Lords of the Land, by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar, is one of the most heartbreaking books I have ever read (or, more accurately, started to read, as I am half-way through). Written in 2005 and just released in translation by Nation Books, it tells us everything Diaspora and Israeli Jews must be forced to confront about the Israeli settlement movement, including the compliance of almost every conceivable sector of Israeli society. Labor Party “doves,” both inside and outside the government are not exempted. Neither is the U.S. government or, usually by implication, mainstream American Jewry.
But while it documents the bevy of centrist and leftwing actors that either overtly allowed the settlements to grow or conciously decided to passively accept them, it touches on something even more complex and saddening: a process that took on a life of its own, a slow, sometimes barely conscious descent into utter stupidity. Here is a haunting line about settlement growth:
“Almost out of sight, out of mind, it is going on with the full cooperation of the State of Israel and its institutions, as though it were an involuntary, unconsidered movement of a body that has lost its mind.”
That’s it. They’ve nailed it.
And what they leave unsaid is even more tragic. The patient, in this case, has had periods of great lucidity. Sometimes she has been rational enough, and sane enough, to know that something drastic had to be done about the disease, and that, with an arduous regimen of medications and surgery, it might have been possible to stop this unvoluntary, unconsidered movement. For example, if Barak and Arafat had fully accepted the Clinton parameters, and both leaders had been politically powerful enough to survive, most Israelis would have been ready and willing to take the cure.
For many reasons –Israel’s dysfunctional political system, Arafat’s recalcitrance, the intifadeh, the dearth of forceful U.S. diplomacy– they didn’t get the chance. It is hard to believe they will get a better one any time soon, unless Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas and Condi Rice astonish us by making concrete progress at Annapolis.
For more on Eldar, check out a report of his talk in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem in Swords and Plougshares, an incisive blog I’ve just discovered:
The case made by Eldar was not a bleeding-heart plea for Palestinian civil rights. Rather, he demonstrated how the settlements and the apparatus associated with them are undermining the security and foundations of Israeli society and, thus, Zionism. Eldarâ€™s thesis is that the settlements are antithetical to the key tenets of the 1948 Declaration of Independence which avowed that the State of Israel is to be: Jewish, Democratic, Safe, Reaching for Peace, and Just.