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Will the settlers destroy Israel?


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Will they destroy Israel?

Issue of 2004-05-31

Posted 2004-05-24


On a late winter’s day, a slight, blue-eyed boy rode a bicycle down an empty street in the militant Jewish ghetto of Hebron, in the West Bank. Clipped to the boy’s hair was a green kipa, crocheted and oversized in the style of the settlers. A damp wind was blowing, and a bank of clouds hovered over the city, but the boy was jacketless. Scattered piles of rubble and garbage, flecked with broken glass, lined the road.

The buildings along what the Jews call King David Street and the Arabs call Martyrdom Street are tightly packed and decaying. The Jews live mainly on the east side of the street, and the Arabs live to the west. When I visited, much of the area was under curfew. The Jewish zone, where some Arabs live, is “sterile,†a soldier told me: only Arabs who hold the proper pass are allowed to enter. The soldier, a paratrooper in the Israeli Army’s Fighting Pioneer Youth Brigade, was guarding Hadassah House, a three-story building where several families of settlers live. A brigade of soldiers, coils of razor wire, and hundreds of concrete barriers stand between Hebron’s fewer than eight hundred Jewish settlers and its hundred and fifty thousand Arab residents.

Across from Hadassah House is a school for Arab girls, called Córdoba, after the once-Muslim Spanish city. On one of its doors someone had drawn a blue Star of David. On another door a yellowing bumper sticker read, “Dr. Goldstein Cures the Ills of Israel.†The reference is to Baruch Goldstein, a physician from Brooklyn, who, in 1994, killed twenty-nine Muslims when they were praying in the Tomb of the Patriarchs, just down the road. Across the closed door of a Palestinian shop someone had written, in English, “Arabs Are Sand Niggers.â€

Jewish invective is answered by Muslim insults; over another door was a hand-painted verse from the Koran, attesting to the undying perfidy of the Jews. Nearby, peeling off a wall, was a poster dedicated to a ten-month-old Jewish girl named Shalhevet Pass, who was shot through the head three years ago by a Palestinian sniper. “May God Avenge Her Blood,†it read. Pass’s father is in jail in Israel; last July, the police found eight bricks of explosives in the trunk of his car.

A group of yeshiva students appeared, walking in the direction of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a two-thousand-year-old stone palace. It sits atop the cave in which, tradition holds, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their wives are buried. It is because of the tomb that Hebron is considered a holy city. The yeshiva boys wore flannel shirts and jeans. They had the wispy beards of young men who have never shaved.

Two Arab girls, their heads covered by scarves, books clutched to their chests, left the Córdoba School, and were walking toward the yeshiva boys.

“Cunts!†one of the boys yelled, in Arabic.

“Do you let your brothers fuck you?†another one yelled. I stopped one of the students and asked why he was cursing the girls. He was red-faced, and his black hair was covered with a blue knit skullcap.

“What are you, a goy?†he asked.

The girls fled down the street, and the boys disappeared. I asked the soldier guarding Hadassah House why he hadn’t intervened. “They didn’t hurt them,†he said.

The boy on the bicycle circled toward me and asked what I was doing there. I told him that I was waiting for a woman named Anat Cohen. He said that she was his mother, and that she had just gone to the market. Then he pedalled away, toward barricades at the end of the street.

Cohen pulled up a few minutes later, in a station wagon, its windshield cracked from stone-throwing attacks. She is one of the leaders of the Hebron Jews. A short woman in her early forties, she had a taut, windburned face and muscular arms, and her fingernails were chewed and dirty. As we walked through her front door, into a stone-walled living room, I asked her how she could let her son play amid the barbed wire and soldiers and barricades, and with snipers in the hills above.

“Hebron is ours,†she said. “Why shouldn’t he play?â€

“Because he could get killed,†I said.

“There’s a bullet out there for each one of us,†she said. “But you can always die. At least his death here would sanctify God’s name.â€

Cohen and other settlers say that they are obliged to fulfill God’s command that Jews settle the land of Israel. But there are safer places to live than King David Street in Hebron. I asked Cohen how she reconciled her decision to settle here with an even greater imperative of Judaism, the saving of lives—in this case, those of her children.

She glared at me. “Hellenizersâ€â€”secular Jews—“will never understand,†she said with contempt.

