There is no better time than the first anniversary of the Itamar massacre to call for a halt to the demonization of “the settlers,” the thousands of Jews who live beyond the “Green Line” and their reduction to second-class citizenship. They are Jews who live in constant uncertainty, having no idea whether they will keep the homes for which they have worked hard and risked much. The manner in which these Israeli citizens are being portrayed is disconcerting.
It will be remembered as a seminal case in the history of blood libels.
These citizens have been called “leeches,” “snakes,” “vicious,” “primitives,” “medieval,” “obscurantists,” “corrupt” and “parasites.” They are the target for the arrows of Israel haters, both domestic and foreign.
The media paint them as being separate from Klal Yisrael. Their villages are branded “illegal” and in the end they find that they themselves have become “illegal beings.” Pariahs. Vilified as a needless burdens on the defense budget. They have been chosen as Israel’s scapegoats, the ever-guilty, the Jewish state’s Jews.
Their houses have been demolished, their children traumatized, their businesses ruined. They have been portrayed as those who take advantage of all those benefits the government threw at them: low taxes and subsidized housing. Their human and democratic rights are often trampled underfoot and disregarded. Their lives have been condemned to be reversible. A sinister equivalence has been created between their caravans in the wilderness and suicide bombers and has turned their houses into something even more urgent to dismantle than the Iranian bomb.
THEY ARE the Israelis who choose their place of residence by what’s best for the country, rather than where it’s more comfortable or stylish to live.
They are normal people, just persevering and tough, who see themselves as part of a work in progress: Israel. Their lives are a living statement: this is home and for this land we are ready to fight and lay down our lives.
Whether in agriculture or industry, education or social services, their commitment is not just to themselves but to the land and people of Israel.
They have lovely faces, glowing with solidarity and community spirit, and make the most daring soldiers in the army, just like the left-wing youth from the kibbutzim used to. The memory of friends and relatives who paid with their lives is almost everywhere around their towns. The hilltop teenagers, with their long hair flying in the wind, their yarmulkes askew, and their fringes peeking out from under faded T-shirts, are instilled with ideals that their government ministers can only envy.
People in the West ignore the amount of blood spilled in their communities.
Overwhelmingly, the Western media and intellectuals ignored and downplayed the terrorist atrocities suffered by the “settlers.” They are like the early pioneers who drained the swamps and fought malaria as they built the foundations of Israel’s land. They are the builders.
Mordechai and Shalom Lapid, who literally gave their lives to build Kiryat Arba and Elon Moreh, are like the four families who in 1891 made their way from Russia to take home in Hadera.
Their bodies served as Israel’s frontline, like in 1948, when the heroic resistance of isolated settlements – Mishmar Ha’emek, Ramat Yohanan, Negba and Yad Mordechai – held back the invading Arab armies from attacking the heartland of the newly formed and beleaguered Jewish state.
They achieved agricultural breakthroughs by planting tomatoes in the sands of Gush Katif. They endanger their lives traveling to work or going to the dentist. On the Golan, they keep the roads open and the children of the Jordan Valley out of bomb shelters.
What other word is there for people who have lived where most Israelis even fear to tread, not only with little recognition, but increasing vilification from part of their own society? They arouse hostility for the same reasons Jews throughout history have been reviled – an unwillingness to compromise on issues of Jewish principle.
I know a settler woman who lives in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighborhood, which became a round-the-clock target of shooting and sniper fire. She and her husband have six children.
He is studying to become a rabbi and he is a caretaker of the historic graves of Ruth and Yishai which lie next to his home. His wife is studying about children with disabilities. This stubborn woman, like Ruth Fogel of Itamar, is a living, wonderful reminder to the world of what a Jew is.
The writer is the author of The Untold Story of Israel’s Victims of Terrorism.
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