Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Morality, Zionism and "illegal" outposts (Haaretz)

Hat tip to Israpundit.

By Nadav Shragai

"Unauthorized settlement outposts" have existed here for many years, ever since Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel resumed in the early 20th century.
"A small Jewish settlement among large Arab villages to the east, north and south," wrote Moshe Smilansky about the first settlement, Petah Tikva, in its early years. "Its houses are in one place, in Yehud. Its fields are elsewhere, and Arab fields are in between, and the ownership of the land is complicated."

Morally, there is no difference between the settlement of parts of the Land of Israel inhabited by Arabs in the early 20th century and settlements and outposts in parts of the Land of Israel inhabited by Arabs in the early 21st century. Either both are moral, or both are immoral. The real debate over the Model 2005 outposts is also unrelated to law and order. It is taking place between those who think there is nothing more moral, and those who think there is nothing more immoral.

Both settlement movements were the product of normative political Zionism. Settlements in the Negev and the Galilee were political, just as settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are political. And who knows this better than Ariel Sharon, who, before his opinions changed, urged his colleagues to "seize the hilltops"?

Carmiel and the hilltop communities in the north were established to Judaize the Galilee. Ariel and the outposts were established to Judaize the northern West Bank. Both were established as part of the great battle over the Land of Israel. The outposts were meant to fill in the empty spaces between established settlements, to prevent the Arabs from seizing control of them. Some of the lands on which the outposts were built were purchased, as in Migron and Givat Assaf. Once upon a time, this was called redeeming the land. Today, with the confusion characteristic of the spirit of the times, this is called "seizure."

It turns out that the World Zionist Organization's settlement division, a government agency, took its organizational and ideological affiliation with the WZO too seriously. Ron Shechner, the defense minister's advisor on settlements - an honest man, the salt of the earth, who was criticized in the Sasson report - also played a role. The ministers and the prime minister knew; some encouraged the process. The prime minister himself gave a detailed explanation of how to turn a barren outpost into a settlement. And he asked Einat Ehrlich of the outpost of Amona: "Why aren't you people building?"

That is how Israel was built. Even some of the "major settlement blocs" that Sharon (still?) wants to keep began their lives as unauthorized outposts. Even Ma'aleh Adumim, a large city, the largest settlement in the territories, began as an outpost with temporary housing. It is all a matter of definition - and who is doing the defining. If the outposts are neighborhoods of existing settlements, as they have been over the last 12 years, they are legal. But if they are "new settlements," which are not "adjacent," as determined by Sasson, they are "illegal."

The Sasson report is political and problematic, not only because it ignores Sharon and the rest of the political echelon, which approved and gave orders and knew, and not only because it ignores the legal system's responsibility for what happened, but also because it was born of a discriminatory approach.

Less well-publicized investigatory committees have in the past investigated illegal building in East Jerusalem and Israel's Arab sector. Their conclusions were unequivocal. When Haim Ramon served as minister for Jerusalem affairs under Ehud Barak, he informed the Knesset that more than 20,000 buildings had been built without a permit in East Jerusalem. Documents were seized at Orient House a few years ago that proved that this construction was not merely a response to the population's distress; it was also a political move. But nobody proposed destroying these buildings. On the contrary: Israel under Barak and Shimon Peres and Ramon negotiated with the Palestinian Authority over their retroactive legalization.

Nor did anyone suggest indicting successive mayors of Jerusalem or interior ministers for having deliberately turned a blind eye to this construction, sometimes for political reasons. There is also widespread illegal building in the Arab and Bedouin areas of Israel. The state accepts this, because reality - which includes the battle over this disputed land - is stronger.

The story of the outposts, just like the story of the construction in East Jerusalem, is a story about seeking to alter the status quo. But the outposts are an action of the old Zionist variety, which is now gradually being made illegal - first by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, then by Talia Sasson, and the High Court of Justice will doubtless follow in their footsteps.

In essence, the state is currently redefining Zionism as a movement that retreats under pressure, terrorism and threats, as a movement that gives up its dreams. The naive residents of the outposts are out of step. Nevertheless, they understand quite well what many others, perhaps even in the erring and confused Likud Party, will understand later: Gush Katif, the northern West Bank and the outposts are only the beginning. Sharon and his advisor Dov Weisglass - who, together with their new partners, Yossi Beilin and the Arab parties, are tearing the land and the nation apart - are already planning to uproot tens of thousands of additional Jews from the West Bank. And in secret, they are even talking about Jerusalem.