Anat Cohen is known, even among Hebron’s Jews, who are some of the least placatory of all the settlers, for her ferocity. According to Army commanders, she has cursed and insulted soldiers, and assaulted Arabs. The first time we met, she told me that she was a soldier of God.

Cohen has about ten children—like certain religious Jews, she refused to specify the number, in order to confuse the evil eye. The Cohen house is cramped and dark, and there are few toys. On one wall hangs a framed photograph of Meir Kahane, the zealot rabbi from Brooklyn, who advocated the expulsion of all Arabs from Israel. Behind a stone pillar hangs a photograph of Baruch Goldstein, with the inscription “The Saint Dr. Goldstein.†A candle burned in a makeshift shrine, in memory of Cohen’s brother, Gilad Zar. He was the security chief of the settlements in Samaria, the territory of the northern West Bank. He was killed three years ago by terrorists.

Cohen’s one-year-old son, who is named after her late brother, burst into the room, spilling Cheerios. Cohen swept him off the floor, and said, “You don’t live just to keep living. That’s not the point of life.â€

In an earlier conversation, we had talked about Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, at God’s command; only God’s intervention saved Isaac. Cohen admired Abraham’s dedication, unabashedly. She was, I came to see, suffering from something that could be called a Moriah complex. Mt. Moriah, in Jerusalem, is the traditional site of the binding of Isaac, and symbolizes a Jew’s absolute devotion to even the most inexplicable and cruel demands of God. The First and Second Jewish Temples rose on Mt. Moriah. So, later, did the Dome of the Rock, built on the site from which, Muslims believe, Muhammad ascended to Heaven. (In Cohen’s house, there is an image of the Temple Mount in which the Dome of the Rock has been replaced by a rendering of an imagined Third Temple, which, tradition holds, will rise when the Messiah comes.) The Moriah complex is characterized by a desire to match Abraham’s devotion to God, even at the price of a child’s life.

Cohen brought up the story, from the Second Book of the Maccabees, of a God-loving mother of seven boys, partisans in the Jewish revolt against Hellenistic rule twenty-two hundred years ago. The boys were called before King Antiochus, who ordered them to eat swine, as a loyalty test. The sons refused.

“Do you know what the Greeks did to these boys?†Cohen asked. “They ripped out their tongues and boiled them alive.â€

Just before the last son was martyred, the mother gave him a message to deliver in Heaven: “Go and say to your father Abraham, ‘Thou didst bind one son to the altar, but I have bound seven altars.’â€

After the seventh son was killed, the mother threw herself off a roof. The Talmud says that, on her death, a voice was heard from Heaven, singing, “A happy mother of children.â€

One afternoon, I went to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The detachment of Border Police that day was commanded by an Ethiopian immigrant who was wearing a knit kipa. He seemed tense; Rabbi Levinger, he said, was inside. Moshe Levinger, who is in his sixties, is Hebron’s first Jewish settler, a fierce man, and a source of vexation for the Army and the police.

A flight of broad stone steps leads to the main hall of the tomb. The Muslim rulers of Hebron once banned Jews from climbing higher than the seventh step. Levinger was the first modern-day Jewish settler in Hebron, but there were Jews in Hebron before Islam was founded. In 1929, a pogrom erased the Jewish presence, when sixty-seven Jews were murdered by their Arab neighbors. The British, then in charge of Palestine, removed the Jewish survivors from Hebron, for their own safety. I entered the main prayer hall. Benches that had been placed in rows in front of an Ark were mostly empty. Elderly men prayed alone. Underneath the stone floor, in the double-chambered Cave of the Machpelah, the bones of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs are said to rest. According to Genesis, Abraham bought the cave as a burial place for his wife, Sarah. It was his first, fateful purchase of land in Canaan.

Rabbi Levinger approached. For many years, he has been the face of the settlement movement, which is no favor; his head is small, but his eyes are bulbous and his teeth outsized. His voice is deep, and his beard seems constructed of iron shavings. I said hello. He grunted a reply.

I told him that the police seemed uneasy about his presence in the tomb, and I asked whether they were worried that he would lash out at the Palestinians.

“The Arabs know to behave like good boys around us,†he said.

