The bogeyman in the hills of Judea and Samaria

'Anti-settlers' refuse to distribute blame or share the burden of culpability.

settler marches 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
settler marches 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Earlier this month, Ori Nir, a spokesman for Americans for Peace Now and former Haaretz reporter, revealed an alarming, even terrifying, bit of news in an opinion piece for the Washington Jewish Week: There are bogeymen in the hills of Israel. Citing only an incident in 1988, and one in 2000, Nir argued that the "brutality" of soldiers and settlers in the West Bank has spread across the Green Line, causing the wave of violent crime the country seems to be experiencing lately. Never mind, for the moment, that Israel has one of the lowest murder rates in the world - a statistic that even the most basic level of research would have confirmed for Nir. But the fact that the Peace Now spokesman so vigorously set out to identify the settler movement as the cause of a pseudo-effect goes to show just how much this cause is an apparition conjured by fear mongering, a moral bogeyman in the hills of Judea and Samaria. NIR'S OPINION piece, like the logic of the entire anti-settler machine, reminds me of the story of the man who walked into a bar, only to be physically assaulted by another customer. Rising to defend himself, the man inadvertently broke a few bottles and glasses. After tensions had cooled, the bartender took the man aside and berated him, but left the instigator alone with his drink. The man, indignant at being unfairly targeted, retorted, "Why aren't you saying this to the other guy? I mean, he's responsible." The bartender stared at him incredulously, and said, "It wouldn't make any difference. That guy is deaf." It's this logic that's on display in Nir's piece. Israel is the man walking into a bar only to be subjected to violence, and when all is said and done, is the only actor held responsible. As a result, it alone is subject to censure. As with the man in the bar, this is due not to any actual guilt on its part, but is simply on account of the fact that it is the only one able to listen. This bears little on the arguments of people like Nir in the anti-settlement camp. While 'anti-settlers' in and outside the country say that both sides need to distribute land and share the burden of peace, they refuse to distribute blame or share the burden of culpability. But it takes a callous intellect to blinker out Israel's multiple offers of Palestinian autonomy and statehood, and the subsequent replies in the form of terror and rockets. Rather, Nir and the like trumpet the notion that when the effect is violence, the cause is Israel. And when the identity of that cause is investigated, the settlers - far removed from the power centers of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, few in number, lacking cash and unrepresented by the major political parties - are the easy target. Reading the news, one would be utterly convinced that the settler community is at best a nuisance. According to this school of thought, the IDF's defense of this so-called nuisance is spreading a toxic pathogen inside Israel. Yet the reality is far different. The West Bank settler population is the fastest-growing Israeli demographic, serves disproportionately in the IDF officer corps and suffered disproportionate casualties in the 2006 Lebanon war. Not to mention that its presence protects vital water resources and strategic high ground that would pose major national security liabilities if in the hands of hostile Palestinians. FAR FROM Nir's assertion that "the occupation burdens Israel politically, economically and militarily," the settler community is the real "salt of the earth," standing on the frontlines of a 100-year war as a buffer for cities like Haifa, Beersheba and Tel Aviv. Peace Now would have us believe that Jews living in their ancestral lands is in itself immoral, either by waging an occupation and/or by dotting the land with Jewish settlements. Both these arguments accuse Israel of destroying any prospect of peace. Each argument feeds and reinforces the other, and each serves as justification for proscriptions that inevitably flow from Peace Now's warped paradigm. According to history, Israel never conquered Judea and Samaria from any Palestinian sovereign entity, but from the kingdom of Jordan, which had initiated the hostilities. Thus, according to the Geneva conventions and UN Resolution 242, the territory is not "occupied" but "disputed" territory subject to border definition and alterations in a final-status agreement. Jewish housing construction is only permitted on public land, and only after an exhaustive investigation has confirmed that no private rights exist regarding the land in question. It needs repeating that the Jews who today live in Judea and Samaria live there by choice, and this begs a question that is effectively ignored by the media - why should a Jew not be allowed to live in his ancestral home, independent of who may be governing? Permitting Jews to inhabit only certain sectors and zones seems like an initiative that would be popular in medieval Europe. So although the Jewish state has 1.4 million Arab citizens, a future Palestinian state should be judenrein? One other sentiment popular in settler demonization circles allows us to deconstruct the anti-settler movement and understand why it is hell bent on bashing a small community of civilians living as an ethnic and religious minority among a hostile population. The argument is that settlements create facts on the ground which prevent peace. Therefore, to sell the public a program of mass expulsion of Israel's most patriotic citizens from their homes, one requires a straw man, a bogeyman: The settlers are bad, cancerous, even infectious, therefore we must remove them. And here, we return to Ori Nir's claim that the pattern of civil violence which might or might not be taking hold in Israel is caused by the settlers. The mechanism of that cause is not explained, but nor does it need to be. The audience is captive and utterly willing. It wants to hear this, it wants this to be true, because then the quick-fix of the Middle East can finally be realized. This patronage of an oversimplified view propped up by the deluded belief that the Palestinians will lay down their arms when they get what they say they want must be soundly rejected. It is a cruel and cold logic that would have a person cut off a leg to appease a would-be murderer. There will be peace when the Palestinians truly desire it, and even then they must take into account a sizable Jewish presence in the disputed territory. Until that day, Israel must remain firm and reject false promises. Israel is under siege, and the settlers are faithfully standing guard upon its walls. The writer is the co-founder of JNI (Jewish National Initiative).