United Jewish Communities of
North America has recently decided to give its financial support
also to Israeli settlers in the occupied territories (Ha'aretz,
At first, out of warm Jewish solidarity, I got very worried. Persistent
rumours, especially since September 11th, say that the US government
is not very fond of using charity money to support illegal purposes
these days. After all, the Israeli settlements are internationally
regarded as illegal, breaching the IV Geneva Convention, article
49, which states rather clearly that "the Occupying Power shall
not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into
the territory it occupies". Even the Israeli government is
now deeply concerned that the International Criminal Court may
convict settlers as war criminals. So I truly hope the UJC have
edified by my own feelings of Jewish solidarity, I realised that
the urge felt by Jews world-wide to support Israel in these difficult
days is quite understandable. So I started thinking how Jews really
could, and should, support Israel. Not by supporting Sharon's
vision of eternal war, but by supporting us, the Israeli people,
whose vision is coexistence side-by-side with the Palestinians
in peace, security and prosperity.
idea of supporting the settlers is not such a bad one. I mean:
from a humanistic-universalistic point of view, of course it is
the Palestinians who deserve our help, much more than the settlers.
But since this seems unrealistic for many a Jewish donor ("your
own poor come first", says the Talmud), supporting the settlers
might be a good alternative. But let me explain how exactly.
opinion poll (Ha'aretz, 6.6.2002) found out that 65% of
the Jewish population in Israel supported dismantling the settlements.
My devoted readers should not be surprised: this is a consistent
and stable result, as all opinion polls show again
Now you may think that the Israelis inside the Green Line support
dismantling settlements, but those in the settlements oppose it.
This sounds logical, but it is not true. Remember that by far
not all settlers are ideologically motivated. Some moved to the
occupied territories for promises of better life: fresh air, beautiful
view, rural serenity. Many others, probably most of the settlers,
were transferred to the occupied territories by the dull coercion
of economy: while flats within Israel are extremely expensive,
houses in the settlements are generously subsidised. Having to
choose between an unaffordable small flat in Jerusalem and an
almost-free spacious house in a nearby settlement, with a generous
state mortgage, a generous state bonus, a generous reduction on
income-tax as well as generously improved public services (education,
health, infrastructure), many lower middle-class families opted
for the latter. One can hardly blame them for that.
Cheated and Doubly Betrayed
view of the Intifada, non-ideological settlers – probably a majority
in most settlements, especially in the bigger ones – now find
themselves both cheated and doubly betrayed.
because they were promised high quality of life and now find themselves
literally in a war zone, risking their lives, injured and killed
almost daily. They are constantly targeted by Palestinian militants,
who ever more often try to penetrate the settlements and kill
them even in their own homes. Whether we like it or not, these
are facts that even Sharon's murderous "Operation Defensive Shield"
failed to change. Moreover: if, as is now planned, a fence is
to cut off the occupied territories from Israel, the settlers
will become even more of a target for Palestinian militants, who
may not be able to enter Israel itself.
once, because the State that urged them to move to the occupied
territories does not even consider letting them leave. Well, of
course they may leave – "it's a free country" – but they cannot.
Whoever was wise enough to hire a flat, left as soon as the Intifada
broke out; young couples moved back to their parents inside the
Green Line; some settlements are half-empty; but the great majority
of settlers, who own their house, cannot sell it for a reasonable
price – no buyers – and are thus prisoners in their own homes.
twice, because public opinion turned against the settlers as if
they – and not the government that sent them and holds them hostage
– were the ultimate source of evil. The rhinocerised nationalistic
daily Ha'aretz attacks settlers on a daily basis (e.g.
recent article by its Editor-in-Chief), urging them to leave
"for their own sake", as if people who somehow managed to buy
a cheap housing unit in a settlement could simply leave it behind
and buy another house somewhere else.
Not (Just) Sharon
blame Sharon. A Prime Minister who openly says that as long as
he is in power, evacuation of settlements will not even be discussed
in cabinet, a retired General for whom human beings are just pawns,
cannot be expected to act differently. Especially not after his
"dovish" predecessors have done the same.
Shortly after the first Oslo Accord (1993), the 13 families of
the tiny settlement Dugit in the Gaza Strip – nature-loving fishermen
– locked their houses, started a sit-in demonstration in front
of the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem and demanded an alternative
strip of coast inside Israel. It's time for peace, they said,
we don't want to be a bone in Gaza's throat. PM Rabin rejected
their demand. Dugit is still there, largely expanded meanwhile
on confiscated Palestinian land, defended by battalions of soldiers,
Palestinian militants attacking it on a daily basis.
Later on, Knesset Member Haggai Merom (Labour) prepared lists
of West Bank settlers wishing to leave for fair compensation –
30 to 50% in some settlements, he said. Then-president Weizmann
rejected their request to meet him; PM Peres rejected their demand
of years later I happened to meet Shimon Peres. I asked him why.
"It won't have mattered," he told me. "Even if a settlement of
5,000 had been left with only 500 settlers, we would still have
to build the by-pass road leading to it".
– Very convincing. Peres could not even think of settlers in terms
of human beings with rights and wishes. For Peres (or Barak, or
Sharon), the settlements are there as an excuse for the by-pass
roads, and the by-pass roads are there to divide and cantonise
the Palestinian territory, destroy Palestinian contiguity and
prevent the option of a viable Palestinian state. The settlers
are merely pawns in this game, just like the soldiers sent to
protect them by turning Palestinian life into hell.
Here Is What You Can Do
Jews in America and world-wide
should therefore use their money to support settlers who wish
to leave the occupied territories and return to Israel. This should
not even be a "political" issue: the settlers (and their children)
are held hostage by the Israeli government, exposed to deadly
violence. You do not have to be a dove to support people's right
not to live in the middle of a battle-field (unless they want
to). Sums and conditions can be negotiated, using as guidelines
the compensations paid by Israel to the settlers evacuated from
Sinai when it was returned to Egypt.
of such an initiative are numerous.
* On a human
level, it respects the free and legitimate will of settlers who
wish to leave.
* On a moral level, it does justice to innocent Israeli
citizens who conformed to Israeli law and policy, moved to the
occupied territories, and now feel abandoned, cheated and betrayed.
* On a national level, it respects the overwhelming
majority in Israel that supports evacuation of settlements (without
even harming the minority of settlement-supporters).
* On a regional level, it can show Arabs that Jews
world-wide are supportive of peace, not of the disputed settlements.
Empty settlements can then be sold to house Palestinian refugees.
* On an international level, it conforms to the international
as well as American position that the settlements are illegal
and form an obstacle to peace.
Now, dear United Jewish Communities of North America:
you have collected $265 million in your recent "Israel Emergency
Campaign". 65% of the Israelis support evacuating the settlements.
Will you take 65% of the sum – $172 million – and offer it to
settlers wishing to leave? Or will any other Jewish institution
take up the glove? You'll find an overwhelming majority of Israelis
and Palestinians behind you, and you will enter History as the
initiator of a quantum leap towards Peace in the Middle East.