Monday, June 05, 2006

Energy and Emotions in Etzion

I’m the sort of person who likes doing fun and interesting stuff, but often ends up staying at home watching videos. So when last week, a friend from LSE suggested we do a tiyul and field trip to the Etzion bloc and settlements further to the East, and that he was doing all the organizing, it was an offer too good to refuse.

Gush Etzion area comprises in total approximately 44,000 Jews and 18,000 Palestinians and the western half of it is generally seen to be in the Israeli consensus (if there is such a thing) of what will remain part of Israel in a future peace deal.

We started at Kibbutzim Rosh Tzurim and Kfar Etzion, visited Bat Ayin (and its smaller offshoot Bat Ayin Bet and outpost of one family, Old Masuot Yitzchak) stopped in Efrat for some pizza, continued east past Palestinian villages to reach Tekoa (whose Rabbi Menachem Froman has stated he is prepared to become a Palestinian citizen in a future Palestinian state and met with Arafat many times), Nokdim (where Avigdor Lieberman lives) and then on to the Ma’aleh Rechavam outpost, named after the former transport minister Rechavam Ze’evi who was murdered by the PLFP in 2001.

On our way back to Jerusalem (a potentially 7 min drive from Nokdim) we stopped at Neveh Daniel (and Neveh Daniel North also known as Sde Boaz, the highest point in Gush Etzion)

I have to admit to not being a fan of settlements.

I believe the Jewish people have a right to all the land, both for religious, historical and cultural reasons.

But at the end of the day, if we want a two state solution between the river and the sea that doesn’t involve transferring millions of Palestinians out of their homes, many settlements will have to be evacuated.

And whilst I won’t pretend to be one of those who since 1967 warned of the danger of settlements and definitely used to be more ‘right wing’ than I am now, I have come round to the opinion that doubling the Jewish population over the Green Line during the Oslo years, or building settlements painfully near Palestinian population centers under Begin and Shamir was a mistake of potentially cataclysmic proportions.

And the day the settlements make a viable Palestinian state impossible, is the day that Zionism enters a very dangerous new stage in trying to maintain its Jewish democratic character.

However, whilst these settlements may be potential ‘obstacles’ to peace, they’re damned beautiful…

Sde Boaz by Neveh Daniel is environmentally friendly; it’s a mixed religious and secular community; it was built by Avoda Ivri, (Jewish labor) instead of relying on cheap Palestinian, Thai or Romanian workers; it grows wheat, chickpeas, chard and beets and olive and fruit orchards surround the community. On a clear day you can see the Mediterranean and the dead sea.

When we arrived at Ma’aleh Rehavam meanwhile, five young people were planting trees.

The air was clear, it had a feeling of pioneering, of naivety, of romanticism, of imagining that this is actually where Avraham walked on his way to the binding of Yitzchak;

Like here were people living by their ideals, for a purpose they believed in, who had given up the big lights of the city to create a community they could be proud of.

And strange as it was for two centre-left international relations graduates to imagine, the outposts were strangely attractive, enticing, a hark back to early chalutzim that we so admire.

And this is where everything turns on its head – because for years Zionism was about building, planting, establishing – and where the last settlement was would be where the border would run.

And in this sense, these young people are carrying on the Zionist dream and ethos more than any of us…

Yet somewhere along the line, this essence of Zionist became its mortal enemy – and the more we build and plant and establish, the less chance we have for saving what we all came here to help strengthen – a Jewish democratic state.

Somewhere along the line, a Palestinian state moved from being an existential threat to the only solution to Zionism. And in addition to the atmosphere of serenity, purity and ideology in parts of the ‘territories’ there has slowly spread an increasing lawlessness, hatred for non Jews and ambivalence towards the democratic government and its law enforcers…

And as the sun set behind us I couldn’t help thinking about the
hundreds of millions of dollars, and the hours, days and years of energy that people have spent creating an enterprise that ultimately will be destroyed (which will most likely also cost billions of dollars.)

And whilst we'd all be better off harnessing some of these young peoples’ energy and idealism in what is becoming increasingly like a cynical post zionist state, I question whether in retrospect it may have been wiser and less soul destroying to build such ideologically oriented places such as Ma’aleh Rehavam and Sde Boaz 20 km further south in the Negev rather than in the Judean hills, on land that will probably become part of a Palestinian state.


Anonymous said...

"on land that the Palestinians also claim for their state."

By this reckoning I better get to the Golan soon and have another look bcos the Syrians "claim" it for their state.

I should probably leave Jerusalem and the rest of Israel bcos Hamas "claim" it for their state.

A nice piece matey, let down by liberal left wing passivity.

We are in a war here my friend...

As Winston Churchill said in 1940 "Wars are not won by evacuations."


P.S. Noomans blog is much better than this leftwing claptrap...

Calev said...


1. Nooman wishes his blog could be left wing (Giggsy can play on either wing)

2. You are right about the last sentence which i 'refined' since your post. Yet its not just that the Palestinians claim the Judean hills for a state - its that they claim it, the international community back them up, and we can probably guess that it will end up as part of a Palestinian state (as will most other places to the east of the fence.) So why when there are so many problems in Israeli society, and so many issues that ideological people such as those who live in Maaleh Rechavam could help solve, are they spending their energy on an enterprise that will end up being destroyed?

And at the end of the day, just because we have a 'right' to live in places doesnt mean its in our interests...

And why when the government classes these outposts as illegal and is committed to taking them, is it providing them with electricity and paved roads?

bring on the debate!

Anonymous said...

"You are right about the last sentence which i 'refined' since your post."

It seems to me that has ended the debate rather than started it.

Which is a shame because your blog needed a few more comments...

David P said...

"you can't go wrong with a bit of counting crows"...

omg have i taught you nothing?

Calev said...


a. i am not actually sure you have taught me anything.

b. for someone supposedly holding down 3 jobs, you have a lot of time to check out profiles on other people's blogs...

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that simply because the Negev has now been deems vogue and mainstream you forget that the Bedoine there are just as alarmed at Jews settling there as the Arabs of Judea and Samaria are. The only differencew is that the Bedoine have not yet embarked on a campaign of murder and even serve in the IDF. All this Negev talk is basically saying, lets abandon the hostile border and create a new hostile region in the south.

-a Sde Boazian

Calev said...

Dear Sde Boazian

firstly, its nice that my blog is being checked by people who i assume are outside my group email list. Secondly your community is very beautiful - i wish you well to live in it for many years to come.

On to your comments, i happen to think there is a world of difference between Bedouin who serve in the IDF (and are Israeli citizens) and Palestinians (or Arabs of Judea and Samaria as you prefer) who have embarked on a campaign of murder.
But its not about the negev being in vogue and mainstream (how i wish that were the case), its about it being in the State of Israel. And whatever the rights Jewish people feel they have over the Land of Israel, the land is going to be partitioned, and the parameters are more or less clear to most people (and it doesnt include outposts are communities that are far east of the Green Line), and if we have to decide where to build and spent money and energy, it would probably be better to do it in a place that will always remain as part of the State of Israel, and not a place that will one day become part of a Palestinian state.

Wishing you all the best