Before the house falls down around us
By: Rav Yuval Cherlow
One day, the educational system will thank the settlements in Judea and Samaria for preserving the spirit of Zionism and for their contribution to Israeli society. In order to enable that day to come more quickly, there must be a dramatic change in behavior.
The sincere, innocent and honest belief that it can be stopped before it slides down the slippery slope to the abyss is collapsing before our eyes. Jewish law recognized this, and therefore it created many obstacles in the form of decrees by the sages to prevent the expected slide before we near the cliff’s edge.
We cannot stop the "price-tag" operations against the Palestinians – a terrible pogrom in and of itself– from degenerating into operations against Jews; we cannot thwart the calls to disobey orders en masse – which are terrible by themselves – from devolving into actual acts against the army; we cannot stop attacks against Civil Administration personnel in the settlements, terrible acts in their own right on their own, from degenerating into acts of stone-throwing at IDF officers; we cannot stop the aggressive battle to impose modesty in the public space, a terrible act on its own, from degenerating into actual attacks against women who do not obey the rules; we cannot stop the ideology of “We cleansed Atzmona’s shame in Amona” in the fight against outposts from degenerating into the use of violence.
We cannot nurture a Torah-based position that emphasizes the difference between Israel and the nations but not its mission or the task that this mission imposes upon the Jewish people, and expect that this position will not degenerate into despicable racism; we cannot claim that the actions transpiring in Judea and Samaria are being executed by “provocateurs sent by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet)” and expect violence to be prevented. We all oppose that which is being done in our names, but we have not gathered the courage to fight against those who do it, and we certainly have not cooperated with the law.
Nobody wants this deterioration, but it is coming.
It is being created because that is human nature. It is being nourished precisely by those who oppose it absolutely; it is being created because of the structure of society, which has weak links that take things too far; it is being created because of the willful ignorance, the silence, the desire not to be seen as a collaborator, the defense against an attack, as if those who thought so suffered from battered-spouse syndrome, the justified anger over the unjust acts of the authorities, and many other forces operating on the ground.
It is being created because the silent majority, fearing to be perceived as collaborators, accepts the shame that the “bad apples” are placing upon it, and ignoring the fact that it is becoming an accomplice.
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An evil discourse has taken hold of us. The root of the problem lies in the development of a discourse of “us” and “them.” The treatment of “them” creates a correlation between various subjects that are not connected to each other, yet nevertheless create an unbridgeable gap because of the power of defining others as “the bad guys.”
“The bad guys” are the Supreme Court; the bad guys are the law-enforcement authorities; the bad guys are the army commanders who are described as people who want to force religious soldiers to give up their religious observance; the bad guys are the media, of course; the bad guys are the Jewish Department of the Israel Security Agency; the bad guys are the members of the Civil Administration who live among us in settlements in Judea and Samaria; the bad guys are the State Prosecutor's Office; the bad guys are left-wing members of Knesset, and so on. From this perspective, various issues are intertwined – women and settlement, army service and social justice – in a single mosaic that nourishes the feeling of struggle. When these issues are seen as a culture war, they bubble up and rise to the surface.
The result of this paradox is shattering before our eyes. Settlement in Judea and Samaria, which is one of the wonderful things in the state of Israel, is seen today by quite a few people as a threat. Religious Zionism, which bears more of the burden of military service than its share of the population, is seen as a threat; national-religious society, which boasts excellent relations between the genders, is accused of practicing segregation; members of this group work for social justice and kindness, and are accused of caring only about the Land of Israel. Of course, the whole world can be accused of this paradox, and the claim can be made that it was conceived in evil and with deliberate intent to destroy us. That is the nature of the discourse of “us” and “them.” But we would be wise to look in the mirror.
There is no greater danger to Israeli society in general and to settlement in Judea and Samaria in particular than when this kind of discourse is allowed to lead. Settlement will not exist if it is not the extension of the entire Israeli public. It will not fulfill its purpose if it promotes disengagement – its own disengagement from the state as a whole; it will be perceived as an obstacle to peace, not something that promotes it.
The worst danger to the settlement enterprise and its great contribution to the state of Israel is collapse from within. The danger is that supporters of settlement in Judea and Samaria, even those who live there, will feel that the price of settlement is too high and that they are not willing to pay the price of this rift. We heard the first signs of this long ago, and they are only getting stronger.
So what should be done? The most important thing has to do with changing the discourse, which means understanding that the truth is not found in a single place or on a single side, but rather that every member of Israeli society possesses a single portion of it.
Changing the discourse means understanding that the other side also has opinions that it holds dear, and we need to exist as one society in a way that a society makes decisions. Changing the discourse means a profound understanding of the importance of the rule of law and the rules of disagreement, and no longer ignoring it when the rules of public behavior are broken. Changing the discourse means stopping the threats and using the ways in which policy is made. Mostly, it means stopping the silent majority from holding its tongue and creating an atmosphere in which anarchists are no longer supported.
It is not enough to change the discourse. There needs to be an unequivocal decision to accept public discourse as the only tool by which decisions are made – sometimes ones that we agree with, and sometimes not. There is no other way. Accepting public discourse means accepting the rules, strict obedience to the law and requiring that others do so, media that is truly free, an uncompromising avoidance of violence, respecting civil servants, and, mostly, education. This will also enable us to make more complex assertions.
One day, Rabbi Levinger will be awarded the Israel Prize for having envisioned the settlement enterprise. One day, the pioneers who bear the security burden of Gush Dan simply by living on the mountainside will receive public recognition and appreciation. One day, the educational system will thank the settlements in Judea and Samaria for preserving the spirit of Zionism and for their contribution to Israeli society. In order to enable that day to come more quickly, there must be a dramatic change in behavior. If that does not happen, the house will fall upon us all.