Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Anti-Settler Turn

An old friend of mine remarked to me a few weeks ago that he thought my opinions on Israel had changed dramatically since we first met. I was skeptical: I always (well, at least since we met) supported a two-state solution. I always was a strong advocate that liberals and leftists pay more attention to the rampant anti-Semitism latent in Palestinian terrorism (and the global reaction to it). Insofar as I have changed, it's more a matter of focus: noting and calling out the human rights abuses committed by Israel and Israelis, while still not letting that excuse Palestinian acts of terror.

But one area in which I think I may have changed pretty substantially has been my views on the settlers. I wouldn't say I used to be "pro-settler", per se, but I didn't think of them as a huge deal. People living in houses in the desert were not "obstacles to peace". I wasn't committed to letting them stay -- but it rang uncomfortable to me that "peace" was taken to mean a Judenrein Palestinian state.

In recent times though, I've begun to revise my opinion. And I think the events surrounding the evacuation of settlers in Hebron have crystallized this instinct, not just for me, but for many other pro-Israel commentators. In their actions, the settlers have revealed themselves to be not just "obstacles to peace", but murderous, terrorist thugs. Their response to the Hebron evacuation was to launch what was called by both Ha'aretz and Israel's own Justice Minister a "pogrom". Marty Peretz says "shame on us". Eamonn McDonaugh of the Z-Word blog calls the settlers "religiofascists" who need to be "crushed" by the Israeli government.

Israeli commentators warn that the settlers, left unchecked, could lead to "civil war". Other writers continue to urge that we take the settler threat seriously as something that can single-handedly derail the peace process. Steve Clemons suggests officially labeling extremist terrorist factions working to propagate violence as "terror organizations", allowing their assets to be frozen.

The point being, we seem to be seeing (inside and outside of Israel) a broad-based backlash against the crypto-fascist settler movement whose primary political agenda at this point is to sabotage the peace process. The trick, now, is to get that outrage translated into some action. The Israeli government, slowly and belatedly, seems to be waking up to the threat that radical right-wing settlers pose to the state's liberal democratic character. And pro-Israel groups in the US are starting to recognize that the settlers are an insult to the very idea of Israel that they want to protect. Together, they can get something done. But it will take guts, and it will take courage.

Count me in.

UPDATE: Current (but outgoing) Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert joins the chorus:
"We are the children of a people whose historic ethos is built on the memory of pogroms," Olmert said. "The sight of Jews firing at innocent Palestinians has no other name than pogrom. Even when Jews do this, it is a pogrom.

"As a Jew, I am ashamed that Jews could do such a thing."

He was addressing the riots last week in which Jewish settlers -- angry over the forced evacuation of a contested house in Hebron -- attacked Palestinians, setting fire to their houses.

In a statement released by his office, Olmert told the Cabinet that he chose the term "pogrom" -- a Yiddish word meaning an organized massacre, usually referring to such attacks against Jews -- "after much thought."

"I formulate these words with the greatest care that I can," the prime minister said.

The CNN article's headline says Olmert called the events "tantamount" to a pogrom. I didn't see the caveat.

2 comments:

Julie said...

Well said. I've been sitting on the Haaretz editorials for a couple of days now, not sure what more I can add, but you hit the nail on the head with this:

"The Israeli government, slowly and belatedly, seems to be waking up to the threat that radical right-wing settlers pose to the state's liberal democratic character. And pro-Israel groups in the US are starting to recognize that the settlers are an insult to the very idea of Israel that they want to protect."

Ansel said...

You're right, a lot of the settlers are thugs. I'm glad you're calling them out. But the individual acts of violence perpetrated by them against Palestinians (or moderate Israelis, for that matter) don't begin to compare to the magnitude of suffering and death being inflicted upon on the civilians of Gaza by the Israeli government's blockade. That's obvious, right? Here's an example from the a new Amnesty Intl report:

“Karima Abu Dalal, a 34-year-old mother of five young children, died on 25 November. She suffered from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph glands that is curable in more than 90 per cent of cases. She was denied access to the treatment she desperately needed as Israel refused her a permit to travel to the hospital in Nablus in the West Bank in November 2007.

In a medical report accompanying her permit request an Israeli cancer specialist had written: “This is a young woman who will die in the absence of treatment and with treatment her chances of recovery are excellent” (underlined in the original).

The Israeli authorities nonetheless refused to let her leave Gaza and the Israeli High Court of Justice refused to intervene. Earlier this year, she eventually managed to leave Gaza to Egypt as an exceptional case, but by then her condition had deteriorated irreparably and she returned to Gaza to be with her family. Subsequent requests for her to travel to Israel to receive at least palliative care to relieve her pain were in vain.”

Apartheid much? Please don't claim Amnesty is being anti-Semitic here.