Last week I participated as a speaker in a seminar sponsored by a right-wing organization (The Home) which supports Israeli sovereignty over all of the Land of Israel – from the river to the sea. On the panel with me and in the audience, there were many Israeli settlers. Sitting next to me on the panel was a settler from Itamar, known for a history of violence against Palestinians.
It is not a usual occurrence for people like me and people like them with such discrepant views to debate in public in a civilized way on the critical issues concerning Israel’s present and future. The organizer of the event apologetically thanked me for participating, knowing that I was entering the “lion’s den,” being the only “leftist” on the panel, and stating that I would be a very small minority. I assured him that I am very used to being a minority in present-day Israel.
One of the settler speakers said, “They have roads because us, they have hospitals because of us, look at all of their building of homes and new shops – all because of us!” Another panelist said, in contradiction, but basically agreeing with the thesis that without the Jews the Palestinians would have nothing – “The Palestinians are so corrupt with their corrupt criminal Palestinian Authority. Where are all of the billions that they stole from the international community? They have nothing to show for it because they are crooks who support terrorism”.
For me listening, not only was I amazed at their prejudices and their ignorance (I really shouldn’t be amazed, I have heard it many times before), but it was clear that these people, who live right next to the Palestinians, have no idea about what is going on in Palestine. They have not seen the economic developments over the years, the existence of a Palestinian government at the national and local level, which is struggling with the occupation but nonetheless exists and functions almost like a real state.
With all of the roads that they have, businesses, schools, hospitals, shopping centers, etc., the main, by far, obstacle to Palestinian economic development is the Israeli occupation and its strangling impact on the Palestinians. One of the settlers said that if the Palestinians would stop their terrorism, there would be 370,000 Palestinians working in Israel, bringing money home to their families.
If that is not the definition of colonialism, what is? No doubt that Palestinians would prefer to earn minimum wage in Israel of over 5,000 shekels than 2,000 shekels doing the same job in Palestine. But honestly, I have never met a young Palestinian who dreams in his youth, “When I grow up, I want to wash cars in Israel!”
The organizer of the event comes from an organization he founded that succeeds in bring settlers and Palestinians together. This is really amazing. I found that all of the Palestinians I spoke to there are major critics of the Palestinian Authority – mostly critical of the Palestinian Authority security services (the same ones that coordinate with the Israeli security services).
They are people who say that their rights have been violated by the Palestinian police or Palestinian intelligence services, and they praise Israeli democracy in the same breath as demonizing “the Palestinian Authority and the gang of crooks who came back to Palestine with Arafat.” This is also not new to me; I have heard it before, and critique of the lack of democracy in Palestine is something that I share, as well where the PA president is serving his 13th year of a four-year term and parliamentary elections have not been held since 2006.
None of the Palestinians who are members of this organization have apparently had the in-depth talk with the founder on his plan for the future. The organizations talks a very nice talk about full equality for Palestinians in the State of Israel which will be from the river to the sea, but first, he has told me in depth and with great emotion and conviction, they must agree that Israel is a Jewish State. There may be some Palestinians who agree to this formula, but in 40 years I haven’t met one yet.
The Palestinians I know who speak about a so-called “one-state solution” describe that state (when I probe them with questions) as a Palestinian state with a Jewish minority. I am quite sure that this is not the vision of this settler-supporting organization.
The settlers, at this seminar and many others whom I know who speak about themselves being the real peacemakers, don’t realize that for almost all of the Palestinians, they represent the usurpers of their land, violent Arab-haters (which may not be true) and the true violators of Palestinian civil, human and national rights. They, in their behavior and attitudes and opinions, as expressed last week in public are the truest expression of Israeli colonialism.
I have always tried to express that the Zionist movement was not a colonialist movement because it was based on the idea of people returning to their ancestral homeland. The modern-day Israeli settlers and those who support the idea of economic peace (not political peace) are colonialists in their essence. This was proven by what I heard from these settlers who in their own words speak the same language as the 19th and 20th century European colonists in every place they settled.
Gershon Baskin is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press.