Saturday 6 December 2008

Settler Warfare

There has been a significant upsurge recently in violent incidents between the settlers in Judea and Samaria and the soldiers of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). This is a worrying trend which contains the possibility of getting out of control. The prospect of a nation's army fighting against the citizens which it is protecting, and vice versa, is indeed an extremely grave situation.

The settler community in Israel has been a significant contributor to the IDF over the years and has produced an extremely high proportion of combat soldiers and officers. In addition, the IDF has, for many years, been deployed to protect the various settler communities in Judea and Samaria and previously in Gaza. It is, therefore, ironic to witness the current rising antagonism between the two groups.

It would seem that the current round of hostilities can be traced back to the government decision to exit Gaza in the summer of 2005. This brought settler soldiers into direct conflict with their own friends, families and communities when the army was deployed to forcibly extract settlers who refused to leave Gaza. This event has left a deep scar on the relations between the settlers and the IDF and resulted in members of the settler communities being more reluctant to take up leading positions when serving in the IDF. Subsequent to the Gaza disengagement, the settlers have made a concerted effort to create new settlements around Judea and Samaria, despite the government ruling that many of these new settlements are unlawful. The decision of the settlers to ignore the government's prohibitions has forced it to deploy the army to uphold its decisions, and the rule of law. The settlers have become increasingly violent in their efforts to oppose the government's attempts to impose its rulings.

It is quite easy for me to understand the position that the settlers take against giving up on any piece of land within their vision of the Greater Land of Israel. There is much evidence to support the fact that the attempts by the Palestinians to pursue the two-state solution is simply a cynical attempt to dispossess the Jews of any land we may have. The fact remains that today's Palestinians (this term has only recently been applied to Arab residents of Gaza, Judea and Samaria) only began to lay claim to the establishment of an independent Arab country in these areas after they were conquered by Israel in the Six Day War. It would be valid to question why they were happy not to have their own country when these areas were ruled over by Egypt and Jordan, but insist upon it now that the area has been conquered by Israel. It is clear that the Arabs feel strengthened by any weakness shown by the Israeli government. It is the view of the settlers that relinquishing Judea and Samaria shows a weakness that Israel cannot afford. And if Judea and Samaria are given to a Palestinian state, how will the Israeli government respond when Tel Aviv is also demanded? Perhaps now is the time to show a strong resolve, and not later.

Whether one believes that the settler position has justification or not, there is another much stronger principle at play here. This principle is one of civil obedience in a democratic society. The time for the settlers to make their point is during a general election. Once a duly elected government makes a decision which is consistent with the rights and obligations of a democratic regime, it is the obligation of the citizens to abide by this decision. Violence against the government's army, which has been deployed to uphold its decisions and the rule of law, is not an acceptable response. This is tantamount to a declaration of civil war. And the cynical use of the youth, girls in particular, to oppose the army so that their arrest appears to be an abuse on the part of the military is also not acceptable. The use of unacceptable tactics by the settler community should be reigned in.

The settlers are a community under siege. Once, the Israeli government strongly supported and encouraged their establishment of new settlements as part of the policy of "creating facts on the ground". After more than 60 years of ongoing conflict, it has become clear that this policy has not advanced the cause of peace at all. There are those that believe it has worked against the prospect of a lasting peace in the region. The current government has decided to reign back on the policy of settlements. This duplicitous behaviour by differing Israeli governments is understandably highly frustrating for the settlers and has left them desperate and with few options. By nature, the settlers are fighters, and this is no exception.

Their fight against the soldiers protecting the government's decisions, the same soldiers who also protect the settlers themselves, however, is misguided and should be ceased immediately. If not, the black cloud of a civil war looms large.

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