A settler bares his soul

"Our entire community has been demonized and delegitimized."

amona clashes 298.88  (photo credit: AP [file])
amona clashes 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Why was the demolition of the nine homes in Amona accompanied by so much violence on both sides of the ideological spectrum-whereas the destruction of the Gush Katif settlements only seven months ago took place amidst comparative understanding and sensitivity, with crying and decrying, with dancing and denying, but in largest measure devoid of the use of force? Apparently the overwhelming majority of those who feel part of the settler community, while strongly disagreeing with the "disengagement" policy - either because they are Zionistically and humanistically opposed to uprooting Jewish settlements, or because they are against giving a prize of encouragement to terror and Hamas in this critical time of Palestinian internal dissension and external aggression - might well endorse passive resistance but would clearly stop short of violence. So what happened half a year later in Amona? And I'm not merely writing about the youth who demonstrated in Amona; I'm talking about murmurings throughout the settler community which has been radicalized far beyond the red lines of Gush Katif. THE EXPLANATION lies between the lines of a survey conducted by Professor Dalia Mor of the College of Management in Rishon Letzion, aimed at examining the attitudes of Israelis toward the various sectors of our broader society: Ashkenazim, Sephardim, secularists, settlers, Haredim, rightists, leftists, Israeli-Arabs, new immigrants and foreign workers. The survey revealed that the sector most hated by the Israeli population are the Palestinians, with the settlers a close second. And among those respondents who defined themselves as left-wingers, hostility toward the settlers ranked higher than hostility toward the Palestinians by a ration of 67 to 55 percent. This study explained to me a most curious phenomenon. Israelis may have many faults - reckless driving, inability to admit wrongdoing, lack of subtlety - but lack of generosity to people in trouble is not one of them. Our telephones and door bells ring every ten minutes with requests for aid to needy families and institutions, Israel the fledgling State welcomed under-privileged and under-educated refugees from third world countries in comparative numbers unrivaled by any other country, and our burgeoning nation was among the first to take in the Vietnamese Boat People and to send volunteers and raise funds for Tsunami, Pakistani Earthquake and Hurricane Katrina homeless. With this history, why is there no national outcry on behalf of expelled residents of Gush Katif, when most of whom are still waiting to receive their government subsidies and are living in sub-standard housing, without any means of employment? And these residents of Gush Katif did not build their settlements as thieves in the night. They were sent as the agents of every government of Israel since the Six Day War, and they turned a desert into a garden of fruits, vegetables and flowers which were exported throughout the world. Why is the government, as well as the majority of the populous so indifferent to their fate? It can only be because the entire settlement community has become a demonized and delegitimized sector of Israel society. AND THIS is what explains Amona: the government (and Supreme Court) would not accept a mere seven day delay to enable the settlers themselves to dismantle their homes and restore whatever they could as they resumed their lives in Ofra, and that the policemen came out on horseback, brandishing clubs and often striking indiscriminately as the pictures seem to testify. I certainly do not condone in any way the stone-throwing violence of many of the youth who were there. But the settler community had come to Amona already feeling disenfranchised and abandoned, and unfortunately those who feel pushed against the wall of hatred and indifference often act with violence because they sense they have nothing to lose. And tragically the over-reaction of the police only exacerbated the settler perception that we are enemy number one, even before Hamas. WHAT IS the source of our repugnant status? Some will refer to us as leeches who have sucked the Israeli treasury dry-and caused undeserved stagnation to the Negev and the Galil-by our demands to fund our ill-advised settlements; others will even charge us with immorality, since we have robbed the Palestinians of lands which rightfully belong to them. There are voices like Avrum Burg, who have internalized the cruel canard our enemies have cynically flung at us, holding us responsible for the "freedom fighting" suicide bombers who murder the innocent citizens of Netanya, Tel Aviv, Hadera and Petach Tikva. These voices have forgotten the Treaty of Versailles and the Balfour Declaration, which initially called for 18 Arab States and one Jewish State on both sides of the Jordan; they portray us as white European Boers conquering and colonizing the "South African" homelands of the native Palestinians, paying no mind that it is us Jews who have lived in this area for 4,000-thousand years in unbroken continuity and that we comprised the majority of those who lived on and worked these lands in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In their blind idealization of the possibilities for peace with the Palestinians, they choose to overlook the facts that from the UN Partition Plan on November 29, 1947, to the tense period preceding the Six Day War to the Oslo Agreements to the Camp David Summit meeting between former President Clinton, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, it is we the Israelis who have consistently been willing to compromise and it has been the Arabs who have refused offer after offer to share this land. Yes, you can only make peace with your enemy-but that enemy must be willing to make peace with you. NEVERTHELESS, the majority of the Israeli populous seems to have "bought into" the "immorality" of our position and thereby condone any ill-treatment we may receive as being well deserved. We are proud of our settlements, proud of the unique and close relationship some of us have succeeded in establishing with our Palestinian neighbors, proud of our educational network, proud of the idealism and patriotism of our youth - who still find their way into the most elite and dangerous units of the IDF. But we are hurt and dismayed by the hatred which is being leveled against us. Yes, the Settler community speaks with different voices, and from varying degrees of a wide right-wing perspective, but the overwhelming majority of us are rational, committed, patriotic and idealistic citizens: Do we not deserve to be embraced and coopted in a consensus government (even if that government rejects Greater Israel as a viable option) rather than to be cast aside and delegitimized as criminals? MOST OF us would welcome a plan which would enable us to live in peace with peaceful neighbors - but instead we are being told that many of our legal settlements (beyond the "fence") will have to be dismantled even as Hamastan is gaining unprecedented (since Hitler) political support and renewed terrorism is rearing its ugly head. The governmental policy that unilateral separation will enhance our ability to defend ourselves has yet to be proven, the governmental promise that once we retreat from settlements it will be easier to extirpate the enemy, has yet to begin to be implemented, but the destruction of our homes and uprooting of our settlers is taking place with great dispatch and within an atmosphere of zeal and political victory which only strengthens our feelings that we, the settlers, have become the major enemy of Israel. Does the government not realize that the insensitivity and hatred we feel emanating from its policies only serves to energize the extremist elements of our population - and threatens to rob our state of the most committed and idealistic of our youth (God forbid)? And now for my deepest fear. If the Israeli population hates us, the settler, then they must also hate themselves. After all, modern Israel was founded by settlers who settled on the swamp areas of Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva, Huleh Valley and Kinneret which were claimed by the Palestinians. Indeed, the Palestinian press refers to Efrat as a settlement, but to Haifa, west Jerusalem, Netanya and Tel Aviv as illegal settlements. If our government continues to de-legitimize the settler community and to deliver us a knock-out punch, I fear that we will eventually be evacuating Tekoa, Efrat and then Jerusalem- but from the PA-Hamas perspective, it will be Tel Aviv first. The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.