The Settle Problem

Yoni Mishal Apr 6, 2005

In 1996, peace among Israelis and Palestinians seemed close at hand. I was a student at the University of Haifa. My Talmud teacher, Dr. Anat Taran, told us that some people in Israel see themselves as followers of the “Kanaim,” a Jewish group that existed 2,000 years ago.Historically, the Kanaim have been blamed for the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in the year 73 AD. According to the story, the Kanaim set fire to the granaries that would allow the Jewish army to withstand a long siege.

God should have come to save them, then and there. That’s what the Kanaim believed, and that’s why they burned down the only chance for Jerusalem to survive a long war with the Romans.

Dr. Taran told us that she knew members of the group who live in the Occupied Territories. It was hard for me to believe that anyone would willingly follow a path of self-destruction.

A few weeks ago, I took part in a protest at a Gaza Strip entrance, where settlers pass through a fortified road on their way to their homes. The idea of a group of fanatics living in what is considered by them as their country, was not strange to me one bit now, almost 10 years later. I have come to understand that it’s not the people and their idea that are strange or crazy, but the country they – or we – live in.

The withdrawal from Gaza has turned politics upside down in Israel.

Ariel Sharon, an indicted war criminal, has become the Left’s best friend, and the settlers have become his enemies, letting go of his hand after 25 years of strong partnership. Have the tables turned? Has Sharon finally understood that death and destruction is a dead end and that peace is the only way?

No. Sharon after all is only relinquishing puny settlements in the tiny sliver of Gaza in exchange for expanding the massive settlements that dominate the West Bank.

The settlers, loyal to their heritage, have decided to take everybody down with them, just as the Kanaim did 2,000 years ago. They are blocking main transportation routes, and threatening to assassinate Ariel Sharon and shoot soldiers sent to evacuate them. They are harassing Palestinians more than ever.

What is the left and the majority of people doing in response? Nothing much. Most people just sit back and enjoy the show, not realizing the horror it presents. “Look at the settlers give themselves bad publicity,” they say. A well-known writer in Haaretz stated, “Dear settlers, don’t stop your riots at the gates of Tel Aviv. Please come in and ruin any trace of sympathy for you have left here.”

Here’s the catch: the settlers don’t care about publicity or sympathy or ratings. For the last 30 years they didn’t play by the rules and they don’t plan to start now. For them, it’s a final war. As one settler said, “This is all too bad, since the [Israeli Defense Force] will have to go back into Gaza in a short while, for the Messiah to come. And then it will cost more soldiers. So what for?”

But I’ll tell you what really is too bad. For 2,000 years, Jews lived all over the world and created an immensely rich culture. In the last 57 years, since the foundation of Israel, that culture has been drawn into an offense against itself. A small group of Jews, just like the Kanaim, want to burn down any chance of peace.

I fear the worst. Next time I meet a settler, it will be when I come to evacuate them as a reserve soldier. My strong Jewish identity, my assault rifle, and my gear may not help me in face of people who have nothing to lose.

I can only hope history has taught us better, and that the Israeli people will see through the smoke Sharon has stirred up with the help of his once trusted followers, the settlers. It has obscured the anti-social budget Sharon and Benjamin Netnayahu are quietly passing, or the plan to build 3,000 houses in the remaining territories that just passed. All signs show the right-wing plan remains totally intact.

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