December 13, 2011
A Rude Beast in the West Bank
The headlines are reporting another sighting of the rude beast that is slouching toward Bethlehem, to borrow yet again the often-borrowed words of Yeats.
When Ehud Barak, foreign minister of Israel, issued a public denouncement of “a string of violent attacks by criminal groups of extremists,” he was referring to the radical settlers who attacked an IDF base in the West Bank, occupied an abandoned army post on the border with Jordan, and injured an IDF commander by throwing a brick at him.
These outrages against the IDF will not be surprising to readers of Gershom Gorenberg’s provocative but important new book, “The Unmaking of Israel,” which I reviewed here not long ago. Indeed, the latest incidents validate his warning about the danger that the settler movement poses to the survival of Israel’s democracy and perhaps even to Israel itself.
Gorenberg points out that any peace agreement based on a withdrawal to the security fence that is now in place, which he calls “the unrealistic minimum” for making peace with the Palestinian Arabs, would require at least 65,000 settlers to leave the West Bank. “Any more realistic map of Israel’s borders with a Palestinian state would mean a larger evocation,” he writes. Based on Israel’s experience during the withdrawal from Gaza under Ariel Sharon, however, at least some of the West Bank settlers — and perhaps a great many of them — will refuse to go.
“The army would have to confront a young generation of settlers determined not to repeat the ‘shame’ of Gaza,” writes Gorenberg. And he wonders out loud whether the IDF, whose ranks now include a great many more officers and soldiers who were trained in yeshivot “aligned with the theological right,” will carry out an order to dismantle the outposts and remove their occupants.
“As men whose belief in the inviolable sanctity of the Whole Land of Israel climb the ladder of command,” writes Gorenberg, “possibilities loom that are worse than refusal: outright mutiny, even decisions by senior officers to deploy their units to prevent withdrawal.”
The irony of the recent attacks by Jewish settlers on Jewish soldiers is profound. After all, the most problematic settlements are the ones that require the protection of the IDF for their very existence. But Gorenberg reveals an even deeper irony. If he is right, the soldiers who came under attack included men whose sympathies lay with the attackers.
Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.