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It is generally claimed that there are between 550,000 and 600,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank of Palestine in 2014. Since the earliest days of the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the number of settlers in the West Bank has only ever increased, even during peace negotiations or even during the unilateral withdrawal by Israel of Israeli settlements in Gaza in 2005.

These settlers are generally divided into two categories: ideological and economic. The term, economic settler, refers to those settlers that have chosen to live in the West Bank because of the great economic benefits that the State Of Israel confers to such people. This group consists of some 85% of all settlers and one could postulate that the vast majority of them would not be inclined to live in the West Bank had not the state of Israel made the prospect of such a move into “enemy territory” so enticing.

The other 15% of settlers fall into the ideological category and are a vastly different group of people to deal with. Many Israelis find this group of settlers to be offensive and are often embarrassed at the violence and racism that often accompanies the behavior of these highly motivated Zionists.

The experience of my fellow EA’s of ideological settlers has completely vindicated the view of these Israelis as violent, religious, gentile hating fanatics. All of my colleagues have related that they feel a sense of dread and even fear for their safety/lives when these types of settlers arrive on the scene. Ideological settlers are possessed by a fanatic belief in their entitlement to all of the land of Palestine/Israel and they see Palestinians as a disease upon the land that must be cleansed in order to redeem the land and make way for the coming of the Messiah. Their religious zeal is centered on possessing the land rather than obeying the ethical and moral teachings of the Torah that emphasize social justice and mercy to the “alien” in the land.

My experience of ideological settlers has thankfully been limited to the stories told to us by various Palestinian farmers in the West Bank who have the misfortune of living near settlements like Gilad, near the Palestinian village of Far’arta.

One such farmer is Abu Wael, who lives in his house on a hilltop in the village of Far’ata. We visited his house a few weeks ago to hear his story and offer him some moral support. Abu Wael has had many dunams of land confiscated by the settlement of Gilad which contains some of the most extreme ideological settlers in the West Bank. He told of his many encounters with settlers coming onto his land while he has been working; threatening to kill him and his family if they did not leave the land at once. Abu Wael often called the military to come and protect him but found, like many other Palestinians, that the military seemed more intent on “protecting” these settlers rather than the people who were most powerless and vulnerable. He told us how one day his son was in the fields with him when settlers came down and started arguing with Abu Wael and his son. One of the settlers struck Abu Wael’s son, fracturing his skull. Though there were numerous witnesses to this event, no charges were ever brought against the settler and the threats of violence and intimidation continue.

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Abu Wael from the village of Far’arta

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Abu Wael’s son. Brutally beaten by settlers.

This is but one of the many incidents that we have heard from eye witnesses while in the Jayyus area. So far during our stay in the West Bank, there have been 48 recorded instances of violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians that have resulted in personal injury or damage to property according to OCHA’s weekly protection of civilians report. No arrests have been made.

With the State of Israel and the Western media very recently fixated on the actions of some 5,000 Hamas militants who are locked up in Gaza, no attention is paid to the nearly 35,000 ideological settlers who run free in the West Bank. These settler groups include people like Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 people in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, while they were praying, in 1994, in an act that triggered Hamas to engage in suicide attacks on Israeli civilians in order to try and even the score. A cold shiver goes up my spine when I see the increasing power in Israeli politics being wielded by Zionists who are seen as heroes by the ideological settler movement,

It has been overwhelmingly my experience, while here in the West Bank, that Palestinians reject this type of extremism and believe that the majority of Israelis, like them, want peace. They reject the Israeli Government stance that Hamas, with it’s so called rejection of the right of the State of Israel to exist, is a barrier to a two state solution. If a Palestinian state with ’67 borders, no settlements in the West Bank allowed and East Jerusalem as its capital, was offered by Israel, ALL Palestinians would accept it and if Hamas continued to resist such an offer, it would simply be political suicide for them as Palestinians would ignore them by the million.

I still passionately believe that peace and justice is possible in this region. We just need the will to make it happen.

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER

I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.

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Israel and Palestine: Two states, two peoples

Israel’s idea of ‘two states’ is based on expulsion of Arabs, so the Jewish character of its country is not threatened.

 By Ben White
Cambridge, United Kingdom – The slogan “two states for two peoples” has long been used by those who support the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Ironically, however, such a framework risks cementing Israeli apartheid and Jewish privilege, evoking the same sorts of arguments put forward by defenders of South Africa’s historical regime of systematic discrimination.

