July 15, 2008

The settlements: a Labour zionist enterprise

I suppose it's yet another abuse of the language to describe zionism as a secular movement but it wasn't, at the founding of the World Zionist Organisation, a religious movement. In the absence of a humanist case for Israel, religious, together with insular "it's good for Jews", arguments have come to the fore. Also religious zionists have posed as the champions of zionism's hardest line whilst non-religious, mostly Labour, zionists have been happy and hypocritical to allow them to. I mention all this because I have just stumbled on this timely reminder by Gershon Gorenberg that just as zionism was not a religious movement at its formal inception, the expanded settlement enterprise wasn't either. I found this just now on the Occupation (Kibush) Magazine site, though it's actually from Ha'aretz.

Titled The collapse began today it should really be titled Israel's collapse begins tomorrow. Let's see:
It was one of the most important and largely forgotten milestones in the history of the state: Forty-one years ago tomorrow, on July 16, 1967, a young kibbutznik got out of his jeep at Aalleiqa, an abandoned Syrian army base on the Golan Heights, and became the first settler in the occupied territories. Only five weeks separated the end of the battles of the Six-Day War and his arrival. In the days that followed he was joined by more young people. They founded the kibbutz now known as Merom Golan, near the separation-of-forces line with Syria, not far from Quneitra.

They did not wear skullcaps and they did not speak of the imminent Redemption. Secular kibbutz members from the Upper Galilee were behind the settlement initiative. They believed that the "Syrian Heights" must remain in Israeli hands for reasons of security, and that the best way to guarantee this was by creating facts on the ground in the tradition of Labor Zionism. Their "rabbi" and teacher was Yitzhak Tabenkin, the octagenarian ideologue of the Ahdut Ha'avodah (Unity of Labor) party, who supported the vision of a Greater Israel whose borders extended far beyond those of Mandatory Palestine.

Their initiative contravened government policy. On June 19, 1967, in a secret decision, the government of Levi Eshkol offered Syria "full peace on the basis of the international border," with adjustments for Israeli security needs. Nonetheless, labor minister Yigal Allon allocated funds to the settlers from a budget earmarked for work budgets for the unemployed. The head of Israel Defense Forces' Northern Command, Gen. David Elazar, also helped the settlers, as did the Jewish Agency and the Upper Galilee Regional Council. A prologue could be written to the Talia Sasson report on the establishment of the "unauthorized" West Bank outposts that describes the settlement initiative in the Golan Heights in the summer of 1967. At the end of that summer, the cabinet approved the settlers' presence.

Thus the settlement enterprise did not begin with the confrontation between Gush Emunim and the government of Yitzhak Rabin at Sebastia in 1975, at the Park Hotel in Hebron on Passover in 1968, or even at Kfar Etzion in September 1967. It did, however, begin with the belief that settlement would determine the state's future borders, following the example of Zionist pioneers before the establishment of the state.
This piece seems to be calling into question not just the settlements beyond the 67 boundary but within them as well. That goes to the heart of the question of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. Fair play but that wouldn't be compatible with the fear that the same writer seems to be expressing when the zionist right invokes the right to return to the far more recent site of a Jewish presence in Palestine, Hebron, than the mainstream movement relies on to push its "case" for Israel. That's another story you can read here on Gershon Gorenberg's own blog.

UPDATE 01:05 16/7/2008: Deborah Maccoby says that my take on the article is wrong and that what the guy is actually saying is that the early pre-state settlements were ok but that the settlements in the territories that became occupied in 1967 is wrong. You'd better read what she says because I think she must be right but I also think that it's not just me that's confused. I think that Mr Gorenberg is confused as well but please look at Deborah's comment. and the southjerusalem.com blog.

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