Thursday, July 2, 2009

In the footsteps of the Mufti - Eighty years later

In the footsteps of the Mufti - Eighty years later
July 2, 2009

A few days ago I escorted a lovely woman originally from Guyana around Hebron. A writer, speaker and diplomat, this woman seemed very aware of the events taking place throughout the world, and here in Israel.

But one thing perturbed her: why were people like us, Hebron residents, and others throughout Judea and Samaria, seemingly persecuted by our own people. My explanation was very simple. "Understand, there are people who don't want us here because they believe that we are living in, and occupying, an "Arab" city, and are 'obstacles to peace.' 

These same people are convinced that we will, sooner or later, be expelled from Hebron and other communities in Judea and Samaria. However, it's not easy to decree expulsion. Such actions are quite harsh, and not easy to implement. Therefore it is necessary to prepare the public-at-large psychologically for such a possibility. The best way to do so is to vilify the future victims of expulsion, creating an atmosphere whereby it seems that 'they deserve what they get.' In other words, an attempt is being made to 'delegitimize' us, creating a scenario depicting us as 'enemies of peace,' and as such, 'opponents of the state.' That being accomplished, it is much easier to then throw us out of our homes, no questions asked, no holds barred.

An example of such deception is the most common word used to describe people living in Judea and Samaria, as well as the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights. We are all lumped together in the category of 'settler.'

Should I move to Tel Aviv, the moment by official Identity Card is stamped by the Interior Ministry, I am a 'resident' of Tel Aviv even if I've only lived there for a day. However, even after having lived in Hebron for 28 years, I am still labeled a 'settler,' a word today with negative connotations, symbolizing 'colonization'  or in the words of others, 'occupation.' Settlers' equals 'occupiers' equals 'evil'.

As world pressure on Israel seems to be mounting, initiating from Washington, D.C. and running through Paris, Madrid, London, and most other capitals of the world, a very disturbing element of delegitmization seems to be emerging. That is, the comparison of Israeli 'settlers, with terrorists.

A New York Times article authored by Ethan Bronner on June 6, [] overtly compares the Israeli right to Hamas terrorists. Bronner writes, "There are striking parallels between the hard-core opponents of a peace deal on each side." Quoting Israeli Yossi Alpher, he adds, "Look at how settlers go to wealthy Jews and evangelical Christians to raise money and how Hamas taps into a huge reservoir of Islamist money."

This, of course, ignores the fact that Hamas' stated goal is the destruction of the State of Israel, and towards that aim they have participated in murdering thousands of Jews in cold-blooded terror attacks and have launched thousands of rockets into Israeli cities. The 'Jewish Hamas' has yet to reach such stages of bloodshed and violence.

A series of articles written by Dina Kraft for JTA is titled "Special Report: Jewish Extremists." One article, headlined, "Israel wrestles with settler challenge" depicts settlers as 'rampaging,' radical,' and 'lawless.'  The article continues, quoting attorney Michael Sfard, who represents the most leftwing groups in Israel, but does not speak with anyone from Human Rights in Yesha, which represents a different point of view.

In a second article called The View from a West Bank Hilltop, Kraft, writes about residents of such communities. "Critics, including some voices within the mainstream settler movement, say they pose a violent and dangerous threat to the future of Israeli democracy." Of course, this is said without quoting anyone by name. The author also refrains from speaking to anyone who has anything positive to say about 'hilltop youth or communities.

Where does this lead to?

Two recent articles point in the same direction. Writing in HaAretz, Yair Sheleg seemingly rejects the comparison between Hamas and the Jewish right, but readily accepts that there is Jewish terror: "… I do not intend this as a justification of settler terror…It is not enough to fight terror; it is also necessary to dry up the swamp in which it breeds."  His solution is to leave Jews in Judea and Samaria following an Israeli withdrawal. "if it is possible to enable Palestinian sovereignty without uprooting 200,000 Jews from their homes, this would be the most just and moral solution of all. There is also a practical advantage: If the settlers do not accept the offer, the justice of evacuating them will increase.
Sheleg conveniently forgets one significant point, that being the security of the Jews 'morally left behind.' The article is aptly titled, "Leave the Settlers there."

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Larry Derfner, who offers a similar answer, did not forget this aspect of the issue:  "I don't think there would be a wholesale slaughter of settlers in a newly independent Palestine, because I don't think any Palestinian leadership that made peace with Israel would want to enter the international community with such a thing on its head. But I do think there would be individual acts of revenge against settlers…and if a few nut cases, a few modern-day Masada types, want to die sanctifying G-d's name or something, I'm sorry - let them."

Next month will mark the eightieth anniversary of the 1929 riots and massacre which left hundreds of Jews dead, wounded and maimed. The worst of these riots was in Hebron, where 67 were killed, seventy injured, and the survivors expelled by the then ruling British.

The 1929 massacre was the direct result of massive hateful incitement, then spewed out by the Mufti Amin el-Husseini against the Jews then living in Israel.  The day before the riots began, on Thursday, August 22, four Jews belonging to the Hagana, including Rachel Yanait, future wife of Israel's second President, visited Hebron. Warning Hebron's Jewish leadership of impending violence, they offered to leave weapons for self defense. The weapons were refused because Hebron's Jews believed that their Arab neighbors would protect them. That naivety led to the annihilation of a Jewish community thousands of years in existence.

At present, the major source of incitement is not entirely clear. On the one hand, Obama and the Europeans maintain exceedingly clear expectations; a total building freeze is only the first step. Following that, the demands to empty out Judea and Samaria will certainly follow.  That is no surprise.

What is much more troubling and problematic is the systematic effort from within Israel to demonize our own people, even to the degree that Jews do not really care if other Jews live or die.

Some months ago I met a man in Hebron who identified himself as a journalist for a publication called Yisrael Hayom. The bottom line of our conversation was his concluding remark: "I think a good settler is a dead settler." 

Sheleg, Derfner, Kraft and others seem to be walking in the footsteps of the Mufti, whose vile agitation led to the 1929 atrocities. Is this really the direction Israel is traveling in, eighty years later?

David Wilder is spokesman for the Jewish Community of Heborn

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