Israeli settlers have a unique status in the world — a special infamy. It’s not just that governments everywhere condemn them; it’s that mainstream media throughout the world join in. That’s reality today, not just in Muslim lands and Islamist-embracing European Union states, but here in America, too. Compare our media’s treatment of Israeli settlers with that accorded Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Islamist group that held Bombay hostage in November.
LeT is not an easy group to defend. In their recruiting pitch, they don’t just promise to kill Hindus and take back Kashmir; they promise to restore Muslim supremacy to the world by conquering America and Britain and wiping out Israel. That’s why they took special pains to kill every American they could identify in Bombay hotels, and why they made an extra stop at a tiny Bombay home-away-from-home for visiting Jews, to torture and kill everyone caught there. Still, even while the slaughter was fresh, PBS star Deepak Chopra got mainstream media microphones to urge us to consider the legitimacy of at least some LeT grievances against India and against us, and to think about winning potential Islamist recruits to our side by making some concessions to them, for the sake of peace and justice.
No comparable urgings have been heard about the possible legitimacy of any settler grievances in our mainstream media for 15 years; no one argues for any concessions to them in the interest of peace, justice, or anything else — not any more. The celebrated 1993 Oslo peace process with the Palestinians brought no peace, but it did give Israeli settlers a new public identity. Under Menachem Begin — the right-wing Israeli prime minister who made a peace with Egypt that has minimized violence on that front for 30 years — settlers were national heroes, Israel’s bravest and best. Under Prime Minister Rabin and his left-wing successors — the men who brought us a 15-year peace process marked by 15 years of increasing Arab violence — Israeli settlers were re-branded as “obstacles to peace,” and the process of demonizing them began.
Here in America, we were all but unanimous in embracing Oslo. A decade and a half later, our mainstream politicians and foreign-policy mavens still are — although today they call it the Annapolis process, in honor of the latest failed Oslo-style peace process. They are just as consistent and unanimous in dismissing the settlers as so far beyond the pale that no respectable person would think about arguing their case in public. Many go farther, insisting that defeating Israeli settlers is not just an obvious necessity for peace, but a righteous cause in itself. In their increasingly heated rhetoric, Israeli settlers are a senselessly violent bunch of “extremists” and “thugs” we must all join together to crush.
Over time, many Americans on both the Right and the Left have come to more or less accept this view of Israeli settlers, and American Jews are even more committed to it than American Christians. Some 40 percent of America’s Christians are Bible-believing Evangelicals, and most of them strongly support the settlers, for secular as well as religious reasons, even though they never get to express that support in mainstream media outlets. The proportion of American Jews who support the settlers is much smaller: perhaps 15 to 20 percent, and they don’t get a mainstream microphone either.
That suits our Israeli peace partners — Israel’s deeply corrupt, incompetent, and anti-democratic leftist elite — because they hate the settlers with a passion few Americans can grasp, let alone match. For this entrenched elite, settlers are the arch-enemy — a greater threat than Palestinian terrorists and their increasingly aggressive Arab and Persian jihadi brothers in places like Lebanon, where this elite presided over Israel’s first lost war; and in exploding Gaza, where the settlers that this elite forced out have been replaced by a Hamas army that keeps a growing number of Israeli cities under rocket attack. Against all these hyperactive Islamist enemies, Israel’s far-left rulers have been extremely reluctant warriors, preferring almost any concession to battle, typically refusing to make even the barest attempt to enforce the law against ongoing Arab land-grabs, and turning an increasingly blind eye to growing Arab violence against Jews.
With Israeli settlers, Israel’s current leftist rulers go to the opposite extreme, routinely taking a hyperaggressive, hyperpunitive stance, then responding to nonviolent settler protests with the kind of brutality that would outrage most Americans if the victims were members of any other group anywhere. But, because our mainstream media is closed to the voices of the settlers and their Israeli friends, as well as those of the American Christians, Jews, and (yes) Muslims who still defend them, most Americans have heard a host of wild exaggerations and outright lies about settler violence, and nothing at all about government violence against them.
Readers can begin to break through this news blackout by clicking on this video. What you will see is the ugly reality of the soothingly benign-sounding peace process in Israel: black-clad, mounted Israeli police deliberately trampling settlers under the hooves of their horses and bringing their clubs down on the heads of determined but peaceful protestors — unarmed men and women, young and old — with enough force to open bloody cranial and facial wounds on hundreds of people. This particular video records what happened to the settlers of Amona in 2006, but to fully grasp the reality behind it, you need two additional facts.
