israel

-the family that hosted me, especially their daughter, with whom my friends and I stayed up for hours having one of the most constructive conversation I've ever had about real issues, like what she thought of when she heard "zionism", and why we didn't think only having a Jewish diaspora was good enough.

These are small pieces. it's certainly not a pervasive culture, but maybe more will come. it can be hard to stay optimistic, though.

I think Jews, as a discrete group, have had alternating periods of victimhood and self-determination, and that may give us, culturally, an advantage. Jews have had lots of space to form their identities, and also enough proximity to oppression, to remember how bad it feels, and to incorporate that.

My (outsider) understanding is that Palestinian national identity is pretty new-- before there was local identity (e.g. living in village X) and greater identity (being Arab). Since being divided up into countries, Arabs across the middle east are having to figure out their national identity, and it isn't a smooth process.

Agreed we have to hold to our own standards-- it worries me when I see the opposite happening, like when I was in Hevron, and saw a group of Yeshiva students shove an Arab woman, just because they could, and laughed about it. Or the boys on a bus who jumped my brother for giving his seat to an Arab woman.

Anonymous said...

hey Rav Alex
i don't think that just because you can feel compassion for Palestinians it makes you a left winger.
i like to think (as deluded as it may be) that when israelis see arabs standing at a roadblock for hours on end or the poverty most palestinians live in compared to israelis, that they have some feelings of compassion, be they in shalom achshav or kachniks.
surely what defines your political stance is what you see as the solution to the problem.