The Settlers Describes an Israel Precariously Close to Fascism
by Allan C. Brownfeld
The Quartet, the sponsor of a peace process that has made almost no progress, is composed of the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union. The latest report calls on the Israelis to cease the construction and expansion of settlements, the designation of land exclusively for use by Israelis, and the denial of permits to Palestinians. It also recommends that Palestinian authorities stop inciting violence and work harder to combat terrorism.
“We need to shake life back into the peace process, and do it as a matter of urgency,” said Federica Mogherini, the foreign policy head of the EU. “Violence is on the rise every single day, with victims on both sides. We risk a new escalation, and the very chance of peace is slipping away.”
The Quartet said two states, one Israeli and one Palestinian, is the only way to end the occupation and ensure Israeli security. But Israeli policies encouraging settlement growth and squelching Palestinian development are “steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution,” it said.
IN JUNE, the Israeli government approved about $20 million in additional financing for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, underlining its strengthened rightwing orientation. Speaking at the annual Herzlya security conference, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said that “a fanatic seed of extreme ideology has taken over the Likud.” He argued that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s priority was not security but “a slow and cunning advancement of the one-state solution agenda,” and that this would lead to either an apartheid state or a binational state “in which the Jews will become a minority within a couple of generations.”
June marked the 49th anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War and saw the release of a documentary that recounts the history of the settlement movement that arose in the wake of the war. The Settlers, by Israeli director Shimon Dotan, writes Yossi Melman in The Jerusalem Report (June 27, 2016) is “both horrifying and frustrating.”
In that war, Israel conquered the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. The official Israeli policy following the war was that all lands would be returned to their owners, after minor territorial adjustments, in return for peace.
In 1982, Sinai was returned to Egypt following the peace treaty between the two countries. Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and the territory was taken over by Hamas in 2007. Against the backdrop of the Syrian civil war, now in its sixth year, there are few demands that Israel return the Golan Heights to the practically nonexistent state of Syria. According to Melman, “The major remaining obstacle to peace with the Palestinians is the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank (known to most Israelis as the biblical Judea and Samaria). The central hurdle to ending the occupation and enabling the creation of an independent Palestinian state is the Jewish settlements.”
Until the Yom Kippur War of 1973, The Settlers shows, the official policy of the Labor-led governments of Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir had been to use the occupied territories as “bargaining chips” to be returned in exchange for peace. The only territorial exception was in the Alon Plan, which advocated building Jewish urban neighborhoods around Jerusalem and settlements in the Jordan Valley. Still, the Labor governments opposed settlement atop the Judea and Samaria hills and near Palestinian cities.
According to Melman, “. . . all that changed following the traumatic events of the 1973 war.” Religious zealots formed the Bloc of the Faithful, which was “driven by messianic and religious zealotry . . . .[and] swore to fight the settlement policies of the Labor government by all means—democratic and not so democratic.”
In the film, Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar says that he once asked Shimon Peres whether he regrets helping the settlers. Peres, according to Eldar, answered, “Had I known what a monster would grow, I wouldn’t have lent my hand to them.”
Eldar is a respected journalist who, for many years, was senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz. In a recent article for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse (May 10, 2016), he asks, “Is Israel Inching Closer To Fascism?” He reports: “Major Geneneral Yair Golan, deputy IDF Chief of Staff, spoke about trends in Israeli society reminiscent of the dark European era between the world wars at a May 4 event marking Holocaust Remembrance Day. Israeli society is not an amorphous place; the prime minister is the one who bears ultimate responsibility for the shape it is in. He himself demonizes his country’s minorities. He is the one who entrusted the education of Israeli children to a political party that believes the biblical designation of ‘chosen people’ justifies trampling the dignity and basic rights of millions of other people. And so the words of Golan could be interpreted as an arrow directed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”
Professor Zeev Sternhell, the former head of the political science department at Hebrew University, is an authority on fascism, whose book, The Birth of Fascist Ideology, has been translated into seven languages. His own Polish family was murdered by the Nazis. In an interview with Eldar, Sternhell says: “Golan was right in every word he uttered. At the start of the previous century, anti-Semitism served as xenophobia. Today, hatred of the other serves the same role for the radical Jewish right in Israel. Fascism started developing as an extreme manifestation of violating the universal and ethical values of the enlightenment and its political expression: liberalism, democracy and human rights. In the view of the radical Israeli right . . . adherence to enlightened values is childish. Therefore, hating the Arabs and abusing foreigners is permissible.”
Asked, “Are we on the verge of fascism, or perhaps we’re already there?,” Sternhell replied: “It’s a gradual process. We have yet to cross the red line, but we are dangerously close. We are at the height of an erosion process of the liberal values on which our society is based. Those who regard liberal values as a danger to the nation, the homeland and the Jewish state are the ones currently in power. They are striving to delegitimize . . . anyone who does not hold the view that conquering the land and settling it through the use of force are the fundamental foundation of Zionism. That’s why universal values and universal rights are enemies of the state, in their view. ”
TODAY, THE WEST BANK and greater Jerusalem are inhabited by 370,000 Jews and 2.8 million Palestinians. The Jerusalem Report declares that “Dotan’s film is horrifying because of the contradictions between the tranquil and wonderful landscapes and the dreadful conditions of the Palestinians. But also because of the contrast between the soft-spoken words expressed by the settlers — some of them bordering on messianic hallucinations — and the true reality of Israeli colonialism, racism, discrimination and economic exploitation of Palestinians. The film also toucheS . . . on how Jewish terrorists emerged in the last 30 years . . . They assassinated Palestinian mayors, killed innocent civilians, planned to bomb Palestinian school buses and the mosque on the Temple Mount.”
The film also cites Baruch Goldstein, the Brooklyn-born doctor who in 1994 murdered twenty-nine Palestinian worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs. Goldstein’s funeral was attended by Yigal Amir, who, a year later, murdered Prime Minister Yitzkhak Rabin. Hebrew Ujiversity philosopher Moshe Halbertal says in the film that the new generation of Jewish terrorists “are envious” of the Palestinian martyrs and want to be like them — to sacrifice their lives with murder.
The Jerusalem Report’s Yossi Melman concludes: “The Settlers . . . places a mirror in front of Israelis like me, Israelis who are secular, patriots, who love this country, and believe in human rights and human dignity –k now that the battle about the spirit and the soul of Israel as a free, democratic, Westernized state is over . . . The settlers won. . . . The West Bank condition is irreversible as politician and writer, Meron Benvenisti, prophesied three decades ago. The two-state solution of Israel and Palestine living in peace, side by side, is just a virtual reality on paper.”
Allan C. Brownfeld is a nationally syndicated columnist and is editor of ISSUES, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.