Don’t say you weren’t warned

This is a guest post by Phil

It’s almost 20 years since I had the dubious privilege of guarding a site known as Joseph’s Tomb near Nablus during a spell of Israeli army reserve duty on the Jewish festival of Simchat Torah. We had a very special role of protecting yeshiva students from the nearby settlements of Har Bracha and Yitzhar coming from their homes to celebrate the joyous festival in the apparently holy site.

They weren’t easy to protect, mostly because they didn’t want protecting. More to the point, they took a perverse delight in dancing towards nearby Palestinians from the village of Balata, singing a charming little ditty at the top of their voices with some biblical words about “subduing the nations”. Perhaps they meant “goyim” in its most pejorative and threatening sense, rather than “nations”. That they also put the lives of Israeli soldiers at risk because of these actions is however, beyond any doubt.

Not long before that, I was on reserve duty during another Jewish festival, far away from the northern West Bank. This time it was Purim, another joyous Jewish holiday, and the location was a settlement in Gush Katif, a delightfully pastoral island with the Mediterranean Sea on one side and another sea, one of Palestinian refugee camps, on the other.

It was the day Baruch Goldstein walked into the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and sprayed machine gun fire at Muslim worshippers, killing 29 victims. The news spread quickly to Gaza where we were put on high alert. It also spread very quickly to the settlers and their children, the ones we were protecting.  Their reaction to Goldstein’s massacre was certainly not ambivalent. Some justified it, but many more actively welcomed it and saw it as a highly appropriate, almost religious act, in keeping with Purim. I felt like choking on their hamantaschen.

So I’m not in the least bit surprised that at a Jewish wedding in one of these settlements, an event usually marked by singing and dancing to phrases like “ahava, ve’achva, shalom ve’reut”, “love, brotherhood, peace and friendship”, that the successors of the delightful people I met 20 years ago now dance around the bride stabbing knives into a picture of a Palestinian baby. And not just any Palestinian baby, but one burned alive by their friends as he slept.

We are told that of course, these dozens of exemplary guests at the wedding party are but a tiny fraction of the settlement movement, unrepresentative of the whole. The head of the Council of Settlements of Judea and Samaria assures us he had no idea there were people like that running round these places. He was deeply shocked when he saw the video, as indeed were all the leaders of the settler and Religious Zionist movements. Such sensitive and beautiful souls, the leaders of these organisations.

And yet, look at the parents of the 21 year-old hilltop youth arrested today for the incineration of that Palestinian child, innocent of course until proven guilty. The kind they call “flesh of the flesh” of the Religious Zionist movement. The father is a rabbi of a settlement, and in general they employ the cream of the movement for those jobs, from the most prestigious yeshivas. For sure, the son looks totally different, a sort of new age mingling of hippy and fascist. He might not have absorbed the dress, but he got the general message.

Last time, we were told, it was an “odd bad weed” sprouting forth in such a pure field of ideological and pioneering commitment. Special circumstances, they said. Oslo, a prime minister murdered. That kind of thing obviously can’t happen again, they gently soothed us. Though they are now spouting violent incitement towards presidents as well, who don’t even have to be from the left anymore.

Before that, the Jewish Underground, which blew up Palestinian mayors in their cars and planned an Armageddon conflagration at the Temple Mount, were just “good boys who went too far”. Backed by leading rabbis, some of this lot even became heads of their movement – if they weren’t already. That’s the movement headed by Israel’s current education minister, by the way.

And still, when the words and the incitement and the hate are spread and voiced in every settlement, every right-wing demonstration and every Religious Zionist school playground, and readily available in tomes on the weekly Torah portion distributed in Religious Zionist synagogues in Israel on Friday evenings, still it’s never their fault.

Those wise monkeys of the Religious Zionist and settler movements never saw it, never heard it, never spoke it.

And they are right, because in truth, it really isn’t their fault.

It’s ours. Forty years of letting them set the agenda, flout the law, hate, incite and commit acts of violence. Some of us tried to say that the very act of settling there would of course be a corrosive and corrupting influence and there cannot – ever – be such a thing as an enlightened occupation.

Many good Jews in Britain have done and will continue to define themselves as proud Religious Zionists yet know that this language and this education is prevalent in the yeshivot they send their kids to and on the settlements where they sometimes end up. They may well by now have even heard their Israeli grandchildren enunciate it.

The movements within Religious Zionism in the UK choose to ignore it because they are largely not directly infested by it. We should be thankful for small mercies. But their Israeli – and some other Diaspora community branches of it – most certainly are.

Now the cancer has grown to a point where it threatens the very existence of the State of Israel, but most importantly, the moral foundations of the Jewish People.

It’s time to admit it, this moral depravity didn’t come from nowhere. It came from and because of the settlement enterprise.

As Niemoller might have phrased it, they didn’t speak up because they weren’t Palestinians. And now they are coming for them. For the rest of us, they came long ago.

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