The term settlement in the context of the Israel/Palestine conflict refers to Israeli civilian areas which have been built on occupied land captured by Israel during the six-day war in 1967. The settlements include parts of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights.
My stance on settlements:
Before I talk about how I feel about settlements, I want to emphasize that supporting Israel, supporting the Israeli people, and supporting the Jews of the world is not the same as supporting settlements. I support the right of the Jewish people to live peacefully and securely, without threat of violence, in the land of Israel. However, I do not think Israel has any right to evict Arabs from this land; the fact that Arabs have already been forcibly evicted complicates the matter. I see the key issue here as building understanding and mutual trust between Israelis and Arabs.
In agreement with the International Court of Justice and United Nations, I consider the creation of the Israeli settlements to be an illegal land-grab, and I think Israel's policy of promoting settlements is one that has little integrity. I also see the settlements as one of the largest barriers to the Israel-Palestine peace process, the second-largest barrier after economic factors. The seizing of this territory and systematic shutting out of the Arab people who previously lived there is dangerously close to ethnic cleansing. It seems particularly saddening and ironic that Israel, a nation of Jews, who themselves have been the victims of some of the most atrocious episodes of ethnic cleansing and genocide in world history, would undertake an action that moves even a small amount in this direction.
Not all Jews support settlements:
I want to emphasize that not all Israelis and not all Jews support settlements. Israeli politics are much more complex than most foreigners realize. In Israel, one of the main forces behind the settlements have historically been the right-wing Likud party and the prior parties that led to its formation in 1973. But numerous people within Likud have taken a more critical stance on settlements; Ariel Sharon rose to power as a member of Likud, but broke off in 2005 with a segment of people to form Kadima, a party which supported a disengagement plan from some settlementts. A number of more moderate and liberal parties have always opposed settlements.
The picture is similar in the Jewish diaspora. A 2009 J-street poll found that 60% of American Jews by and large oppose settlement expansion, with 28% saying they "strongly oppose" the expansion, and 72% of Jews who are active political donors oppose settlement expansion. Some Jews, represented by groups such as Jews Not Zionists and Neuteri Karta even go farther and completely oppose the Zionist movement, the movement to establish a modern Jewish state which has been realized in the current incarnation of Israel.
Propaganda Equating Support for Israel with Support for Settlements:
I am disturbed by the propaganda surrounding settlements, mostly originating from the most extreme segments within the Zionist movement. American Jews in particular have been raised in an environment where the pro-settlement views of Israeli hardliners (a small but powerful minority of Israeli citizens) have been aggressively pushed on them. The hardliners have advanced the erroneous idea of equating support for Israel with support for settlements. People who oppose settlements or take any view other than the hardliners' view are labelled as anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic. This line of reasoning is highly irrational, and creates unnecessary hostility and fragmentation within the Jewish community. Many of my friends have left or shied away from local chapters of Hillel on college campuses for these reasons.
The hardliners have been so successful at advancing their propaganda that they have even defined and shaped the language surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict. The fact that we refer to these areas as "settlements" is a case in point: this word is a euphemism that does not adequately describe what actually happened in these areas. The word "settlement" implies settling in an uninhabited area, but many of these areas were occupied by people who were displaced in or following the six-day war. A 2004 BBC Article, Right of Return, estimates 300,000 palestinians were displaced from the West Bank and Gaza strip.
What to do about (and with) the Israeli settlements?
Solving the problem of settlements, however, is not straightforward. Moving Israelis out of the settlements would involve evicting civilians who have lived in that area for years. And merely removing the settlements will do little to alleviate the underlying economic and social tensions fueling the Israel-Palestine conflict. The problem is further compounded by the fact that the settlements have attracted hardliners and those with extreme Zionist viewpoints as residents, and many of these people protest and refuse to cooperate whenever the Israeli government forces them to leave. My stance on settlements is as follows:
- From a U.S. perspective, pressure Israel to enact a complete and immediate halt to all building and expansion in occupied territories. Make all financial and military aid to Israel depend on Israel agreeing to a complete halt to settlement expansion. I would fall short of advocating for trade sanctions or U.S. military action against Israel, however, as this could escalate the conflict.
- Support a voluntary movement in Israel to vacate the settlements and boycott all businesses and institutions located there or investing there.
- Work to alleviate the disparities in prosperity and economic opportunity between Israel and Palestine, as well as softening the borders, and encouraging more flow of people, culture, and business activity across the border. If the border were more fluid, the exact ownership or status of specific pieces of land would become less relevant. Strong personal and business relationships could help to alleviate deep-seated tension and provide a strong basis for cooperation and forgiveness moving forward.
- In the dialogue surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict, encourage all involved parties to embrace a respect for all human beings, including those who are committing evil or destructive acts which hinder the peace process. The Israel-Palestine conflict is fueled by irrational, deep-seated hatred, which can only be overcome by embracing love and respect as fundamental values.
Do I support a two-state solution or a one-state solution? Personally, I think this is irrelevant. I can see the region achieving peace in many ways; however, the key is to alleviate the economic disparities and promote love, respect, and stronger bonds that ultimately will overcome religious and national identity and strong feelings about past actions.
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