I spent the past weekend on a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, attending my nephew’s post-wedding festivities. The last time I was in the vicinity of this particular settlement was about ten years ago, when I went – together with a group of Israeli peace activists – to the adjacent village, to express solidarity with a Palestinian farmer whose vineyard had been destroyed by settlers. The last time I had been to the settlement itself was on a high-school class trip, nearly thirty years ago. My sister has lived there for the past 15 years or so, and her children have grown up there, but this was the first time I had been to her home. When she told me, years ago, that she would be moving to a settlement, I made it clear that I would not come to visit. Last week, mitigating circumstances led me to make an exception to my longstanding rule and I do not regret it, although I will have to make sure my sister and her family understand that it was just that, an exception, and that my opposition to the illegal and immoral settlement project has not “softened” in the least.
I wonder if the ultra-nationalists I spent the weekend with would be more or less shocked by my general anti-Zionism and views on the Nakba, for example, than the left-wing Zionists I have spoken to in the past (Yehouda Shenhav-Shaharabani’s book on the subject, The Trap of the Green Line, is next on my reading list). I kept my mouth shut, for my nephew’s and sister’s sake, and because a political discussion with some of the most extreme Zionist nationalists you’ll ever meet would probably have been rather pointless. Interestingly enough, especially considering the ideological nature of this settlement and reputation of its residents, I heard no political discussions of any kind (Netanyahu, Obama, Abbas, Hamas,Turkel Committee, peace talks, settlement freeze), although much of the conversation seemed to take various religious, political and historical ideas for granted. I met a lot of very nice people and saw a lot of cute kids (I cringed a little when my brother-in-law called kids “our no. 1 industry”). The sermon at Saturday-morning services (this is a religious settlement and nearly everyone goes to services) was rather philosophical and seemed to address my own dilemma in deciding to make an exception to my no-settlement-visit rule. The speaker discussed the conflict between ideological purity and consistency, and individual conscience and judgement. A conversation with a former classmate also touched upon the compatibility/incompatibility of Rabbinic Law and humanistic ideals. I saw no uniforms and very few guns (only a couple of handguns, obviously worn by residents on guard duty).
From the inside, isolated even from the Palestinian village only a kilometre or two away (although the muezzin did seem a little too quiet in those reverberating, scrub-clad hills), it all seemed so normal, even idyllic. Beneath the attractive veneer however, is a society, a reality, rooted in religio-ethnic supremacism. As a left-wing Zionist pointed out to me last week, talk of Palestinian land and dispossession is dangerous, because “it could bring the entire Zionist enterprise into question”. I couldn’t have put it better myself, but there is something different about settlements like this one. The protective shell of denial and self-righteousness is much thinner, the act/s of dispossession more recent, more patently deliberate and much harder to justify beyond the self-referential bubble. This difference is the basis for belief in the two-state solution, and the lifeblood of denial of the earlier and more profound injustices of 1948. The post-1967 Zionist colonial project also offers self-styled moderates, Israeli and non, something they can sink their reasonable compromise-seeking teeth into, without rocking the boat too much or questioning Israel’s “right to exist”. This illusion of fairness and morality is better constructed, far easier to spin and promote but is, in fact, no less of an illusion than the blatantly supremacist bubble that allows the most extreme settlers to sleep at night, in their ostensibly nurturing, model communities.