Israel Must Move Past Obsession With Settlements

Article Summary
Israel's Supreme Court ruled five buildings in the Ulpana neighborhood had been illegally built this week. Aviad Kleinberg says the settlements have become a religious obsession that haunts Israel: they determine the size of the governmental coalition, the destiny of the government and of all citizens. 

Some time ago, an interview I held with former chairman of the Israeli National Security Council [and ex-national security advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] Dr. Uzi Arad had been posted on the internet. In the interview we discussed the relations between Israel and the United States, the geopolitical status of Israel, the Iranian issue, the world view of the Prime Minister and the attitude towards the law in Israel. In the course of the discussion, the issue of the evacuation of the Ulpana Hill houses was raised [the five houses on the outskirts of the West Bank settlement of Beit El, which are in the middle of a political storm over Palestinian claims to the land and a Supreme Court ruling requiring the evacuation of the houses]. During the interview, Arad said whatever he had to say on the issue. However, following the airing of the interview, he questioned the logic of devoting quite a large part of the interview to a marginal and negligent issue like the Ulpana Hill. The world is in turmoil, he said, and we are wasting our time on trifles.

The problem is that in the State of Israel, dealing with marginal issues has become a major obsession, a fateful matter, no less and perhaps even more crucial than the other far more important issues on the agenda of the government. In the State of Israel, the settlements have assumed an essentially religious significance not only for the small messianic group that lives by the light of a single central ideal — "the settlement of the Land of Israel" — but for us all.

And what is it that characterizes religious thinking? Religious thinking is characterized by an absolute veto on any rational debate, on any realistic cost-benefit evaluation. There is no point in trying to convince the [orthodox Jewish] believer that there is no "logic" in refraining from turning on the light on the Sabbath [an operation banned on Saturday under the Jewish religious law]. It all depends on whose "logic" we are talking here. The orthodox Jew is guided by an inner-logic of his own, disregarding virtually all considerations of gain or loss. Thus, for instance, the rabbinic injunction according to which during the Jewish religious circumcision ceremony some blood has to be squeezed from the wound by sucking may be seen by non-believers as absurd or even dangerous (as the practice of suction by mouth involves a serious risk of transferring herpes from the circumciser to the circumcised), if not outright groundless, as far as the justification commonly given on the basis of the Jewish religious law is concerned. However, none of the above would induce the believer to think or act otherwise, since the truth he believes in is a divine truth and as such it is not subject to either human rationality or profit and loss considerations.

All this may be acceptable as long as it exclusively concerns the community of believers and its relations with the divine force it believes in. It is certainly unacceptable when decisions that have to be made in the real world, which plays by completely different rules, are concerned.

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Foreign observers watching the goings-on in the local political arena find it hard to believe that the Prime Minister of Israel, who has to take care of a multitude of issues crucial to the existence of the State of Israel, is devoting time and energy to the question of compensations to the families of settlers who have to be evacuated from [five] houses built illegally on private Palestinian land. Will the houses be sawed and moved to a nearby hill [as suggested by Prime Minister Netanyahu]? Will 10 new houses be built for every building relocated a few hundred meters to the right or to the left [as promised by Netanyahu in an attempt to soften the blow and placate the settlers]? Or rather, should a far-reaching move, introducing legislation to bypass the [Supreme Court ruling and the] entire judicial system, be taken just to assure that no settler will be even slightly [as called for by right-wing members of the coalition and settler leaders]? The answer to these "stupidities" will decide the fate of the coalition, the destiny of the Prime Minister and, ultimately, the future of us all.

Israeli society suffers from an obsession. It is obsessed with an evil spirit. All the discussions here revolve around the question of the settlements and mobilize most of our public energy. The policy that was originally motivated by both religious objectives (the settlement of the Land of Israel) and rational goals (expanding the territory of the State of Israel) has become a distinctly religious cause. The simple question — should a head of state, who has to take into account the overall picture of political interests, bother with the fate of five houses on some distant hill — has not been asked. And in case it is asked, the answer is categorically, no!

The settlements are doing us a disservice. Rather than serving our ends, we find ourselves serving theirs. The time, the maneuvering, the complex system of compensations and manipulations required for solving this pseudo problem are too costly and, in fact, redundant. Beyond all the moral considerations (For how long can the non-Jewish residents of the territories be denied any basic civil right?), the legal issues (For how long can the Israeli and international Law be blatantly disregarded?) and social concerns (How many resources can be allocated to a small, over-privileged group [at the expense of the public at large]?), we are faced here with an inconceivable limitation of the freedom of action of the executive branch, of its ability to act according to rational considerations. And what for, in the name of what? It's in the name of the "holy dybbuk" [in Jewish folklore, a malicious possessing spirit], the evil spirit that has possessed and obsessed Israeli politics. It's about time we exorcize that evil spirit, Dybbuk, leave!  

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Found in: state, obsession, ulpana hill, settlements, religion, israel
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