First, the Israeli police who carried out these savage attacks on unarmed Jewish civilians are not rogue elements like the American soldiers who abused Arab prisoners at Abu Ghraib without the knowledge or consent of their superiors. These men were following orders from the highest levels of Israel’s left-wing “peace” government. Second, the events at Amona were not unique. Israel’s leftist government has had the police attack settlers in other places too. More often, they allow anti-settler vigilante groups, Jewish and Arab, to attack the settlers unmolested. Then, with the aid of the corrupt justice and court system they dominate, they jail and imprison the settlers, sometimes for long periods. Desperate, now, because polls predict they will lose big in the looming Israeli election on February 10, the current Israeli government may make a major, last-ditch effort against the settlers before it. Odds are, we won’t notice. Our eyes will be focused elsewhere, because the rocketeers of Gaza chose to mount a major escalation before the election too, making it impossible for even a “peace” government like this one to avoid a military response.
Care to move beyond caricature and calumny and take an unblinkered look at who Israeli settlers actually are, and when and why they were transformed from a widely admired little band of brave and selfless patriots into a synonym for evil and a scapegoat for the world? Read on, please. Settlers are Israeli Jews who reject the basic demand of the Palestinians: the demand that large parts of Biblical Israel be Judenrein – cleansed of any Jewish presence for all eternity. Settlers claim a right to buy land and live and work on it, anywhere in the Biblical triangle between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean, and between the Red Sea and the Golan Heights, and they act on that right by building and living in communities in places like Hebron, East Jerusalem, Gaza, and Amona.
They claim, just as fiercely, the right to preserve, defend, and keep open to Jews, Christians, and appropriately respectful others, the physical sites and structures where the founders and key followers of the two great religions of the West lived, worked, and died: places like Abraham’s tomb and Joseph’s, and the Church of the Nativity, built over the place where Jesus was born — places that Palestinian attackers have desecrated and tried to destroy in the years after Oslo. Most settlers are deeply religious people who revere these places as sacred sites, but you don’t have to be a believer to think their obliteration would be an irreparable loss to civilized people of all religions everywhere — any more than you have to be a Buddhist to mourn the destruction of the colossal, 1,500-year-old Bamiyan Buddhas by the same kind of Islamist jihadis in Afghanistan in 2001.
Most Americans who sympathize with Palestinians do so because they see them as natives, and see Israelis as newly arrived Westerners. In fact, most Israeli settlers are Mizrahi: Jews who were dispersed to a host of Middle Eastern lands after the Roman conquest of Israel 2,000 years ago, but, unlike the Ashkenazi (the Jews most Americans know), never left the Middle East. They have lived in the region for 5,000 continuous years and have long been the majority in Israel — roughly, 3 to 4 million of Israel’s 5 to 6 million Jews. Tourist brochures to the contrary notwithstanding, relatively few Mizrahi really speak English, but most are still as fluent in Arabic or Persian as they are in Hebrew, and most believe what all Israeli settlers and most American evangelicals believe about Jewish rights in Biblical Israel.
In the post-Oslo peace-seeking world we now inhabit, at least in polite society, we disapprove of all these settlers for the same essential reason we disapprove — albeit with less unanimity and ferocity — of other groups fighting for land in the region: LeT, the Taliban, the PKK, Hamas, and Hezbollah, among others. All these groups look more or less alike to us, because we see them all as obstacles to the illusory kind of peace we are pursuing. From this perspective, the stark differences that set Israeli settlers apart from the other groups are irrelevant distractions, and we ignore or deny them.
Let’s break the rules and look at two of them. First, all the other groups are terrorist groups. Israeli settlers are not a terrorist group. They are not a race of saints, and they definitely believe in self-defense, at least against Arab attackers, but they don’t condone terrorism, practice it, or lionize those who do. The record proves that very clearly. If anything, they have shown remarkable restraint. Those who say otherwise — a virtual industry on the Israeli Left — are guilty of gross bias and grosser cover-ups.