Levinger first came to Hebron in 1968, after Israel seized the West Bank in the Six-Day War. He rented rooms in an Arab hotel, in order to hold a Passover Seder. Then he refused to leave. He struck a deal with the Israeli government, and moved his family and his followers to a hill just northeast of Hebron, where, with the state’s coöperation, they built the settlement called Kiryat Arba. There are now seven thousand settlers there. In 1979, his wife, Miriam, led a group of settler women in an unruly takeover of the Hadassah House building. The squatters stayed, and a community grew up around them.

In 1988, Levinger killed a Palestinian shoe-store owner in Hebron. Levinger told the police that he was defending himself from a group of stone throwers. He served thirteen weeks in an Israeli jail for the killing. He told me once, “I’m not happy when any living creature dies—an Arab, a fly, a donkey.â€

In the Israel he envisaged, Levinger said, Arabs would be allowed to stay only so long as they “behave themselves. Foreign residentsâ€â€”Levinger’s designation for Arabs—“will be allowed to stay in Israel if they follow our laws and don’t demand privileges.†He added that they might vote “for mayors and such†but not for Prime Minister. He did not believe that the Arabs would acquiesce to such an arrangement, and that is why he advocated “transferâ€â€”a euphemism for mass expulsion. “Whoever hurts Jews will be expelled,†he said.

I had first met Levinger last year, at his small apartment in Hebron, and I had asked him to help me understand the scriptural basis for his claim to the city, and to all of the Biblical land of Israel. He reached into a bookshelf and brought down the Torah, the five books of Moses, and opened it to Genesis.

“I will read you a verse,†he said. “‘Now the Lord said to Abraham, get out of the country, and from the kindred, and from the father’s house, to the land that I will show you, I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing, and I will bless them that bless you, and curse them that curse you.’â€

Levinger looked up. “Shall I read more?

“All my ideas are formed from the Torah,†he went on. “It’s not complex. This land is ours. God gave it to us. We’re the owners of the land.â€

In June, 1967, Israel launched successful preëmptive strikes against Egypt and Syria, which had been jointly planning an invasion. When Jordan, which then occupied the West Bank, entered the war on the side of the Syrians and the Egyptians, Israel defeated it as well, seizing the Old City of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel’s victory also left it in control of the Golan Heights, Gaza, and the Sinai Peninsula (which was returned to Egypt in 1982). Thirty-seven years later, there are roughly two hundred and thirty-five thousand settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. There are an additional hundred and eighty thousand Israelis living on land in eastern Jerusalem, captured in the 1967 war. Israel’s Jewish population is about five million; more than a million Israeli citizens are Arab. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are home to more than three and a half million additional Arabs, who do not hold Israeli citizenship.

Perhaps three-quarters of the Jews in the West Bank and Gaza could be considered economic settlers. Many of them moved to the West Bank for benefits unattainable inside the pre-1967 borders of Israel: space, tax breaks, and mountain air. They are reliable supporters of right-wing parties, but many of them are secular in their outlook.

The remainder of the settlers, fifty thousand or so, came to the territories for reasons of faith. Although many of the settlements are near the Green Line, the 1949 armistice line that separated Israel from the West Bank, the national-religious settlements tend to be isolated from Israel and from each other. Many of them are along Route 60, the main north-south highway that runs near the mountain spine of the West Bank. This is the heart of the land known in the Bible as Judaea and Samaria—the part of ancient Israel most thickly crowded with sites that figure in Jewish history. It is also the part of the West Bank most densely populated by Arabs.

The national-religious camp can be divided into two main groups. The Jews of the central West Bank, in settlements such as Beit El and Ofra, are Biblical literalists, but they tend to respect the authority of the elected government in Jerusalem. If the Israeli Army evacuated such settlements—and this is not happening soon—the people might resist, but it is believed that they will not shoot.

The more unremitting settlers are the Jews living in Hebron, in Kiryat Arba, and in a chain of settlements in the mountains near Nablus, the main Arab city in the northern West Bank. The zealots include those who build “illegal†frontier outposts, which are not approved by the Israeli Cabinet, although they are protected by the Army. Most international legal authorities believe that all settlements, including those built with the permission of the Israeli government, are illegal.

The seventy-five hundred Jews of Gaza represent the absurdist wing of the settlement movement. In the Israeli mind, Gaza—a strip of land shaped like a sardine can, and running from south of Tel Aviv to the Egyptian border—is synonymous with sand dunes and refugee camps, wilting heat and the fierce anti-Semitism of the Islamic terror group Hamas, whose most fervent followers are based there. Gaza is marginal to Jewish history; its biggest moment came when Samson pulled the temple of the Philistines there down on his head. The most isolated settlers are those in Gaza. They are killed regularly by terror groups (over all, a hundred and fifty settlers have been killed); their school buses are armored, a precaution that hasn’t prevented their occasional demolition; and they require the presence of thousands of Israeli soldiers, who are also being killed in consequential numbers.

