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Ha'aretz: "Colonial Zionism" By Zeev Sternhell

"For the past 30 years I have considered the settlements a destructive phenomenon that raises a large question mark over Israel's future."


For the past 30 years I have considered the settlements a destructive phenomenon that raises a large question mark over Israel's future. In fact, the settlement enterprise is an ideological, political and social phenomenon that has succeeded in creating an original androgynous creation: colonial Zionism.

There have already been variations of Zionism: general, revisionist, socialist, with or without quotation marks. Now we also have colonial Zionism, based on ethnic and religious inequality, which considers itself the exclusive emissary of Jewish history. The Divine promise and not the natural rights of human beings to freedom, independence and self-government is, in its eyes, the one and only source of legitimacy for the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel. According to this viewpoint, the land belongs not only to living Jews, but to all the past generations and those yet unborn; therefore, members of the present generation have no right to share possession of the land with members of another nation.

As a matter of course, when we speak of "the settlements" we are not referring to that vast majority of Israelis who are living in the West Bank for reasons of convenience or necessity (cheap and improved housing). In addition, we do not talk about each settler separately: We talk about the settlement enterprise the way one talks about "socialism," "conservatism" or "nationalism;" in other words, about that which is essential to the ideology and the movement, and typifies it.

Even the ideological core, which is in essence "the settlement movement," is not all of one stripe. Between the hilltop youth and many of their parents there is a large gap, not only in patterns of behavior but also in the degree of connection to universal values.

However, overall, they are all nurtured by the same principles and aspire to the same goals. Since this small minority is convinced that it owns the absolute truth, it considers itself permitted to force it on all of society.

Therefore its leaders and spokespersons show disdain for both the weak politicians and the basic tenets of democracy itself. They know how to exploit democratic institutions, but they ignore human rights and recognize only the rights of the Jews. Since the High Court of Justice decision on Elon Moreh in 1979, in which the court ruled that seizing private lands is illegal, they have been attacking this basic institution of Israeli democracy, the guardian of individual rights.

Despite the power he has acquired thanks to the cowardice of the government, the ideological settler always wears the mantle of a martyr, persecuted by the left-wing elite and the media it ostensibly controls. Although he controls the territories, he likes to be portrayed as a perpetual victim of leftist conspiracies. Although for almost four decades the ideological settler has created a reality about which Israeli voters have never been called on to decide, and in subversive ways has turned the military occupation into civilian control that contradicts every accepted norm in the Western world, he does not cease to cry that he has been robbed.

In Hebron a situation has been created that is a national disgrace, a genuine sin and crime: Apartheid, as legal scholar Boaz Okun wrote in the weekly Yedioth Ahronoth last week, is already here. But not only in Hebron: The situation in the territories in general and the lawless outposts in particular, along with the theft of private lands, is testimony to the bankruptcy of the state when faced with the daring of the settler and his determination not to retreat before ethical or legal obstacles. In that way the settlement movement is perforce creating daily violations of the law and a culture of violence: Ofra and Beit El may be quiet and pleasant places settled by idealists, but together with their satellite outposts, Amona, Beit Hagedud and Ofra Northeast, Beit El East and Hill 909, they have seized an area that, according to aerial photos and information conveyed to the Peace Now monitoring committee by government authorities, over 90 percent of which is composed of private Palestinian land (figures from October 2006).

Finally, I would like to make one point clear once and for all, without any connection to the attempt to hurt me, an attempt whose perpetrators could belong to any faction of the extreme right, and not necessarily the settlement movement. In three articles I wrote in May and June of 2001, one of which included a paragraph that was not properly worded, I explained my position regarding the settlers: The lives of Jews living on both sides of the Green Line are "equally precious."

And in another place: "The settlement movement is a historical disaster, but for now there are people living there whose lives must be protected." In fact, the distinction between individuals whom we must take care of as long as they are there - and the emphasis is on the dimension of temporariness - and the settlement enterprise as an historical phenomenon is essential.

I have already written in the past in this newspaper, and I repeat it today: If Israeli society is unable to muster the courage necessary to put an end to the settlements, the settlements will put an end to the state of the Jews and will turn it into a binational state.