Second, the other groups have wildly expansionist territorial aims. The basic, animating idea of their various ideologies is that they and their fellows — Sunnis or Shia, Wahabi or Taliban, Arabs or Persians, Afghan or Pakistani tribesmen — are the rightful rulers of the world. That makes them a threat, not just to their immediate neighbors, but to all of us, and to any hope of stability in the world, much less anything like actual peace in the Middle East. Israeli settlers have never had any territorial ambitions beyond the small, historic homeland of the Jews, Israel’s ancient Biblical home, the Jewish state the Romans called “Palestine” — the Jordan-to-the-Mediterranean triangle that the League of Nations approved as a homeland for the Jewish people in 1922, long before our current, thoroughly hostile and corrupt U.N. existed.
With or without the blessing of the League, the U.N., or any outside body, Israeli settlers have always shown a steadfast willingness to face any danger and endure any hardship to defend their right to live, work, preserve, and build in Biblical Israel. When allowed to do so in the past, they often turned local Arab enmity into something like friendship, however temporary, creating prosperity and peace for their immediate Arab neighbors as well as themselves, as the settlers did in the gardens they created in Gaza, before Israel’s leftists forcibly evicted them in 2005, turning Gaza into the impoverished, Hamas-ruled hellhole and missile launch-pad it is now.
Settlers have demonstrated their devotion to the land of Israel in other ways too: They are overrepresented in every special unit of the Israeli military that requires uncommon skill and courage, and in all of them, they have repeatedly demonstrated both. For all these reasons and more, settlers were generally seen as heroes in much of the West — until 1993. That’s when the Israeli Left, under Rabin, decided to bring Yasser Arafat — a defeated but unrepentant Arab terrorist leader in exile in Tunisia — back to Israel to negotiate a peace deal. This deal was never anything but a taqqiya – a deception to win by undeclared war what all the Arab states failed to win in the long series of declared wars that began with U.N. recognition of a pitifully truncated Jewish state in 1948.
Oslo was a breakthrough victory for the Arabs’ undeclared war, and Israel has been losing ever since, because the plain truth — obvious to anyone who reads what Arabs say to one another, as opposed to the propaganda our media broadcast — is that neither Arafat nor any of his successors ever had any intention of making any sort of genuine peace with Israel, no matter what concessions Israel offered. Neither do any of the Arab and Persian rulers who supply the Palestinians with a steady flow of weapons with which to massacre Jews (and, also, to use against each other in Tweedledee-and-Tweedledum wars between the “good” Palestinian terrorists of Fatah and the “bad” Palestinian terrorists of Hamas). We take it for granted now that the only just and viable solution to the problem of Palestinian terrorism — in Israel, and in the many other places all over the globe where Palestinian terrorists are on the attack — is to reward them with a state of their own, a 23rd Arab state that usurps the old Roman name for Israel. But what most Palestinians really want is to drive the Jews out. Beyond that, their attachment to the land is so slight that, in a recent poll, 70 percent said that if paid to do so, they would voluntarily go elsewhere.
We forget that America never promised to give these Arabs a state of their own until 2002, when George W. Bush promised them one, if — and only if — they completely rejected terrorism, once and for all. Then we forgot the if, and decided that giving them a state without even a diminution, let alone a cessation, of terrorism was the only road to “peace in the Middle East.” That’s not peacemaking; it’s rank appeasement, and it’s what the latest, most damaging peace process of all, the Annapolis process, is all about. It’s what the current U.S. administration is trying to force down the unwilling throats of the Israeli people before it leaves office on January 20, and what the thoroughly disgraced Israeli rulers whom Israelis will vote out of office on February 10 are desperately eager to foist on them. If they succeed, and Israel’s new government allows itself to be bound by Annapolis — or anything like it — it won’t just be the end for Israel; it will be the beginning of the end for us, and for what is left of our rapidly retreating Western civilization.
Peace is a wonderful thing; all good people yearn for it. But appeasement and denial do not bring peace; they bring defeat. To win the war Islamists are waging against us, we must pursue victory, not “peace.” Our Islamist enemies everywhere understand that very well, and they see the coming victory of their Palestinian vanguard as a climactic, world-changing defeat, not just for Israel, but for us. To begin to grasp the symbolic power of that defeat, and the enormity of the boost it will give to Islamist morale and recruitment everywhere, imagine the Islamist reaction to a Western takeover of the Muslim equivalent of Israel — Mecca and Medina and the sacred sands around them. To the last man, they would fight to the death to prevent that, and they see our failure to wage an effective war as proof that we are cowards they can and will defeat completely, and soon. If we do not take off our politically correct blinders and fight back, strongly and soon, history may yet prove them right.
– Barbara Lerner is a frequent NRO contributor.