is an experiment I made in class. Suppose, I said, we have four
basic positions towards the Israeli settlements in the occupied
territories: (1) dismantle them all; (2) dismantle most of them;
(3) dismantle only distant and isolated ones; or (4) dismantle no
settlements whatsoever. I now asked class which of the four positions
they believed was the most popular among Jewish Israelis. Almost
all the students believed the most popular was either position 2
or 3, i.e. dismantling some or most of the settlements (but not
all or none of them).
reader is now encouraged to pose this question to her/himself. What
do you think?)
I introduced an opinion poll on this very question, conducted last
month by the Tami Steinmetz Centre
for Peace Research in Tel-Aviv University and published in Ha’aretz
on the 5th of March. According to this opinion poll, the most popular
opinion is to dismantle ALL the settlements: this position, which
is generally categorised as "extreme leftist", was supported
by 32% of Israeli Jews. 14% supported dismantling most of the settlements,
28% supported dismantling small and isolated ones, and 24% of Israeli
Jews opposed dismantling any settlement at all.
is no coincidence that my students believed the Israeli people was
much more pro-settlements than it really was. I had expected it;
I believe many readers share the same mistake too. Our main source
of information about what people think, feel or believe is the mass
media. The media portray the Israeli people as much more pro-settlements
than they really are; it definitely does not reflect the fact that
the biggest group among Israelis is the one supporting the evacuation
of all the settlements. This bias has far-reaching implications,
but let’s keep this for another occasion.
together then, an overwhelming majority of 74% of Jewish Israelis
(or, if we add the Israeli Arabs as well, 80% of all Israelis),
support dismantling at least the isolated small settlements.
Only a minority of 24% of the Jewish (or 20% of the entire) Israeli
population think all settlements should stay. Now where does Israel’s
Government stand in all this? -Not with these 80% of the three first
positions taken together, but even more extreme than the farther
end of the 20% minority position. The Israeli Government has not
even considered dismantling any single settlement, and it rejects
even the American demand to freeze settlement activity. In fact,
settlements are constantly expanded and new ones are created every
few weeks; "Peace
Now" has more on that. If democracy simply means doing
the will of the people, Israel is definitely not a democracy and
has not been one at least since 1967 (opinion polls on the settlements
issue have proved quite stable along time).
you find all this appalling, wait till you hear what my students
had to say about it. Here are some of their comments. Remember we
are dealing with students of cultural studies, of theory and criticism,
well trained in Derrida and Lacan. We have good reasons to think
all of them are progressive, pro-peace, certainly no supporters
of the settlements or the occupation. You may wonder: so what did
they object to? It wasn’t always clear. First, they were admittedly
shocked by having to talk about the present; when I asked if other
courses applied to "here and now", one student seriously
answered that the closest they had got to "here and now"
was reading Jacques Lacan (died 1981)... But I think the point they
really wanted to stick to was that every (political) statement should
be deconstructed, and that constructive thinking aimed at changing
things was unsuitable for a sophisticated, responsible and critically-oriented
Several students noted that "you cannot talk about what people
want, because people are stupid and do not know what they want."
By the way, when I asked whether anybody in class considered him-
or herself stupid, no hands were raised. "Do I scent Baudrillard
here?", I asked; the whole class nodded enthusiastically. The
French thinker, author of "The Gulf War Did Not Take Place"
(ask Iraqi victims), indeed claims that the masses know nothing
and wish to know nothing. Here is a political translation of this
arrogant, futile claim: people know nothing, people want nothing,
you cannot say they oppose the Occupation because they have no will.
Asking people what they want is a wrong question. In fact, I even
heard the logical consequence of this: the government should not
take the will of its people into consideration. The Israeli Government
couldn’t agree more.
One student said: "All this is not that simple. Some of the
people whom we count as ‘extreme leftist’ and who support dismantling
all the settlements, may at the same time oppose refusal
to serve in the occupied territories. Now this clearly indicates
that there is no ruth." There is No Truth. Another favourite
postmodernist cliché. Since there is no Truth, we cannot
resist anything and we cannot support anything, since in order to
do that we need some Truth to rely on. But Derrida says that there
is no Truth (which is, by the way, an absolute truth...), so we
cannot take any stand at all; we can only deconstruct and resist
any stand that anybody else takes.
"The methodology of the opinion poll can be questioned. Other
polls may give quite different results. Therefore you cannot rely
on it." Here we have the purest form of radical scepticism,
quite typical of postmodernism too. I agree, of course, that everything
can (and should) be questioned; of course one could (and should)
check if other polls give similar results (by the way: they do).
But this wasn’t the point the student was trying to make. The point
was: Whatever could be wrong, should be treated as if it were wrong.
Any empirical finding should be discarded: not as soon as we actually
have a contradictory finding, but as soon as we can imagine one.
Being all blind and deaf, we have no access at all to any kind of
reality, we can’t say anything about reality, and all we can do
is mock those who erroneously claim they can see and hear.
"Governments should be judged by what they say, not by what
they do [sic!]. By saying that he is willing to endorse the Mitchell
Plan (which demands freezing settlement activity), Sharon has actually
frozen the settlements, and you cannot refute a claim that at the
bottom of his heart he even wishes to dismantle them all."
I believe this is an offspring of the postmodernist insistence on
discourse: words are more important than actions, language is the
essence of everything, discourse analysis is the key to everything.
Thus every utterance of a politician turns into a holy text that
should be interpreted ad infinitum (but remember we have
no way of telling right interpretations from wrong ones), whereas
facts on the ground are polluted disturbances we cannot relate to.
printable version of this article
was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has
a B.A. in Computer Science, an M.A. in Comparative Literature and
is currently working on his PhD thesis. He teaches in the Tel-Aviv
University's Department of Comparative Literature. He also works
as a literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as
a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth.
Mr. HaCohen's work has been published widely in Israel. "Letter
from Israel" appears occasionally at Antiwar.com.
Alive and Killing
Now?! Well, Maybe Later
Horowitz's Virtual Israel
Horowitz Rewrites the Past
Say No to
a Palestinian 'State'
Cares About the Palestinians?
in the Streets
Ideology of Occupation
War – Really Imminent?
State of the Army, Part Two
Settlements, Killing Peace
State of the Army, Part 1
Left Sells Out Peace