The most hard-core settlers are impatient messianists, who profess indifference, even scorn, for the state; a faith in vigilantism; and loathing for the Arabs. They are free of doubt, seeing themselves as taking orders from God, and are an unusually cohesive segment of Israeli society. Hard-core settlers and their supporters make up perhaps two per cent of the Israeli populace, but they nevertheless have driven Israeli policy in the occupied territories for much of the past thirty years.

The settlement movement has long been aided by Israel’s parliamentary system, which gives single-issue parties an inordinate say in government decisions. The movement has also been effective at placing supporters in key government ministries. And it has been helped by the doubt that many secular Israelis feel about the Palestinians’ willingness to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state—and by anger at Palestinian violence.

Many Israelis believe that evacuation of many settlements—even all of the settlements—would not satisfy the Palestinians. The Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, even while negotiating with Israel in the framework of the Oslo accords of the nineteen-nineties, never prepared his people for compromise. Palestinian schools continued to teach about the evils not only of occupation but of the very idea of Israel. Arafat refused to recognize any historical Jewish connection to Palestine, and, in the climactic negotiations at Camp David in 2000, he rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer of the entire Gaza Strip, nearly all of the West Bank, and a capital in east Jerusalem, and abandoned the talks. Many of Barak’s critics accused the Prime Minister of mishandling the negotiations and of making miserly concessions that were impossible for Arafat to accept. But the dispositive fact of Camp David is this: Barak made an offer, and Arafat walked out without making a counter-offer. Three months later, after Ariel Sharon, then the leader of the opposition Likud Party, visited the Temple Mount, surrounded by Israeli police, the Palestinians ignited the second intifada, which continues today. Sharon capitalized on the violence in 2001, defeating the compromise-minded Barak in the election for Prime Minister.

Polls have consistently shown that the majority of Israelis want the settlers to withdraw from Gaza in particular. Sharon had told me while he was campaigning, “The settlements represent the best of Israel. To abandon them would go against Jewish history and morality.†And yet, three years later, Sharon has turned against some of the settlers, and is now proposing to evacuate settlements in Gaza and the northern West Bank.

Sharon seems to have recognized—belatedly—Israel’s stark demographic future: the number of Jews and Arabs between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea will be roughly equal by the end of the decade. By 2020, the Israeli demographer Sergio Della Pergola has predicted, Jews will make up less than forty-seven per cent of the population. If a self-sustaining Palestinian state—one that is territorially contiguous within the West Bank—does not emerge, the Jews of Israel will be faced with two choices: a binational state with an Arab majority, which would be the end of the idea of Zionism, or an apartheid state, in which the Arab majority would be ruled by a Jewish minority.

A de-facto apartheid already exists in the West Bank. Inside the borders of Israel proper, Arabs and Jews are judged by the same set of laws in the same courtrooms; across the Green Line, Jews live under Israeli civil law as well, but their Arab neighbors—people who live, in some cases, just yards away—fall under a different, and substantially undemocratic, set of laws, administered by the Israeli Army. The system is neither as elaborate nor as pervasive as South African apartheid, and it is, officially, temporary. It is nevertheless a form of apartheid, because two different ethnic groups living in the same territory are judged by two separate sets of laws.

Sharon is considered to be one of the most effective fighters in Israel’s history (he is certainly thought to be one of the most brutal). He came to power promising to use force in order to end Palestinian violence. But he has not succeeded. What he is proposing now is a two-pronged survival strategy: the building of a security fence separating the Arabs of the West Bank from Israel; and a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, which will remove more than a million Palestinians from Israel’s direct control. “The Palestinians have created this bloody mess,†the Vice-Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, told me recently. But, he added, “We realized long ago we would have to share this land.â€

This is not to say that Sharon and his party, the Likud, have done much to encourage negotiations. Sharon’s proposals are not anchored in any larger peace plan. At best, the proposals are half measures. The fence will not follow the Green Line; in places it will penetrate deep into the West Bank, encompassing highly populated settlement blocs. Most settlements beyond the fence will remain in place as well, as will battalions of soldiers to protect them. In Gaza, Israel will still control the borders, the coastal waters, and the airspace, making it, in essence, a recalcitrant protectorate.

