Settlers Without a Face

Article Summary
In the absence of success in the voting booth, the Israeli Left has adopted a new approach, writes Erel Segal. They have turned the courtroom into an arena of conflict and transformed the settlers from people into a legal case.

We had a full moon this week. It was the full moon that we see in the middle of the Hebrew month, a perfect moon like a tremendous billiard ball that got lost in the galaxy. And this moon stood above the five disputed houses on Ulpana Hill [in Beit El], and illuminated a legal dispute that was founded somewhere on the axis between malice and inadvertent error. This controversy, planted in the fallacious and deranged twilight zone of land ownership in Judea and Samaria, continued under the orchestration of the government and the state prosecutor's office, somewhere on the axis between deliberate intent and negligence. It ended in a full-scale trial. […] Meanwhile, as I write these words I take a deep breath and inhale the pristine air of [the biblical land belonging to the tribe of] Benjamin [son of Jacob]. It was in Luz, close to here, that Jacob the Patriarch placed a stone under his head and dreamed about angels ascending and descending. The next morning, he woke up and called the spot Beit El [Home of God] [Genesis 28:18-19]. We haven’t seen any angels this week, but evidently a ladder must have been present. Otherwise, it is incomprehensible how the government ministers managed to get down from the very tall tree on which they had climbed.

The German [Romantic writer] Johann Richter argued that memories constitute the only paradise from which we cannot be evicted. There, in the illusive limbo of the human brain, memory is as slippery as soap on a shower floor. Nostalgia is like diet strawberry concentrate that sweetens the past with the after-taste of falsehood.

And if my memory does not lead me astray, it was only a few weeks ago that the government ministers promised that Ulpana Hill “is something completely different” [than Migron, an outpost] — after all, we are talking about apartment buildings. It is inconceivable that the government would lend a hand to their destruction. By now, their words are already nostalgia. I hear [the ministers] being interviewed on the radio, admitting their mistake, giving excuses, pleading “it’s the lesser of two evils.” They make it clear that there is no chance of the domino-effect taking place, of settlements coming under the threat of provocative lawsuits. But I am not at ease. The Israeli Left has gotten the hang of the system: If they can’t win in elections and political strategies go down the drain, then they head for the legal option. If you can’t move the Jews, then wear them out in the courts of law and set the lawyers on them. Even though the legal advisor to the government made it clear that the legal system will know how to defend the property of the settlers in the future, many find it hard to rely on this promise.

Faceless people

“Do you know what is the biggest victory of the Left?” asks Shimon Riklin [a settler leader] in the hunger-strike encampment. “The fact that in Israeli public opinion, the settlers have no faces. We are not human beings, we are only a legal case. The Judea and Samaria communities are only identified with legal wrangles, with claims to lack of legitimacy, with political threats. No one relates to the prosperity and blooming of the settlements. 350,000 people live here, they build, create, love, serve in the army. The waiting lists for the settlements are full, but on the news you see burning tires.”

Riklin is a good friend whose thought processes are original, different, exciting, brilliant. His wife Nitzanit is conducting a hunger strike in the encampment. Once, Riklin was one of the heads of the “next generation” [of settler activists]; he established scores of outposts, including Migron. Today, he supports the struggle but does not participate in the hunger strike. He doesn’t see the point. Meanwhile, it is hot in the tent and I suggest that we go drink something in the cafeteria of the nearby Supreme Court. There it is comfortable and cool and one can have a close look at the architecture of the building, taken entirely from the lexicon of the freemasons. You can take a close look at the [architectural] pyramid with the [hole on the side, representing an] eye and recall that in this respectable institution, the only place where settlers can receive relief is in the cafeteria.

If the houses were really built on private Palestinian land, I ask him, and there was a mistake, and the government acted negligently but promised compensation, then why transform the story into the ''destruction of the third temple'' of illegal housing? Riklin nods his head. “Even if, for the sake of argument, we assume that you are correct, there are thousands of demolition orders for illegal Arab houses in the Negev and the Galilee. The government could have said that it is committed to carry out all the verdicts — but, in chronological order. Do you believe that we’ll see the destruction of illegal Arab buildings? I don’t, either.”

But pay attention to the catch, I insist. To transform the demolition of five structures, with all the pain involved in uprooting Jews from their homes, to a modern-day Masada; to entrench ourselves behind hysterical statements when the government promises compensation in the form of massive construction, and legalizing [illegal] outposts — isn’t this like calling "wolf" too many times?

Riklin doesn’t accept my misgivings and states that if we don’t fight for each house, the precedent will become a swallow hole. “A week ago I finished reading the book by Benzion Netanyahu [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s father, recently deceased] about the five Zionist fathers. Professor Netanyahu was a reserved, rationalist human being, but he was effusive over Herzl. Why? Because Herzl got the point! He argued with Zangwill about our right to Eretz Israel [the Land of Israel], our practical and moral charter. Unfortunately, the son [Benjamin Netanyahu] evidently has forgotten his father’s doctrine.”

Wait a minute, I stop him; you are the one who believes that Netanyahu is God’s emissary, that he has a historic role. How do you reconcile all this? What, do you suffer from battered wife syndrome?

“I do not retract anything I said. I think that Netanyahu is underestimated. He is acting without being justly evaluated [under-evaluated]. He is an island of sanity in the global chaos. He does not receive enough credit. And yes, he has a historic mission. Nevertheless, I have tremendous criticism of him. The man works all the time with a [time] bomb near the door, and always waits for the last minute in order to dismantle it. The time has come for him to decide what to do. Netanyahu writes in his books that the State of Israel cannot exist without Judea and Samaria. So what do we want to do? You can’t leave 350,000 people under military rule [forever]. Either you annex [the territory], or you compromise. Paradoxically, these petitions [to the court] may help us cope with the reality we live in, and help us decide which way to turn.”

A Heart of Stone

I go home. On the radio they describe how Queen Elizabeth is sailing in the Thames [River] to mark her 60 years on the British throne. Like all English kings and queens, Elizabeth was crowned on the Coronation Stone [or the Stone of Scone] in Westminster Abbey in London. This stone is described as the one on which the "saint placed his head." The "fateful stone." According to ancient [British] tradition, Patriarch Jacob rested his head on this stone, the stone from Beit El. It was brought from the Holy Land to Scotland and served as the Coronation Stone for Scottish kings. In 1296 it was carried off to England by Edward I as war booty. But the Scots never accepted the loss of their relic and in 1950, ultra-nationalistic Scottish students stole the stone. After about a year of expending great efforts, the stone was found and returned to London. In 1996, the British government decided that the stone of Jacob’s dream will remain in Scotland — and will be returned to Westminster Abbey [in London] only for coronation ceremonies.

See what a tremendous and amazing uproar is caused by a holy tradition connected to a fable! And we? After 2000 years, we have come home. To Beit El [the Home of God]. To the place of Jacob the Patriarch. Not just [a piece of] real estate.  

Found in: settlements, bible, west bank, palestinians, palestinian, jacob the patriarch, israel, elisabeth queen of england, beit el

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