Settlement truths and consequences
by Kathryn Shihadah
On March 17th, a young Palestinian man allegedly carried out an attack in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, resulting in the deaths of two settlers: a rabbi and an Israeli soldier.
Netanyahu spoke shortly after the incident: “We know we are in an everlasting struggle…These terrorists won’t uproot us from here; the exact opposite will happen.”
Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin added, “Our response to murderous terrorism must be sharp and clear. We will work to continue construction throughout Israel and to strengthen [existing] and new settlements.”
Several Jewish Israeli journalists spoke out last week, about both the incident and their government’s policies and responses. Their words are courageous and will be quoted at length below.
But first, here is a quick lesson on settlements: what they are, why they are, and their impact on Palestinians.
This will take just a few minutes, and is well worth the time, as most Americans are unaware of this critical background.
Settlements: some background
Israel has been building and populating settlements in the West Bank since 1967; there are now about 400,000 Israelis living–illegally–in the West Bank (occupied Palestinian territory that Palestinians intend to be part of their future state) and 200,000 in East Jerusalem (which Palestinians intend to be their future capital).
To be clear: this is about 10% of Israel’s Jewish population, living not in Israel but outside its borders on land expropriated from Palestinians.
To be crystal clear: that’s 600,000 Israelis living illegally, with the blessing and subsidy of the Israeli government, on land stolen from Palestinians–which, combined with the illegal occupation, has for 50+ years angered Palestinians and shattered their lives.
Why are there settlements? Isn’t there enough room inside Israel?
Israel has plenty of room for population growth. It is much less densely populated than the West Bank–although a large portion of the state is desert–but Israeli Jews, encouraged by their government, have been moving to the West Bank in huge numbers.
The official Israeli government explanation for the existence of settlements is “security.” Israel claims that Israeli Jews have been placed in the midst of Palestinians serve “national purposes”– as “look-outs” (to watch for potential uprisings or terrorist attacks) or “defenders” of future borders (in the event of war).
Unofficially, many Israeli Jews are drawn to the settlements because of the government support and financial perks (Israel subsidizes settlement housing, enabling Israelis to get more home for less, and provides inexpensive, settler-only roads and buses to the cities).
The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.
Other Israeli Jews are motivated by religious or secular ideology. Jewish Virtual Library explains:
Many secular Zionists viewed Jerusalem and the West Bank as the historic patrimony of the Jewish people and control of this region as a matter of momentous historic importance.
Religious Zionists were affected by the messianic hopes released by [the Six-Day War]. With their arguments based in theology…they consciously sought out locations identified with the Bible and situated in a pattern that would make creation of an Arab state difficult.
Palestinian perspective on settlements
The West Bank is home to close to 2.8 million Palestinians (living under Israeli military rule) and 400,000 Israeli settlers (living under Israeli civil administration), and is under the constant watch of the Israeli Defense Forces.
One region of the Palestinian West Bank, “Area C” (about 60% of the West Bank), is under full Israeli control. Areas A and B are supposedly under complete and partial Palestinian control, respectively–although in reality, Israel is in charge of everything that matters.
All West Bank settlements and most Palestinian natural resources are located in Area C. But even as Israel approves and subsidizes the expansion of these Jewish-only towns, it refuses to allow Palestinians to build homes or infrastructure, or to expand their municipal boundaries. Palestinian towns are overcrowded and under-resourced.
The Jewish-only roads enable settlers to go about their lives without being reminded that Palestinians exist, but require that Palestinians endure constant time-consuming, humiliating checkpoints and detours. Relentless restrictions on movement block many from access to their family members, medical facilities, and often even school and work.
In addition, Palestinians are powerless against middle-of-the-night raids and kidnappings by the Israeli military. The list goes on.
Palestinians worry that, if the day ever comes when Israel is ready to make peace, there won’t be any contiguous land for a Palestinian state–indeed, this is already the case.
The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 states:
The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.
Based on this clear directive, the international community considers Israeli settlements in the occupied territories a breach of international law.
The UN Security Council has passed multiple resolutions calling on Israel to cease illegal settlement building and dismantle existing settlements.
Jewish Israeli journalists weigh in on the latest settler deaths
Zvi Bar’el takes PM Netanyahu to task for his statements including, “These terrorists won’t uproot us from here; the exact opposite will happen.” Bar’el sees nothing but treachery in the settlement enterprise and Netanyahu’s “whatever kills you makes us stronger” rhetoric:
Soldiers serving in a war zone are a “routine matter.” They are wounded and killed, and they kill. The presence of Jewish civilians, including tens of thousands of children, in such a highly charged setting is not only incomprehensible. It’s unforgivable…
The bluff that they and the government have been selling the public is that there is no war in the West Bank, that everything is calm there, that we can continue to build there, start families and redeem the Land of Israel without paying any price in blood…
[The Israeli government] embraces these misguided and misleading (sic) people, pats their heads and consoles them that with every victim, Israel is becoming stronger.
It awards their work with medals and puts a price tag on every victim, in the form of “an appropriate Zionist response”…If he is destined to die, better that it be done in the West Bank [where Zionism] will build another house and another neighborhood in his name.
(“Another house and another neighborhood” will likely bring on another angry young man, and so the cycle continues.)
The Ha’aretz editorial board calls out the settlement project’s connection to Palestinian resistance:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that he plans to answer the latest round of terror attacks by legalizing thousands of homes in the territories…[proves that settlers] have become flag bearers of punishment and revenge, so much so that in an absurd way, terrorism has become critical to their expansion and control of the territories. Settlement has become an act of punishment and revenge, creating a frightening equation in which the murder of Israelis is not terrorism but a building stone for the settlements.
Bar’el and the Ha’aretz board are bold, but Gideon Levy (as usual) is fearless. His op-ed, “An Israeli soldier killed in the West Bank died in vain,” drives home how utterly gratuitous the whole settlement industry is.
Nothing was normal about the square where the soldier fell. An artilleryman is not supposed to be guarding a bus stop.
A soldier fell while defending occupied territory that no country in the world recognizes as ours. A soldier fell defending settlers who are convinced they are lords of the land… A soldier was killed on duty, and the papers wrote, “He fell guarding the country”…[actually he] fell guarding injustice. That’s why his death was in vain.
But [Staff Sgt. Gal] Keidan shouldn’t have died, because Keidan shouldn’t have been in Ariel. The Israel Defense Forces shouldn’t have been there, the settlers shouldn’t have been there, nor the university, the hotel, the industrial zone, the highway, or the private shooting range – none of them should have been there.
A young man of 19 shouldn’t have to risk his life so that settlers can remain in a land that isn’t theirs…
Gideon Levy is perhaps the only journalist in Israel who would dare to refer to this attacker as “a violent, courageous and determined Palestinian,” rather than a terrorist. Levy gets it: Palestinians are not emotionless killing machines, but human beings who have been pushed beyond their limits of endurance.
And while it is unequivocally wrong to take an innocent life, Israel is slowly killing innocent Palestinians–killing their bodies and their souls. Israel needs to want its sons and daughters to live more than it wants to see its (illegal) settlements expand.
These journalists speak a truth that may be hard for Israel and its supporters to stomach, but without acknowledging this truth, the soul of Israel has little hope.