Modest though these measures seem to many Israelis (they are seen as comically parsimonious by most Palestinians), to the settlement movement they are a betrayal. The borders of Israel, in the view of Jewish religious nationalists, are drawn by God, and one does not negotiate with God. So the settlers have, golem-like, risen against one of their creators, and pledged to stop any attempt—including Sharon’s provisional attempt—to disentangle Jews and Arabs. The settlers reject the idea of a demographic crisis. They still see themselves as Sharon once saw them—as the avant-garde of Zionism, heirs to the pioneers of the early twentieth century who restored the Jews to Palestine. But, should they somehow prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state, they may well be the vanguard of Israel’s demise as a Jewish democracy.

They are, for the moment, prevailing. Earlier this month, the settlers humiliated Sharon, organizing the defeat, in a Likud Party referendum, of a plan to evacuate seventeen settlements in the Gaza Strip. Sharon has promised to pursue some version of his evacuation plan, but this pursuit might cause his coalition government to break apart.

The harshest critic of the settlers in the government is Tommy Lapid, the justice minister. He heads the Shinui Party, which argues for the separation of synagogue and state and is a member of Sharon’s ruling coalition. He told me recently that the settlers have three reasons for hope: “They believe there will come a point in the critical clash between us and the Palestinians when it would come time to transfer the Palestinians to Jordan; the second thing they hope for is the great American aliyah—a million more Jews coming to Israel. The third, and by far the most stupid, thing is that they believe God will help them.â€

Indeed, some of the leading ideologues of the settlements, far from supporting the idea of a Jewish democracy, hope to establish a Jewish theocracy in Israel, ruled by a Sanhedrin and governed by Jewish law. Moshe Feiglin, a Likud activist who lives in a West Bank settlement and heads the Jewish Leadership bloc within the Party—he controls nearly a hundred and fifty of the Likud central committee’s three thousand members—believes that the Bible, interpreted literally, should form the basis of Israel’s legal system. “Why should non-Jews have a say in the policy of a Jewish state?†Feiglin said to me. “For two thousand years, Jews dreamed of a Jewish state, not a democratic state. Democracy should serve the values of the state, not destroy them.†In any case, Feiglin said, “You can’t teach a monkey to speak and you can’t teach an Arab to be democratic. You’re dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers. Muhammad, their prophet, was a robber and a killer and a liar. The Arab destroys everything he touches.â€

The community of Yitzhar, in the mountains near Nablus, is one of the flagship settlements of the zealots. I went there one day in search of Yehuda Liebman, an official of the Joseph Still Lives Yeshiva. Until the second intifada, the yeshiva had been situated next to the tomb that many Jews believe holds the remains of Joseph, the son of Jacob, in Nablus. During the Oslo peace process, which ended the first intifada, Yasir Arafat promised Israel that the Palestinian Authority would protect Jewish holy sites that came under its control, but the Joseph’s Tomb compound was torched and vandalized by Palestinian militias a number of times, and the yeshiva moved to Yitzhar.

I was told that I could find Liebman at an outpost down a gravel road from the main settlement. The outpost, called Yitzhar Lookout, consisted of two mobile homes and a temporary synagogue. The buildings sat on a gently sloping hill. Halfway down were olive trees that belong to the neighboring Arab villages of Ein-Abus and Burin. Settlers from Yitzhar have repeatedly attacked these olive trees. When I visited, the branches of trees just below the outpost looked as though they had recently been sawed off. A Palestinian farmer named Ibrahim Muhammad Zaban had told me that he no longer brought his children to help during the olive harvest. “The settlers come and they curse at us and attack us. They beat up a man with a metal pipe.†The settlers, he said, stole the olives, then burned the trees. “These trees were for my sons,†he said. His children had lost their inheritance, and he had lost his livelihood. “I have to work in another man’s fields now,†he said.

