Monday, September 14, 2009

Settlers Part Deux

Out came the second installment of the New York Times series on Israeli settlers, an important body of research that is showing the settlers for who they really are, not a monolithic entity but a rather eclectic bunch. This second story portrays the settler most often portrayed in the media, the ideological, religious, Zionist who believes that redemption is connected to Jews settling in Greater Israel. The story is a prophetic one whose central thesis is that the ideological settlers in the West Bank will not turn to organized violence to thwart off Israeli army withdrawals. The report's insight comes not from mathematically gauging the likelihood of an event, but rather by using this hypothetical scenario as a launching pad for diving into the consciousness of its subjects.

The truth is that in the event of withdrawal, the vast majority of settlers will be happy to relocate to other parts of Israel, or live close enough to the Green Line that they will inadvertently be swallowed by Israel. That leaves about 50,000 ideological settlers living deep in the West Bank who would put up a fight. The logistical nightmare of a withdrawal from these areas is not really so scary. Israelis, Palestinians, and the world should know that, if the political planets ever align, Israel could probably pull off such an operation, creating the space for a Palestinian state.

I once learned in my 6th grade sex education class, which, traumatically enough, was taught by my father, that the "pull out method," is an ineffective and messy form of birth control. It seems that Israel has finally absorbed this lesson, after the unilateral pull out method resulted in the rebirth of Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon and Gaza, respectively. After rearing two ugly babies, Israel won't conduct a comprehensive West Bank pullout without a negotiated agreement with a Palestinian leader, democratically elected and with power over all of the West Bank and Gaza. And even if this miracle does comes to fruition over the next few years, who knows if the then-commander of the Zion Train will have the marbles to make a move?

In spending much of the past month in the West Bank researching and filming the story, I found the settlers to be almost exactly as they were in 2005 leading up to the Disengagement. Ever possessed by ideology, self righteousness, and their religious destiny, they still view the IDF as their own army. Their bullets are reserved for Palestinians, not the soldiers who they still feel are their misguided brothers. It is safe to say that in the coming years, there probably won't be a civil war in Israel. But there probably won't be peace either, just more of the same.

Rabbi Elishama Cohen taking his Torah to Homesh

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