Reality Check: The settler tail wagging the dog

The settlement movement, as highlighted by Amona, has severely warped the country’s moral compass.

December 4, 2016 21:54
4 minute read.
POLICE PREPARE to remove settlers and their supporters from Amona in 2006.

POLICE PREPARE to remove settlers and their supporters from Amona in 2006.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Once, back in the day when Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister, it was permissible to lie for the sake of the Land of Israel, as Shamir himself put it.

Today, it’s permissible to steal for the sake of the Land of Israel, with 120 religious Zionist rabbis giving their kashrut stamp to the 40 settler families of Amona, living on privately owned Palestinian land that was illegally seized for settlement activity. These rabbis, the majority of whom receive their monthly paycheck from the state whose laws they are therefore duty-bound to respect, had the brass-neck nerve to call on their followers to defy the High Court of Justice and head to Amona to block this month’s scheduled evacuation of the hilltop outpost.

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So, first it was OK to lie to secure Jewish settlement in the West Bank, now thievery is judged to be kosher. Soon we’ll be having apologists for cold-blooded murder, so long as the crime is committed “for the sake of the Land of Israel.”

Actually, that too has already happened, most notably with the 1995 murder of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The fact is, the occupation of the West Bank and resultant settlement movement has severely warped the country’s moral compass. The evacuation of Amona – the settler movement hysterically uses the word “expulsion,” showing utter insensitivity and a sick cheapening of real traumatic moments in Jewish history, such as the 1492 expulsion from Spain – is a classic example of the settler tail wagging the Israel dog.

The facts behind Amona are clear and simple: this settlement outpost was built on privately owned Palestinian land and therefore has to be dismantled. Even if the 40 families who decided to build their homes there were unaware of the dodgy circumstances behind the settlement’s construction, this is no defense for the land grab and, as the High Court has ruled, the outpost must be razed by December 25.

While not wanting to minimize the unpleasantness of the court’s ruling for these 40 families, to put matters into perspective, we’re talking about 40 families out of a country of over eight million people. And yet, the fate of Amona is creating ructions in the coalition that threaten, if not immediately, to bring the government down. As already noted above, the settlement movement, and its supporters in and outside the Knesset, are not known for their sense of proportion.

On Monday, for the umpteenth time, the cabinet is due to discuss the Regularization Bill, a shoddy attempt to square the circle by retroactively legitimizing illegal settlement activity. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney-General Avichai Mendelblit have warned, such a law could strengthen the complaint the Palestinians filed with the International Criminal Court against Israeli construction activity in the West Bank.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is currently working on a preliminary inquiry into the Palestinian complaint, including an examination of after-the-fact government “regularization” of construction carried out without the necessary permits in unauthorized West Bank outposts, as well as the expropriation and confiscation of private land owned by Palestinians. Passing the Regularization Bill will just make her life easier and a prosecution against Israel in The Hague that much more likely.

But such international legal niceties are of no concern for the Land of Israel purists, which is what makes them so dangerous. MK Benny Begin, who now stands as the sole voice of reason inside the Likud, pointed out at a recent Knesset faction meeting that the law “endangers the settlements in Judea and Samaria, it violates international law and will damage Israel’s standing in the world.”

As a result, Begin is now the target of a vicious smear campaign sent to Likud members over WhatsApp, accusing him of having “two standards of morality! One for Jews, and another for settlers. One for Beduin [referring to Begin’s plan to legalize Beduin unrecognized villages], and another for settlers.”

But Begin is right. If the bill is passed, it will spur Palestinian efforts against the wider settlement activities. It could also spring soon-to-be-former US President Barack Obama into action, before he leaves office in January.

Among the scenarios causing concern in the Prime Minister’s Office is the fear that passing the bill could encourage Obama to place a proposal on the Israel-Palestinian issue in the United Nations Security Council in the last days of his administration, with the settlements as its focus. Or, the US could decide not to use its traditional pro-Israel Security Council veto should the Palestinians bring a vote against the settlements in the council.

Such diplomatic pressure against Israel would be unprecedented.

And all for the sake of 40 families living on land that legally belongs to somebody else. Who knows: perhaps this settler hubris over Amona could be the beginning of the unraveling of the settlement enterprise.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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