As I looked for Liebman, I came across David Dudkevitch, a rabbi in Yitzhar. Dudkevitch, a sour-faced man in his thirties who was dressed in a black suit and a white shirt, is a person of influence among yet another type of radical settler, the “hilltop youthâ€â€”teen-agers and young men who have built makeshift settlements, sometimes out of nothing more than rusting shipping containers, on remote mountaintops. They are seen as troublemakers by the Israeli Army and the Palestinians, but some settlers consider them heroic. Many of the hilltop youth are unruly high-school dropouts who are fluent in the mystical concepts of the Kabbalah and are adept in marksmanship. They also have a reputation for marijuana use.

I asked Dudkevitch whether the youth of Yitzhar were cutting down the Arabs’ olive trees.

“I’m not hearing you,†he replied. I asked again. “I’m not hearing what you’re saying. You don’t understand me. I’m not hearing and I will continue not to hear.†Then he walked away.

Liebman was outside one of the ramshackle trailers, talking on a cell phone. He is a thin and jumpy man, quick to show irritation. One of his brothers was murdered in Yitzhar six years ago by Arabs. Another brother was accused by the Shabak, the Israeli internal security agency, of being a member of a Jewish terrorist network.

I asked who was destroying the olive trees. The destruction of fruit-giving trees, even those belonging to an enemy, is considered a grave sin in Judaism. But the only subject that concerned Liebman was Joseph’s Tomb.

“What is an olive tree compared to the burial place of Joseph, the son of Jacob?†he said.

To the farmer who supports his family with the tree, I said, the tree is important.

“But the farmer is an Arab,†Liebman replied. “He shouldn’t be here at all. All this land is Jewish land. It is meant for the Jews by God Himself.â€

And if the Army comes to carry off the Jews of Yitzhar?

“Let them try,†he said.

In May, more than eight hundred Israeli soldiers and policemen attempted to dismantle the outpost. They were confronted by seven hundred settlers, who fought them for several hours. Forty-one settlers were arrested, before the outpost was torn down. After the police left, the settlers returned, and erected two new buildings.

One day a few months ago, Moshe Saperstein, who lives in Neveh Dekalim, the biggest Jewish settlement in Gaza, picked me up at the junction that marks the border between Gaza and Israel. The junction, called Kissufim, is an armored camp. Three dozen tanks and bulldozers were lined up in order to pass through the gates. The only civilians here are the settlers of the Gush Katif bloc, a string of settlements—Neveh Dekalim among them—along the beaches of southern Gaza, between the Palestinian city of Khan Younis and the Mediterranean.

Saperstein was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and came to Israel thirty-six years ago with his wife, Rachel, who is originally from Brooklyn. As a soldier in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he lost part of an arm and part of his vision in an Egyptian rocket attack. He is a heavyset man who smokes bad cigars and has perhaps the most profane mouth in Orthodox Judaism.

The road from the border to the settlement is under Israeli control—concrete pillboxes are planted intermittently along the way—but Palestinians regularly fire on the settlers’ cars. Two years ago, Saperstein was ambushed near Kissufim; Palestinian gunfire tore off two fingers of his remaining hand. He had the presence of mind to push down on the accelerator, and struck a Palestinian gunman.

As we drove, Saperstein pointed to the spot on the road where the attack had taken place. “Here’s where I tried to run over the peace-loving Muslim,†he said. Sometimes, he told me, he gets the feeling that “Ahmed is trying to kill me.†Saperstein refers to Arabs generically as “Ahmed.â€

Just before we reached the fortified entrance to the Gush Katif bloc, we passed the ramshackle Bedouin village of Muwassi. “They like to live like pigs in shit,†Saperstein said. I disagreed, vehemently, and he said, “I’m sorry, that’s politically incorrect. ‘They have a different cultural aesthetic.’ Is that what I’m supposed to say?â€

The Sapersteins came to Neveh Dekalim to retire; their children are grown, and live elsewhere in Israel. The couple’s ranch house, which overlooks the sea, would not look out of place in the Jewish neighborhoods of South Florida. The settlement is a community of dozens of whitewashed houses and sand-dune playgrounds, and it is the frequent target of Palestinian attacks. A fifty-foot wall of concrete slabs sits about five hundred yards from the Sapersteins’ house, separating the Jews from the Arabs.