There are three problems with the “two states for two peoples” formulation. Firstly, the meaning of a Palestinian “state” has changed to the point that it is problematic to even use the term. Support for Palestinian statehood – at least rhetorically – has become the shared position of everyone from Tony Blair to Netanyahu, via Ariel Sharon. Some Israel advocacy groups (the slightly smarter ones) even campaign on this basis.

So what’s going on here, when someone like Netanyahu can boast to Congress how he has “publicly committed to a solution of two states for two peoples”?  Well note the wording of the Israeli government’s position when Ehud Olmert was prime minister and Tzipi Livni was foreign minister.

“The government will strive to shape the permanent borders of the state of Israel as a Jewish state, with a Jewish majority.”

In other words, the question of borders is not so much about land, as it is about demographics. Another example is Yitzhak Rabin. When Shimon Peres lauded the legacy of the assassinated prime minister in November 2011, he claimed that “[Rabin’s] diplomatic path has been accepted and is now held by the majority, a solution of two states for two peoples”.

But what did Rabin mean by this? Shortly before he was killed in 1995, the then-PM told the Knesset that he envisaged a “Palestinian entity … which is less than a state”. Rabin’s “permanent solution” included Jerusalem as Israel’s “united capital” (including the illegal settlements such as Ma’ale Adumim), annexation of colony blocs, the “establishment of blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria”, and a border “in the broadest meaning of that term” down the Jordan Valley. This is a road map to walled-in reservations, not statehood – and it’s remarkably similar to Netanyahu’s own vision.

‘The Jewish character of the state’

The second problem with the “two states for two peoples” position is what it means for those Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, for whom a solution based on ethnic separation has dark implications. This threat has been spelled out explicitly by current Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who, in a 2010 interview with Newsweek, explained his belief in “exchanging territory and populations”. The questioner clarified: “You’re talking about drawing a line so that how many Israeli Arabs will no longer be part of Israel?” Lieberman replied: “At least half.”

The problem of refugees will be solved within the Palestinian state, and there will be no right of return to the State of Israel.– Chaim Oron, former chair of Meretz

In January this year, he repeated his views, stating that “any future agreement with the Palestinians must address the matter of Israeli Arabs in the formula of territory and population exchanges“, since “any other arrangement is simply collective suicide”. While this position has support from the likes of fellow Yisrael Beiteinu minister Danny Ayalon, the now ex-Kadima MK Livni also voiced something similar. In 2008, she said her solution for maintaining a Jewish and democratic state of Israel was “to have two distinct national entities”, which would mean being “able to approach the Palestinian residents of Israel … and tell them: ‘Your national aspirations lie elsewhere‘.”

While there are dangers for Palestinians in the pre-1967 borders, the third problem with the “two states for two peoples” paradigm relates to the Palestinian refugees, for whom this kind of peace means permanent exclusion, and a seal of approval upon the expulsions of 1948.

In the words of Professor Yehuda Shenhav: “Return is not possible in two states for two peoples … That’s why anyone who wants two states for two peoples requires we forget what happened in [19]48”. The refusal to engage with the ethnic cleansing of the Nakba is found even – or perhaps especially – among so-called doves. Former chair of Meretz MK Chaim Oron once explained how “two states for two peoples” means “the problem of refugees will be solved within the Palestinian state, and there will be no right of return to the state of Israel”, adding the instructive comment: “It is in Israel’s supreme interest that the refugee problem should be solved.”

The relationship between “two states for two peoples” and Israel’s policies of apartheid and ethnic purity was highlighted in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s support for the law separating Palestinian spouses. Kadima MK Otniel Schneller praised the law for articulating “the rationale of separation between the (two) peoples and the need to maintain a Jewish majority and the (Jewish) character of the state”, adding that if the law had been rejected, “it would have undermined the central argument justifying two states for two peoples”.

There are echoes here of course with the rhetoric of apartheid South Africa’s leadership: in 1948, the National Party’s platform stated that “either we must follow the course of equality, which must eventually mean national suicide for the white race, or we must take the course of separation”. Interestingly, former president FW de Klerk noted last year on the BBC that what he “supported as a younger politician was exactly what the whole world now supports for Israel and Palestine, namely [that] separate nation states will be the solution”.

The unpleasant reality at the heart of the “two states for two peoples” – a framework based on expulsion and exclusion – has become clearer as more and more Zionists link Palestinian “statehood” with the need to “save” Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state”. In doing so, they unwittingly emphasize how only one half of that latter formulation is true.

Ben White is a freelance writer, specializing in matters pertaining to Palestine and Israel.

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