If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we should feel flattered. If imitation proves the settlers feel threatened, perhaps we should feel satisfied.
If naive websurfers believe the fake is real, maybe we should be worried. If the settlers’ record of violence repeats itself, we should be aware of the danger and be ready to defend ourselves through the law courts.
But if the issue is about the settlers having to defend themselves against the ordinary, average Israeli mainstream, well, hooray! Finally, Israelis are calling their bluff; standing up to their illegality.
It takes the gentle push of woman power, it seems, just as it took woman power to get Israel out of its 18-year Lebanon quagmire - coincidentally, an enterprise started by the architect of the settlements, Israel’s Prime Minister of Botz, Ariel Sharon.
MachsomWatch may be painted by detractors as somehow limited and “leftie,” but it is a large group (more than 400 volunteers) of very average Israeli women, citizens ranging in age from young students to aging pensioners. Some are retired officers who served in the Israeli Defence Force; others are university professors, lawyers, doctors, teachers, artists or other intellectuals. One was David Ben-Gurion’s secretary. Some happen to be unemployed, or single mothers, or shop assistants, or housewives. Many are mothers, wives, sisters or grandmothers of serving soldiers. All are united by conscience, which tells them the Occupation is the single greatest factor militating against peace, and that the checkpoints are a microcosm of that occupation, where human rights of Palestinians are all too easily trampled, and the conflict exacerbated.
We have heard too many Palestinians at the checkpoints, most of them average citizens like you or me, telling us firsthand that the checkpoints are factories for suicide bombers.
All MachsomWatchers are united by their hands-on approach, the act of leaving comfortable surroundings to see — through the ugly looking glass of Occupation — what life is like on the other side.
It’s not easy for any Israeli to see what Israel is doing to the Palestinians and ultimately, to itself. If “leftie” describes a group of concerned citizens against the rising nature of fascism and corruption in Israel, then so be it. Whether we are a fig-leaf for the IDF to prove they care about human rights, or one of the fragile strands keeping some sort of tentative peace possible, then so be it: we’re “out there.”
All this, of course, worries the settlers. These days, because the Occupation (the land grab, apartheid roads, settler/KKK behaviour, checkpoints, closures, Wall, permit system, collective punishment, Palestinian unemployment and loss of basic human rights) is basically about protecting their right to live a supremacist existence in Occupied Territory and defy or undermine any peace process, they are in a highly ambiguous situation vis-a-vis the IDF.
Many Israeli soldiers hate the settlers’ presence in places such as Hebron or Gaza, knowing their own lives are being placed on a sacrificial altar, to serve a cause in which they don’t believe.
A settler group, Women in Green, has taken to spying on MachsomWatch at checkpoints, taking cookies and Cokes to “our boys in green” or, in the Gaza settlements, doing the soldiers’ laundry. Meanwhile, on various occasions, settlers (including Daniela Weiss, lady mayor of Kedumim settlement near Nablus) have physically attacked MachsomWatch groups. Now, anonymous right-wingers have set up a tastelessly fake version of MachsomWatch’s website (substituting www.machsomwatch.com for the legitimate www.machsomwatch.org).
The fake “dot com” site purports to report on MW activities, but instead is used as a platform for ultra-right wing propaganda of a typically odious nature. Palestinian corruption is nothing new (Israel has encouraged it), but this propaganda conveniently ignores ongoing investigations of Israeli politicians - not least, right now, a cabinet minister. The focus on bus bombs conveniently ignores Israel’s 37-year brutal occupation of Palestinians and their land and water, while Gazans would say Israel’s state terror (many are nightly lullabied to sleep by endless Israeli gunfire) provokes resistance or defence.
Judging from the letters to both Ynet’s and Wallah’s reports on this activity, the settler movement is jealous of the support given by Israelis to MachsomWatch, nor does it appreciate the light of day being shined on its murky lawlessness in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
For over thirty years, the settlers have managed, highly effectively, to literally get away with murder and other thug tactics — not to mention illegal building and development — while Israeli society has preferred to think of them as merely peripheral, irrelevant, distasteful and crazy.
Baruch Goldstein’s murder of 29 men at prayer confirmed this distaste, as did the tit-for-tat Hamas bombing campaign those murders inspired. In its early days, Kiryat Arba was denounced as illegal by the Israeli government of the time, as was Maale Adumim. Even now, under the Road Map, Maale Adumim should have frozen its building programme.
