Masked youths in Hebron

A small number of settler youths hurt their cause immeasurably by clashing with security forces.

masked settler hebron 88 (photo credit: )
masked settler hebron 88
(photo credit: )
A small number of settler youths hurt their cause immeasurably this week by clashing with security forces over a relatively minor eviction notice in Hebron. As much as they wish to protect future of Jewish settlement there, their actions - more than two dozen were arrested for various ugly incidents - more than likely backfired. With the disengagement from the Gaza Strip still fresh in everyone's minds, and with speculation regarding another unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank already part of the pre-election political landscape, settlers can ill afford to lose out in the battle for public opinion. In Gaza, the anti-establishment tone adopted by a portion of the settlers was a factor in denying them what they needed and sought: to convince the majority of Israelis that they were an inseparable part of the Israeli people, and that their homes rested on land that was a vital part of the state. Clearly, though, this lesson has not been learned. Just a few nights ago, a masked Jewish teenager from Hebron told a television journalist that the implementation of the Gaza withdrawal was proof of the failure of the anti-disengagement slogan, "We have love and it will win" - a slogan that had sought to stress a common cause with the rest of Israel rather than a separate one. In war, said this youth from behind the black cloth covering his face, only belligerence wins. So, what did belligerence win for the Jews of Hebron? Not a change of heart in the government, which ordered harsh measures to ensure that the eviction take place. Not a reprieve from the army, which moved swiftly to completely close off the Jewish Quarter of Hebron, so that "reinforcements" would not be able to come and escalate the clashes. And, surely, it did not win acceptance in the hearts of most Israelis who watched the drama unfold. A small number of youngsters, whom most Israelis will regard as shaming rather than honoring Israel, succeeded in staining the wider settlement enterprise - youngsters who have no compunction about throwing stones and refuse at security forces and who, however incredibly, seem oblivious to the associations that masked hooliganism creates. "There is no doubt that these riots harmed our image," noted settler spokesman Noam Arnon as the violence subsided. The complex questions surrounding Israel's borders, and the settlement of its population, must and will be resolved not in the alleyways of Hebron, but in the halls of Israel's democratic institutions. And these, unfortunately, are an arena in which the broad settlement movement is expending too little energy these days. In democratic politics, it is impossible to forever fight a consensus in favor of a particular path by outright rejection backed by violence. Even worse than rejecting a path is rejecting the right of the majority to make decisions. The settler movement must devise a strategy that attempts to persuade that majority to take another path. It must present an alternative, and use democratic tools to try to persuade the public to adopt it. It must work with democracy, not against it. If the most prominent face of an alternative to further disengagement is that of masked, violent youth, it is not just the settlement movement, but our democracy, that will lose out. There should be a cogent opposition to the disengagement paradigm that attempts to convince, not intimidate. The more so during an election season, when there is every opportunity to try to garner public support for seats in the Knesset, and potentially the government, where the destiny of the settlement enterprise will ultimately be determined.