Monday, April 18, 2011

How Israel Is Becoming A Settler State

By Uri Avnery
This commentary was published in The Arab News on 18/04/2011
When a people become spoiled by riches, a more primitive race on the fringes takes over.
THE OTHER day, the almighty General Security Service (Shabak, formerly Shin Bet) needed a new boss. It is a hugely important job, because no minister ever dares to contradict the advice of the Shabak chief in Cabinet meetings. There was an obvious candidate, known only as J. But at the last moment, the settlers' lobby was mobilized. As director of the "Jewish department" J. had put some Jewish terrorists in prison. So his candidature was rejected and Yoram Cohen, a kippah-wearing darling of the settlers was appointed instead.
Just before that, Gen.Yaakov Amidror, formerly the highest kippah-wearing officer in the army, a man of openly ultra-ultra nationalist views was appointed as the new chief of the National Security Council. The deputy chief of staff of the army is also a kippah-wearing officer dear to the settlers.
Some weeks ago I wrote that the problem may not be the annexation of the West Bank by Israel, but the annexation of Israel by the West Bank settlers. It looked like a humorous aside. It was not. The time has come to examine this process seriously: Is Israel falling victim to a hostile takeover by the settlers?
First of all, the term "settlers" itself must be examined. The settlers are Israelis living beyond the 1967 border, the Green Line. It is can be assumed that there are about 300,000 settlers in the West Bank, and an additional 200,000 or so in East Jerusalem. Israelis usually don't call the Jerusalemites "settlers", putting them into a different category. But of course, settlers they are. But when we speak of settlers in the political context, we speak of a much bigger community.
Many people in the West Bank settlements went there without any ideological motive. It is these the Settler Council Chairman Danny Dayan meant, when, in a (recently leaked) secret conversation with a US diplomat, he conceded that they could easily be persuaded to return to Israel if the money was right. However, all these people have an interest in the status quo, and therefore will support the real settlers in the political fight. As the Jewish proverb goes, if you start fulfilling a commandment for the wrong reasons, you will end up fulfilling it for the right ones.
But the camp of the "settlers" is much, much bigger. The entire so-called "national religious" movement is in total support of the settlers, their ideology and their aims. And no wonder — the settlement enterprise sprung from its loins.
The "national religious" were originally a tiny splinter of religious Jewry. The big Orthodox camp saw in Zionism an aberration and heinous sin. For the Orthodox, the Zionist idea of a secular Jewish "nation" still is an abomination. However, a few religious Jews did join the nascent Zionist movement. Children who (like myself) were brought up in Zionist schools in Palestine before the holocaust were taught to look down with pity on people who were "still" religious. This also colored our attitude towards the religious Zionists. The real work of building our future "Hebrew state" (we never spoke about a "Jewish state") was done by socialist atheists. The kibbutzim and moshavim, communal and cooperative villages, as well as the "pioneer" youth movements, which were the foundation of the whole enterprise, were mostly Tolstoyan socialist, some of them even Marxist. The few that were religious were considered marginal.
At that time, in the 1930s and 40s, few young people wore a kippah in public. I don't remember a single member of the Irgun, the clandestine military ("terrorist") organization to which I belonged, wearing a kippah — though there were quite a number of religious members. They preferred a less conspicuous cap or beret. The national-religious party (originally called Mizrahi — Eastern) played a minor role in Zionist politics. Nobody paid much attention, however, to what was happening under the surface — in the national-religious youth movement, Bnei Akiva, and their Yeshivot. There, out of sight of the general public, a dangerous cocktail of ultra-nationalist Zionism and an aggressive tribal "messianic" religion was being brewed. 
The astounding victory of the Israeli Army in the 1967 Six-Day War marked a turning point for this movement.
Here was everything they had dreamed of: The heartland of historical Eretz Israel (alias the West Bank) in Israeli hands. As if somebody had drawn a cork, the national-religious youth movement escaped its bottle and became a national force. They created Gush Emunim ("Bloc of the Faithful"), the center of the dynamic settlement enterprise in the newly "liberated territories." The despised national-religious youth movement and kibbutzim suddenly jumped to center stage.
While the old socialist kibbutz movement was dying of ideological exhaustion, its members becoming rich by selling agricultural land to real estate sharks, the national religious sprang up in full ideological vigor, imbued with spiritual and national fervor, preaching a pagan Jewish creed of holy places, holy stones and holy tombs, mixed with the conviction that the whole country belongs to the Jews and that "foreigners" (meaning the Palestinians, who have lived here for at least 1300, if not 5000 years) should be kicked out.
Most of today's Israelis were born or have immigrated after 1967. The occupation-state is the only reality they know. The settlers' creed looks to them like self-evident truth. Polls show a growing number of young Israelis for whom democracy and human rights are empty phrases. A Jewish state means a state that belongs to the Jews and to the Jews only, nobody else has any business to be here.
This climate has created a political scene dominated by a set of right-wing parties, from Avigdor Lieberman's racists to the outright fascist followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane — all of them totally subservient to the settlers.
If it is true that the US Congress is controlled by the Israel lobby, then this lobby is controlled by the Israeli government, which is controlled by the settlers. So the settlers can do whatever they want: Build new settlements and enlarge existing ones, ignore the Supreme Court, give orders to the Knesset and the government, attack their "neighbors" whenever they like, kill Arab children who throw stones, uproot olive groves, burn mosques. And their power is growing by leaps and bounds.
The takeover of a civilized country by hardier border fighters is by no means extraordinary. On the contrary, it is a frequent historical phenomenon. The historian Arnold Toynbee provided a long list. Germany was for a long time dominated by the Ostmark ("Eastern marches"), which became Austria. The culturally advanced German heartland fell under the sway of the more primitive but hardier Prussians. The rule seems to be that when the people of a civilized country become spoiled by culture and riches, a hardier, less pampered and more primitive race on the fringes takes over.
This can happen to us. But it need not. Israeli secular democracy still has a lot of strength in it. The settlements can still be removed. The religious right can still be repulsed. The occupation, which is the mother of all evil, can still be terminated. But for that we have to recognize the danger — and do something about it.

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