I realized after talking to some friends about a piece I wrote the other day about picking up a Jewish-Israeli hitch hiker on Shuhada Street in Hebron, that I need to clarify some things about what I wrote.
Being a settler does not make you less moral. Not being a settler does not mean you are more moral. Categorizing people in this way is to try and make an extremely complex situation simple.
My discomfort, rather, in picking up the hitch-hiker was not that she was a settler from Hebron, but that I chose to pick her up in H2, on a street closed to Palestinians, after being invited there by Palestinians to work in partnership to resist the occupation.
She, however, was about 20 years old. Can I blame her for growing up in Hebron? Of course not. Is the occupation of Hebron her fault? No. Is it her responsibility to end it? Absolutely, but not anymore than it is mine or that of other Israeli Jews.
I have an issue with settlements, especially those built on Private Palestinian land, but also in a general sense, as it aids the military occupation of the West Bank and re-allocates resources from Palestinians to Jewish-Israelis, while severely limiting rights of Palestinians there. Settlements in their current form are absolutely one of the barriers currently to creating a just solution for Palestinians and Israelis.
But I also recognize the complexity of the reality we live in. I have friends who grew up in settlements and others who have moved to some since. People have different reasons for moving to the other side of the green line, but a big one is economic. Should I judge a friend who has a new baby for wanting to be able live within their means? For many people, that means calling a settlement home. I would rather they not move to a settlement, but I don’t think it inherently makes them less moral because of it.
I also know people who moved to settlements such as Ariel, because that is where the government placed them when they moved in the early 1990s from the former Soviet Union.
Should we now displace all of these people, especially those who did not choose to move there? In my opinion, no we should not. Any shared future between Israelis and Palestinians will have to deal with settlements, but it’s hard to imagine a future, just system that involves displacing all 400,000 settlers currently living in the West Bank (and that number does not involve East Jerusalem).
Yet settlements themselves are an unethical system. So is the occupation and so was/is the Nakba. They cause injustices, and we Jewish-Israelis need to take responsibility for upholding these systems that perpetuate oppression.
Even so, my experience with the Jewish-Israeli Left, of which I am a part, is that we have a tendency to blame others for the conflict. We view settlements as a barrier to peace, so we blame settlers and the right-wing for the current situation. The traditional two state solution wants to reverse time to June 4th, 1967, but the conflict did not begin there, nor did it start when settlements were founded and expanded. I would argue that it did not begin in 1948, either. There was 1936 and 1929 and millions of moments in between of tension and, at times, of partnership.
So then, why as an I activist do I mainly focus on the military occupation and on settlements if I don’t see the conflict as having started with either? Because it is a place in which people are suffering terribly right now. It’s a place in which Jews and Palestinians don’t have the same rights (in Area C of the West Bank, for example, Jews are under civilian law and Palestinians are under military law).
Movement is limited in the West Bank itself (the Jordan valley is almost completely cut off from the rest of the bank), and is restricted between the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. We can’t continue to occupy and uphold human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories at the same time.
Furthermore, I also regularly witness acts that I consider to be unethical within the West Bank. I have seen settlers hit my friends and throw rocks at Palestinians. I have seen the army confiscate a Palestinian’s truck, taking away their livelihood. Of course, individuals in all parts of the world act out violently against others, but in the oPt, the system does not punish targeted violence towards Palestinians by Jews.
It upholds it.
That is why I currently focus my activism on the occupation. And all of us within society have a responsibility to end such inhumane and unethical practices.
As my Palestinian co-worker and friend regularly says (and to which I agree), we can’t fix injustice by committing future injustices. Rather, we need to move forward together as Jews and Palestinians in a way that considers these complexities and that recognizes past injustices and current needs of the groups and individuals living here. We need to create a new system that does not inherently favor one group over another.
In order to do that, one step is ending the occupation.