Settlers Embrace the De Facto Truth: Violence Pays Off


Evelyn Gordon

Israeli police clash with protesters during the evacuation of the illegal West Bank settlement outpost of Amona.

One of the most troubling elements of the violence at the settlement of Amona earlier this month was the argument that rock-throwing Jewish teens used to justify their tactics: that the Israeli "establishment" – i.e., the government, courts, media and police – has so subverted the rules of the game that normal democratic politics have become pointless, whereas violence has proven to be effective.

What makes these claims so troubling is that they contain a large element of truth.

The biggest blow to these teenagers' belief in democracy was the disengagement from Gaza, and rightly so. In a democracy, victory is supposed to be achieved by winning an election. Yet settlers twice won democratic votes against the disengagement, only to see their victory nullified by the government and Knesset.

In 2003, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon won re-election by a landslide by running against Labor's platform of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. But a year later, he adopted the very proposal he had run against, without seeking a new public mandate via either new elections or a national referendum.

Sharon did agree to a referendum among members of his own party, and pledged to abide by the results. But when disengagement opponents won another landslide victory, Sharon and other Likud Knesset members simply ignored the results and went ahead with the pullout.

Having been given such clear proof that in Israel winning votes is useless, is it surprising that these teens now consider elections a waste of time and energy? Their lack of faith in the courts is equally unsurprising.

How could they fail to scorn the double standard of an Israeli Supreme Court that piously declared that it has "no right" to overrule the government's security judgment on the disengagement, even though it harmed Gaza settlers, yet repeatedly overrules the government's security judgment on the route of the fence in order to prevent lesser injury to Palestinians? Or that authorizes draconian imprisonment for teenagers accused of blocking roads during the disengagement, yet cancels all charges against Arab Knesset Member Azmi Bishara on the spurious grounds that his praise of Hezbollah's "guerrilla war" against Israel does not amount to praising "armed struggle?"

Israel's police, by contrast, are at least impartial: They use violence against everyone in the country, Jew or Arab. That, however, is hardly a recommendation.

Then, there is the second part of the equation – that violence does pay. Here, too, the disengagement provided the ultimate proof.

Before the intifada began, the idea of unilaterally evacuating settlements without receiving anything in exchange was anathema to the entire Israeli political spectrum. Yet six years of terrorism have made unilateral evacuation so popular that Kadima is sweeping the polls on a pledge to evacuate most of the West Bank.

Israel's Arab community provides further proof. Even now, six years after the riots conducted by Arabs in the Galilee in October 2000, police treat many Arab towns as "no-go" areas due to fear of renewed riots. And while the government (justifiably) demolished illegal houses at the settlement of Amona, it would never consider demolishing the 30,444 illegal buildings (reportedly as of 2004) in Israeli Arab communities, for fear of reprisals.

When violence has paid off so handsomely for Palestinians, why wouldn't settlers think it'll work for them?

Obviously, most of these problems have better solutions than throwing rocks at police.

Direct election of Knesset members would make members more accountable to their voters, which, in turn, would make elections a better means of influencing national policy. And a different judicial appointment process would enable a spectrum of opinion on the Supreme Court, as opposed to the monolithic ideology inevitably created by the current system, in which justices effectively choose their own successors.

But these are long-term projects, which are less appealing to teenagers hungry for instant results. Nevertheless, if settler teens saw that their own community was making a serious drive to correct these systemic flaws – and that other people of goodwill were joining the effort – they might be convinced it's worth a try.

Evelyn Gordon is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.



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