In memoriam: Hanan Porat, an extremist by any other name

Israel/Palestine
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Late Wednesday night, after I finished devouring the Steve Jobs obituary on the New York Times website, my eye happened to catch the headline for another of the day’s death reports: “Hanan Porat, Jewish Settlement Leader, Dies at 67.” (Actually, my eye didn’t so much catch the headline as was forced toward it by the Times’s “Recommended for You” list, which has apparently pegged me as member of the all-things-Israel demographic, which is a whole other story … sort of.)

My first reaction was disgust followed by a strong desire to register my protest by refusing to read. What was the Times doing running an obituary of a settlement leader, a founder of the extremist movement responsible for gobbling up dunam upon dunam of Palestinian land, for dispossession, violence, apartheid, and an ultra-nationalism so toxic it approaches fascism? If a leader of Hamas died, would the Times eulogize him too? It goes without saying that it would never grant precious death-page real estate to a human rights leader like Michel Warshawski or Raji Sourani.

But then curiosity got the better of me and I clicked on the link which brought me, in a matter of seconds, to a 574-word Ethan-Bronner special capped by a photograph of a young and dashing Porat. Based on Bronner’s homage, which is written in a tone that can only really be described as sympathetic-masquerading-as-neutral, here is what I learned:

* Hanan Porat was hot! “[I]n his prime, in the 1970s and ’80s, when the Israeli right began its political ascent, he was a fiery advocate of hard-line Zionism, cutting a handsome figure with a mane of thick dark hair topped by a knitted yarmulke,” Bronner writers. And indeed, the man in the photograph, the one riding high above the shoulders of dozens of men, pants tight, plaid shirt loose, arms spread in ecstasy, looks like a 1970s god, a real-life Berger — so much so that even now I can’t help but wonder: could a guy that good looking really be that bad?

* Porat “establish[ed] Jewish communities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.”  Well, gosh, I like communities, communities are good, doesn’t everyone want more communities in this atomized, go-it-alone world? In fact, I was part of a community once, during a semester I spent at an enviro-wilderness high school in Maine. It was cool. We quoted Thoreau and Whitman and kept a communal journal and shared food and clothes and secrets and had really intense, deep friendships.

* Porat “helped turn Israel’s religious settler movement into a powerful force” through the establishment of the aforementioned communities. Hm, a powerful force — oh I get it, like Adele 0r Hank Greenberg or women!

* Benjamin Netanyahu, who is the only outside source quoted in the article (and gets quoted twice), really liked Porat, and Porat really liked the Land of Israel: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Mr. Porat had ‘dedicated his life to building up the land of Israel, and to educating generations of students about religious Zionism and loving the land of Israel and the Jewish people.’” Wow, what a warm and generous-sounding guy, so full of love and altruism. A true mensch!

* Porat was a” fervent advocate of Jewish power across the biblical land of Israel.” How romantic, the biblical land of Israel. Good thing he wasn’t advocating Jewish power across the contemporary land of Palestine.

* Porat helped found Gush Emunim, “which means ‘the bloc of the faithful.’” Well, that doesn’t sound that bad, does it? Sure, “gush” is an unfortunate word (rhymes with tush and mush and whatnot), but “bloc of the faithful” sounds pretty innocuous.

* Porat helped build a Jewish settlement in the heart of the Palestinian city of Hebron, “where the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs are said to be buried.” Cool, sign me up for a tour! I want to see where the patriarchs and matriarchs are planted.

* Porat grew up on kibbutz Kfar Etzion, “which is on land that was later won by Jordan during Israel’s 1948 war of independence. He re-established the community after the 1967 Middle East war, when the land was conquered by Israel.” Well, that sounds fair enough. I mean, we’re just talking about land, right? First Jordan won the land, then Israel won the land, and since we’re just talking about land, what’s the big deal?

* The Etzion bloc that Porat helped found “is one of the large West Bank settlement blocs that Israel wants to keep in any deal with a future Palestinian state. One reason many Israelis consider it theirs by right is that it had been settled by Jews before 1948.” I guess that means that Jews discovered the area, or at least developed it, and we all know: you discover something, you own it.

* The settlements Porat helped create “remain among the biggest obstacles to creating a Palestinian state.” Bummer.

* Porat “is survived by his wife, 11 children and a number of grandchildren.” Aw, how sweet, he was a dad and granddad — and so prolific!

Now here’s what I could have learned about Hanan Porat but didn’t — not from the New York Times and not from the dozens of other mainstream publications that wrote about Porat’s death:

* The settlements that Porat  helped found are illegal under international law, and their creation is widely consider a war crime, which would suggest that Hanan Porat himself is a war criminal.

* The settlements that Porat helped found, and the infrastructure of oppression that has been built up all around the settlements to keep them well-watered, bucolic, and “secure,” has turned the West Bank into a land of bantustans and Israel into an apartheid state.

* The settlements that Porat and his movement helped found sit on hundreds of thousands of dunams of stolen land and consume as much as (and, at this point, most likely more than) 42 percent of the West Bank. In the process, settlers have forced thousands of Palestinians from their homes.

* The settlements that Porat helped found, and the system of “bypass” roads, apartheid wall, and checkpoints that accompany them, violate Palestinian human rights, including “the right of property, the right to equality, the right to a suitable standard of living, and the right to freedom of movement.”

* The settlement that Porat helped found in the heart of the Palestinian city of Hebron is one of the most extreme, radical settlements in existence, a place where the occupation is its most foul, violent, and abusive.

* As Porat fully intended, the settlements are not merely obstacles to the creation of a Palestinian state, they have killed any hope and possibility of a true Palestinian state.

* Gush Emunim, which Porat helped found, was not merely the “bloc of the faithful,” it was an extremist, messianic movement that gave birth to a “Zionist fundamentalism” that was aggressive and expansionist at best and violent and terroristic at worst.

* For all his alleged Talmudic brilliance and religious zealotry, Porat was a pretty bad Jew. As Nehemia Shtrasler wrote in a helpful op-ed in Haaretz, “The abuse in the territories [that Porat helped create and support] is also in total contradiction to the moral teachings of Israel’s prophets – Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah – but Porat and his colleagues knew only the Book of Joshua.”

* After Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians and wounded more than 100 at a mosque in Hebron, Porat, who helped found the illegal settlement where Goldstein lived, was asked by a reporter to offer his thoughts on the massacre. His response: “Happy Purim.”

About Lizzy Ratner

Lizzy Ratner is a journalist in New York City. She is a co-editor with Adam Horowitz and Philip Weiss of The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict.

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