I am a settler, the archetypical Other of Israeli evil.
I am a “settler.” Because I am a settler, artists and members of the academic community – some of whom are my close friends – have decided to boycott my home. I am a settler, the archetypical Other of Israeli evil.
Otherness is the darling of people who hate. It allows people of every stripe, left, right and center, to dissociate from certain people as a dehumanized class without thought or regret, and to hate without pangs of guilt. Throughout history, Jews have played the role of Other. In the world community today, Israel itself often plays the role of Other. Now I am the Other. I am the Other because I am a “settler,” and in the eyes of some, that is what defines me.
How did I become this embodiment of all that is wrong and unjust?
When I married, I had hoped to continue to live in Jerusalem, to raise my family in the city in which I had grown up. But the Israeli Government had different ideas. By the time I married, successive Israeli Governments – left and right – had pursued a policy of discouraging young couples from purchasing homes in the major cities, and of directing them to development towns and to the Territories. It was a policy that, for example, made it necessary for a young couple to put up as much as 60 percent of the purchase price of an apartment in cash in order to qualify for a mortgage or other housing loans, while providing free land and subsidized housing assistance of 85 percent and more of the cost of a home in “areas of national priority.”
My wife and I did not want to live in an area of national priority. We didn’t want to leave Jerusalem. But after moving from one rented flat to another four times in five years, I wrote to the Minister of Housing. He replied. He advised me that generous incentives were available to those who moved to rural communities and to the Territories.
Like many in our situation, we began to look. We found a small community near the Green Line, overlooking Ben-Gurion Airport – a settlement “in the national consensus.” It was a community that had been built after the Government had convinced the Supreme Court that it was absolutely needed to serve vital interests of national security.
Despite the high-sounding pronouncements of the politically correct, greater legal minds than Oded Kotler, Zeev Sternhell, Cynthia Nixon and Mandy Patinkin (among them, the Israeli Supreme Court and the legal advisors of the U.S. Department of State and of the United Nations) had determined that there was nothing illegal about building my home. And even after the Government of the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin announced a policy of “drying up” the settlements, my community continued to receive preferential loans, grants and generous incentives from his Government.
But things have changed. Negotiations for the establishment of a Palestinian state have turned me and my neighbors into political pawns. The security barrier now separates us physically from the State of Israel. The two policies have contributed to rendering my home a valueless asset, an economic trap – a prison. Yet, no Israeli government, left, right or center, has been willing to state what will become of me or of my neighbors.
Like most settlers, I am a Zionist. I believe that settling the Land of Israel is about national self-determination. I believe – in true Zionist tradition – that Zionism is about Jewish national sovereignty in the Jewish homeland, not about its specific borders. I believe that the so-called “settler leaders” who declare their determination to remain in their communities even if they become part of a Palestinian state, represent a misguided minority that puts the Land of Israel before Jewish sovereignty. Their messianic view is not Zionism at all. It is a betrayal of Zionism.
A Zionist, by virtue of his ideals, must say that if the duly elected Government of the State of Israel has decided that a particular piece of territory is to be relinquished to another sovereign, or that a particular community does not serve the national interest, then he will move to a place where the Jewish national interest will be realized. The opposite statement is anti-Zionist.
Nevertheless, I am now dismissed as an irredeemable Other – unworthy of education, of culture and of support. I am condemned for my choices by those who have robbed me of choice. The signatories of the various petitions and supporters of the boycotts might bear in mind why I have become the object of their anger, hate and condemnation. It is because, like them, I dreamt and continue to dream of a better Israel. It is because, by and large, we value the same ideals. So, when they accuse me, they should bear in mind that I am guilty only by association with them.
Avinoam Sharon is a retired IDF lieutenant colonel, a lawyer and a resident of Nili.
First appeared in Haaretz.com