Instead, the government (so cash strapped it has been unable for months to pay municipal workers all over the country) is going full steam ahead there and elsewhere with building works. Maale Adumim has an agenda to more than double its population of 30,000 settlers (15,000 in 1991) to reach 71,000 by 2010; it aims at a population of 45,000 by next year, an increase of 50% in one year.
This agenda is motivated by more than greed: it will torpedo the viability of any future Palestinian state by creating a bloc huge enough to prevent contiguity between the south and north areas of the West Bank, or any development of East Jerusalem as Palestine’s future capital.
Oslo was undermined more by the settlers than any other single factor; Ehud Barak’s offer to Arafat at Camp David, which would have kept the settlers in their lofty homes, was an offer that had to be refused.
The settlers have infiltrated the Likud Party, hijacked its agenda and threaten any attempts either to dismantle illegal outposts or to withdraw from Gaza. And the country more or less allows them to dictate the agenda.
The police have tried and failed to dismantle illegal outposts in the West Bank. Settler hilltop youth spend the days of so-called evacuation hand-wrestling, kicking up dust, putting on a good piece of televised theatre, presumably for foreign audiences. Yet if those same authorities wish to stop a demonstration, they use effective crowd control — rubber bullets, tear gas, or worse, even live ammunition. The 13 dead of Nazareth’s violent demonstration in October 2000 were never given the choice of velvet glove treatment, albeit they, too, were full citizens of Israel. The Bedouin of the Negev have chemicals sprayed on their crops and children. The settlers? Why, in many places, they themselves ARE the police.
A wild wolf’s tail is wagging our domesticated dog - its messianic fervour drags the civilized creature further and further from the basic values of Judaism and Israeliness. Some may await deliverance from Occupation by a strong, moral American or Quartet authority, but others maintain that only Israelis are qualified to deal with this militant monster, even by, just once, finally, calling its bluff.
An organisation such as MachsomWatch, whose strength is quiet monitoring, reporting from the field on a regular, honest basis, threatens settlers. Like all bullies, they know deep down they’re crossing red lines or borders (not to mention the Green Line, the line of armistice before occupation became enshrined) that do not stand up to the light of moral scrutiny.
In arrogant hubris, they presume to answer to Higher Powers than civil law or fellow citizenry. In all humility, maybe they do. Maybe they will manage to stop the sun in its tracks. Or part the sea. God knows, whilst they avow their great love for the land, the amount of sewage and industrial waste that leeches into the Mountain Aquifer from their settlements and factories is very reminiscent of some of the Ten Plagues of Egypt.
I beg you to visit their fake website, taste the hatred they imbibe and spew; the incitement, the arrogance and the paranoia. These are not a peaceful people, these gun-toters. They bring no honour to Israel; they are a force of darkness, covetousness, jealousy and greed.
And while they seriously threaten to bring down the whole temple of Modern Israel on us all, common sense and natural justice surely suggest their time is up. As calls for sanctions grow (the Presbyterians have started the ball rolling), isn’t it time for certain norms to be upheld? Certain rights to be defended?
Judaism, as I understand it, preaches this. It does not preach the murder of peacemakers..it blesses them. Nor does it sanction this monstrous family squabble’s wholesale, low-level warfare directed at our poor cousins. It begs to honour the stranger in our midst.
And, of course, the burning question is, can or will any government of Israel now cross them? And, if not, will the world community step in? If not, what language, other than hate, do the settlers understand? As one of the soldiers of “Breaking the Silence” succinctly said:
‘Once a little kid, a boy of about six, passed by me at my post. He said to me: “Soldier, listen, don’t get annoyed, don’t try and stop me, I’m going out to kill some Arabs.” I look at the kid and don’t quite understand exactly what I’m supposed to do. So he says: “First, I’m going to buy a popsicle at Gotnik’s” - that’s their grocery store - “then I’m going to kill some Arabs.” I had nothing to say to him. Nothing. I went completely blank. And that’s not such a simple thing, that a city, that such an experience can silence someone who was an educator, a counsellor, who believed in education, who believed in talking to people, even if their opinions were different. But I had nothing to say to a kid like that. There’s nothing to say to him.’
What does one say? There are many types of silence. When Crusader Bush hears voices, do they talk about the First Commandment? The sanctity of life? Or do they tell him, as Danny Tirzeh, architect of the Wall’s route, recently said to me, referring to the Palestinians: “You know, we value life more than they do,” proving by such supremacist thinking that he himself doesn’t much understand the value of life at all.
Remember normal, day-to-day living? Isn’t it time we all get on with something like it? Isn’t it time for change? For health?
Angela Godfrey-Goldstein is an Israeli peace activist.