Over lunch, I asked Saperstein and Rachel, who teaches English in the settlement’s girls’ school, why they had chosen a remote and dangerous settlement in Gaza rather than one of the urban settlements near Jerusalem. “We like the weather,†he said. “We never lived near the sea. And I’m here because of a religious commandment, believe it or not, as irrational as that may seem to you.†The Sapersteins see a unilateral pullout from Gaza as theological heresy and political suicide. They moved here from Jerusalem in 1997, as a protest against the Oslo peace process. “Oslo meant the abandonment of land that was meant for the Jews,†Saperstein said. “In this respect, I’m a fundamentalist. . . . Call me an extremist. I don’t care.â€

I raised the question of whether Jewish parents who place their children within range of Palestinian rockets had their priorities in order. Exasperated, Rachel said, “If I believe in holy law, that the settlement of the land of Israel is a commandment of God, and I want my children to be raised as Jews, I have to take them where they’re going to fulfill this mitzvah. I have to take my child and physically he has to settle the land with me. I can’t say I won’t do things because I don’t want him to suffer.â€

Saperstein said, “If I believed that if all the settlers disappeared tomorrow then peace and happiness would reign forever, that we could live in peace as Jews in what’s left of our homeland, then I would seriously consider picking up and going somewhere else.â€

Rachel looked at her husband.

“I wouldn’t,†she said.

Saperstein is skeptical about this scenario, however. He considers the idea that peace will come to Israel only when it cedes territory to the Arabs to be a Diaspora psychosis. “We’ve lived for so many years in exile, we’ve forgotten what it is to be a powerful and ruling people,†he said. “We have always depended on the kindness of strangers, wherever we were. The tsar, or some Polish landowner. We had to kiss ass because we couldn’t defend ourselves. Now that we have the strength to defend ourselves, we don’t know how.

“Most of this country has an exile mentality,†Saperstein went on. “Most of the population here takes the attitude that the Jews are at fault. But what have we done to provoke those poor Palestinians?â€

“Do we have to kill ourselves? Is that Jewish?†Rachel said. “You have to teach them: ‘No more. You want to do evil, you’re going to take the consequences.’ This is what America did to Germany. You finish them. Bomb the hell out of them. Just bomb the hell out of them.â€

I asked Rachel about her youth, in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.

“The blacks hit me, of course,†she said.

“She doesn’t know the difference between being hit and being hit on,†Moshe said.

“They also did that,†Rachel said.

“We were raised in a very Jewish area,†she said. “Then the blacks came in and the Jews ran. The first blacks came in and the Jews flew out of there so fast. Everybody went to Crown Heights. I don’t want to run away. I always see Jews running and running.â€

American-born settlers often recollect encounters with anti-Semitic roughnecks, and many of them see an explicit link between the Palestinians and the shvartses, a word I heard several times in interviews: the Jews were chased from Brooklyn, and they won’t be chased again.

Saperstein, too, has a story of street anti-Semitism. “I was about ten or eleven. I looked out of our window. Some yeshiva guy was walking and these two drunk Italians started pushing him, yelling at him, slapping him. He just covered himself up. One of my parents yelled out the window, ‘Police! Police!’ They went away. Then my mother said, ‘I wonder what he did to provoke that.’

“It was at that point I knew I had to come to the Jewish country and be proud. ‘Goyim used their hands. Jews used their brains’—well, that’s nothing more than a justification for weakness.â€

I suggested that he try to imagine himself in the place of a Palestinian. “You’re a Palestinian, you’re here, you have your farm, your grandparents are from here, and—â€

But Moshe interrupted me. “Stop being Jewish!†he yelled. “Stop being Jewish! Only a Jew would say, ‘Imagine yourself as a Palestinian.’ Could you imagine a Palestinian imagining himself as a Jew?â€

Neveh Dekalim is one of the settlements that Ariel Sharon has promised to shut down. What seemed to offend Saperstein most was that Arabs might one day live in his house. “I had this Ahmed in here once, doing repairs, and he said, ‘Do you know why I’m doing such good work? Because one day I’m going to live here.’ And I told him, ‘If I’m kicked out of here, I’m going to blow this place up before I let someone like you have it.’â€

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This is from 5 months ago, did it take you til now to read this ? Next

So, does not change the fact. I bet you didn't even read it. Comments (after you get the guts to read it). I know its hard to face the truth, son, but its better for you in the long run.

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So, does not change the fact. I bet you didn't even read it. Comments (after you get the guts to read it). I know its hard to face the truth, son, but its better for you in the long run.

There should be more people like Dr. Goldstein & Meir Kahane, then these vermin the "Palestinians" would be dealt with once & for all.


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