The Settlements: Both Sides Now

May 4, 2004
Share:email print

An Introduction by Yehudah Mirsky

THE SETTLEMENTS. The territories. Judea and Samaria. The occupation. Eretz Yisarel Ha-Shlemah. Palestine. What do we even call this impossible thicket of passions, visions, plans, scenarios, loves, hatreds, hurts, and longings? Although the subject seems to have been exhausted, one cannot help feeling that some essential things have yet to be said. With this issue of Sh’ma we hope, vain though it sounds, to generate a little less heat and a touch more light, and help you, our readers, find your way amid the wildly misleading clichés that pass for reportage and commentary, and they are everywhere: Settlers are wild-eyed and Peace Now is wide-eyed; Settlers are Bible-toting fanatics, their opponents entirely the voice of reason; Settlers are the last true Zionists, their opponents a bunch of naïve Euro-wannabes. If only we’d been tougher, if only we’d never come at all. And on and on.

The truth, of course, is more complicated than any one perspective and is nobody’s monopoly, for better or worse. In the following pages Sh’ma tries to offer a variety of less-predictable, articulate, if unfamiliar, voices, of settlers past and present, their friends and foes, and of scholarly and journalistic observers who try to place the settlement movement within the broader development of Israeli and Jewish culture, to sometimes surprising effect.

Presenting a comprehensive view or assessment of the settlement enterprise is beyond this journal’s compass and most anyone’s understanding. One thing is for certain — nobody comes out of this entirely blameless. None of us. The settlers and their patrons have pursued their dreams with little regard for the costs to Palestinians or the Israeli public at large. Their opponents on the left have failed to convey a sense that the occupation is not only a nightmare but a tragedy, and that leaving Judea and Samaria, even if essential, has to break a Jewish heart. Many have disregarded the manifest depravity of Palestinian leadership, while others have ignored the endless humiliations and worse that the Palestinians have had to endure. The diplomatic “peace processors” have, for their part, too often proceeded as if peace could somehow all be cooked up behind closed doors and “sold” to supine publics.

We as a people will find a way out of our current morass, because there simply is no other choice. Trying to listen to each other in humility is not the whole solution, but an essential part, and its own act of faith in our future and our humanity.

As this issue goes to press, Prime Minister Sharon and President Bush have exchanged letters of understanding on unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Northern Samaria. This initiative may move forward, or share the fate of the myriad plans, initiatives, and agreements that have preceded it. But no matter what, the underlying meanings of the settlement enterprise, its human costs and achievements, its varied roles in shaping Jewish identity in our time, will abide, and still beg for understanding.

Share:email print
Related Topics:

Rabbi Yehudah Mirsky, a member of the Sh’ma Advisory Committee, served as an official in the U.S. State Department’s human rights bureau in the Clinton Administration. He now lives in Jerusalem and is a Melamed Fellow in Religion at Harvard University.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>