(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff [file])
A few days ago I escorted a lovely woman originally from Guyana around Hebron. A writer, speaker and diplomat, she seemed very aware of the events taking place throughout the world and in Israel.
But one thing perturbed her: Why were people like us - Hebron residents, and others throughout Judea and Samaria - seemingly persecuted by our own people? My explanation was very simple.
"Understand, there are people who don't want us here because they believe we are living in, and occupying, an 'Arab' city, and are 'obstacles to peace.' These same people are convinced that we will sooner or later be expelled from Hebron and other communities in Judea and Samaria. However, it's not easy to decree expulsion. Such actions are quite harsh, and not easy to implement. Therefore it is necessary to prepare the public at large psychologically for such a possibility.
"The best way to do so is to vilify the future victims of expulsion, creating an atmosphere whereby it seems that 'they deserve what they get.' In other words, an attempt is being made to delegitimize us, depicting us as 'enemies of peace,' and as such, 'opponents of the state.' That being accomplished, it is much easier to throw us out of our homes, no questions asked, no holds barred.
"An example of such deception is the most common word used to describe people living in Judea and Samaria, as well as the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights. We are all lumped together in the category of 'settler.' Should I move to Tel Aviv, the moment my official identity card is stamped by the Interior Ministry, I am a 'resident' of Tel Aviv even if I've only lived there for a day. However, even after having lived in Hebron for 28 years, I'm still labeled a settler - a word with negative connotations today, symbolizing 'colonization' or in the words of others, 'occupation.' Settlers equals occupiers equals evil."
AS WORLD pressure on Israel seems to be mounting, originating in Washington and running through Paris, Madrid, London and most other capitals, an even more disturbing element of delegitmization seems to be emerging. That is, the comparison of settlers with terrorists.
A New York Times article by Ethan Bronner on June 6 overtly compares the Israeli Right to Hamas terrorists. Bronner wrote: "There are striking parallels between the hard-core opponents of a peace deal on each side." Quoting Yossi Alpher, he added: "Look at how settlers go to wealthy Jews and evangelical Christians to raise money, and how Hamas taps into a huge reservoir of Islamist money."
This, of course, ignores the fact that Hamas's stated goal is the destruction of the State of Israel, and toward that aim it has participated in murdering thousands of Jews in cold-blooded terror attacks and has launched thousands of rockets into Israeli cities. It's implied that the "Jewish Hamas" has yet to reach such stages of bloodshed and violence.
A series of articles written by Dina Kraft for JTA is titled "Special Report: Jewish Extremists." One article, headlined "Israel wrestles with settler challenge" depicts settlers as rampaging, radical and lawless. The article quotes attorney Michael Sfard, who represents the most left-wing groups in Israel but does not speak with anyone from Human Rights in Yesha, which represents a different point of view.
In a second article called "The view from a West Bank hilltop," Kraft, writes about residents of such communities. "Critics, including some voices within the mainstream settler movement, say they pose a violent and dangerous threat to the future of Israeli democracy." Of course, this is said without quoting anyone by name. The author also refrains from speaking to anyone who has anything positive to say about hilltop youth or their communities.
TWO RECENT articles point in the same direction. Writing in Haaretz, Yair Sheleg seemingly rejects the comparison between Hamas and the Jewish Right, but readily accepts that there is Jewish terror: "I do not intend this as a justification of settler terror... It is not enough to fight terror; it is also necessary to drain the swamp in which it breeds."
His solution is to leave Jews in Judea and Samaria following an Israeli withdrawal. "If it is possible to enable Palestinian sovereignty without uprooting 200,000 Jews from their homes, this would be the most just and moral solution of all. There is also a practical advantage: If the settlers do not accept the offer, the justice of evacuating them will increase."
Sheleg conveniently forgets one significant point, that being the security of the Jews "morally left behind." The article is aptly titled, "Leave the settlers there."
Writing in The Jerusalem Post, Larry Derfner, who offers a similar answer, did not forget this aspect of the issue: "I don't think there would be a wholesale slaughter of settlers in a newly independent Palestine, because I don't think any Palestinian leadership that made peace with Israel would want to enter the international community with such a thing on its head. But I do think there would be individual acts of revenge against settlers... and if a few nut cases, a few modern-day Masada types, want to die sanctifying God's name or something, I'm sorry - let them."
NEXT MONTH will mark the 80th anniversary of the 1929 riots and massacres which left hundreds of Jews dead, wounded and maimed. The worst of these riots was in Hebron, where 67 were killed, 70 injured, and the survivors expelled by the then-ruling British.
The 1929 massacre was the direct result of hateful incitement spewed out by the Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini against the Jews living in pre-state Israel. The day before the riots began, on Thursday, August 22, four Jews belonging to the Hagana, including Rahel Yanait, future wife of Israel's second president Izhak Ben-Zvi, visited Hebron. Warning the city's Jewish leadership of impending violence, they offered to leave weapons for self-defense. The weapons were refused because Hebron's Jews believed their Arab neighbors would protect them. That naivety led to the annihilation of a Jewish community that had existed for thousands of years.
At present, the major source of incitement is not entirely clear. On the one hand, US President Barack Obama and the Europeans maintain exceedingly clear expectations; a total building freeze is only the first step. Following that, the demands to empty Judea and Samaria will certainly follow. That is no surprise.
What is much more troubling and problematic is the systematic effort from within Israel to demonize our own people, even to the point that Jews do not really care if other Jews live or die.
Some months ago I met a man in Hebron who identified himself as a journalist for a publication called Yisrael Hayom. The bottom line of our conversation was his concluding remark: "I think a good settler is a dead settler." Sheleg, Derfner, Kraft and others seem to be walking in the footsteps of the mufti, whose vile agitation led to the 1929 atrocities. Is this really the road Israel is traveling 80 years later?
,I.The writer is spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron.