For the first part of this post, see my entry, Slogans: Part I. Now, to continue…
Why do people use these slogans? Because they make the message clear and simple. Because everyone can understand a bully who uses another’s weakness to seize power or possessions. Because people learn in early childhood that there are two sides to every story, and it is usually the scrappy, ill-equipped underdog rather than the more powerful, better-favored bruiser who wins hearts. David and Goliath, Odysseus and Poseidon, Harry Potter and Voldemort. Israel was the darling of the media as long as it was ridiculously outnumbered by its saber-rattling Arab neighbors. But now the players are different. It’s an Israel spending a huge chunk of its GDP on the latest weapons technology against a cadre of swarthy “revolutionaries” (who are, though not everyone realizes this, generously funded by oil revenues paid by Uncle Sam). The reality of what exists here is much more complicated and frankly, it takes too long to get one’s head around the issue. Better just to stick with the formula everyone knows and loves: Big Guy “bad”; Little Guy “good.” Israel’s mission to build a state we can be ourselves in and be proud of (and that of the Arabs, for that matter, of destroying said state) are the same as they were from the beginning, but if one appears on CNN to have better fire-power or a more organized government or a higher GDP, then that makes that one the Big Guy and thus, “bad.”
One of the most common things called for by foreign governments as part of the “peace process” is a freeze on building in the “settlements.” What are the settlements? They are towns and villages built in the land Israel was left holding at the end of 1967. Why didn’t Israel give the land back immediately after the war? Well, they tried. But when they attempted to invite a coalition of their Arab neighbors for negotiations to return the land, the Arabs met in Khartoum and passed the Khartoum resolutions, also known as the Council of Three Nos: No negotiation with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no peace with Israel. Israel couldn’t give away the land at the time. What was Israel to do with it? The only option remained to keep it. And given that the Arabs had lost it fair and square in a fight they themselves had started, and the fact that that land contained some of the greatest historical treasures in this part of the world (The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Joseph’s Tomb in Ramallah, and the site of the ancient city of Shilo where the Ark of the Covenant once rested), why not build there? There was no such thing as a Palestinian people, but Israel was nonetheless generous enough to allow the Arabs who inhabited that land to remain on it rather than expelling them. No Arabs were evicted to make room for the settlements, and indeed, my own town of Efrat was built in such a way as not even to disturb the vineyards and olive groves of the Arabs who farmed (and continue to farm) here.
Settlers themselves are usually portrayed in the media as farbrennter religious Jews who live here because God told them to. Some people do indeed live in settlements because the Torah does say that God granted this land as a heritage for the Jewish people, and therefore, if Israel has both a religious and a political mandate to the land, why shouldn’t we settle here? But that only accounts for a small percentage of settlers. There are also haredi settlers, like those in Kiryat Sefer and Beitar Illit, who live there because the towns are reasonably well located and it is much easier to afford housing for their usually large families. Some of these haredi settlers are actually anti-Zionist, and neither support the State of Israel (though it supports them) nor serve in the IDF. And there are also secular and apolitical Jews who choose to reside in settlements for the small-town feel, affordable housing, quiet, clean air, and good schools.
To say that settlements and settlers are an obstacle to peace is a fallacy. Were there settlements during the Arab riots of 1920, 1929 and 1936? Were there settlements in 1948? Were there settlements during the Sinai campaign? Were there settlements during the War of Attrition? (Most settlements were built in the 1970s and 1980s.) There has not been peace between Arabs and Jews in this part of the world since Avraham Avinu sent Hagar and Ishmael away in the Torah. And there were certainly no settlements then.
The “wall” is another favorite hot-button issue. (It’s as controversial in Israel as it is outside, actually, but that’s not important right now.) Who (of a certain age) can forget the eyesore of the Berlin Wall, and the elation felt by all who watched it get torn down? Robert Frost wrote that “good fences make good neighbors,” and the Chinese and the Romans certainly proved that. While it is true that mortars and rockets can still be fired over such a wall, its presence has cut down dramatically on the kind of terror attacks that plagued Israel during the late 1990s and early 2000s, namely suicide bombings. One of its nicknames is the “apartheid wall.” I find this particularly amusing, considering that it’s the Arabs who seek to found a judenrein state, and insist (along with the West) that Israel keep its Arab population within its borders. “Security barrier” is a more accurate term, since only 3% of it is actual wall, and the rest is other materials such as chain link fence, trenches, and guard paths. The parts of the barrier that are solid wall were built to protect motorists from sniper fire coming from Arab-inhabited areas. While I agree that it is unsightly in places, there would be no need for it—or for security checkpoints along the roads—if Arabs renounced terrorism and violence. PM Netanyahu is credited with saying, “If the Arabs put down their weapons, there would be peace today. If the Jews put down their weapons, there would be no Israel.”
One slogan which I find most refreshing to see abandoned is “land for peace.” Parcels of land, large and small, have been given to the Arabs here in which to govern themselves, police themselves, and support themselves. Money, too, has been donated by the other nations of the world to enable the Arabs to build the framework for an independent state. Have there been increasing signs of peace coming from their side? Alas no. In the land given for their self-government, quality of life has plummeted, and instead of investing the world’s money in an economy, health care, and education for themselves, the governing Arabs (both Fatah and Hamas) have funneled the money into their own coffers to pay for weapons, training, luxuries and security services for their officials, and cash awards for the families of suicide bombers. Instead of using the land for farming or development, they destroyed the greenhouses in Gaza purchased from exiting settlers by sympathetic Westerners, and have used the Strip as a giant launching pad for mortars and rockets fired into Israel. Ironically, instead of peace for the land Israel has given them, Israel has received even more—and more severe—war. Second Lebanon. Daily mortar fire on Sderot, Ashkelon, and the western Negev. Operation Cast Lead. What’s next on the land-for-peace agenda? For those with eyes to see, the agenda has to change. And since the result of giving land to terrorist-governed Arabs has been little more than paying them “protection money” (for which the price continues to rise, benefit to fall, and demand to increase in frequency), perhaps it’s time for a rethink.
So will a two-state solution come to pass? I don’t know. Some Israelis support it, especially if giving land to create a stable, peaceful, self-governing and self-supporting Arab state were possible. But that is clearly not possible right now. The goal of both Israel and America (and everyone else, if they can see past their coke-bottle PC glasses) should be to turn their attention away from Israel and what everyone likes to believe it’s doing wrong, and focus on what needs to happen in order for the Arabs to create a state for themselves that will succeed, free of terrorism, free of governmental graft and corruption, and suitable to govern itself. Netanyahu’s proposals are for the first baby steps in that direction. And one of those steps is to abandon the failures of the past and throw away the tape that keeps playing in everyone’s head: “occupation,” “settlements,” “land for peace,” …