Oldie-but-goodie: The problem.

My family and I are flying to Israel/Palestine this evening (with a brief stopover in London – yay!) and as I get ready to go, I of course find myself thinking about the conflict, the struggles, the desperate need for peace, and what stands in the way of achieving anything like peace. For today’s oldie-but-goodie (as, even if I weren’t struggling with my place in the blogosphere, I surely wouldn’t have time to write today – yikes!), I give you this — about the conflicts within families, and the fact that in many Israeli families, even on the left, the biggest stumbling block to peace can be found very close to hand.

I have family in a West Bank settlement.

Every left-wing Israeli family has its right-wing wing, and the rightists have their lefties. Thus, when I married my husband, I got not just his left-wing-through-and-through nuclear family of origin, but also the folks who parked their Uzis under the table at our wedding (next, it should be noted, to the table at which my Palestinian co-worker sat. Oh, that was a moment!). I also got the aunt and uncle who lived in a Jerusalem “neighborhood” which I, in the fullness of time, finally realized was actually a settlement in its own right, but they’ve since moved into really-Israeli-Jerusalem (their daily needs changed, not their ideology).

Everyone on that side of the family — all modern Orthodox, all parents of many children — has never been anything but kind and welcoming to me. They’ve reached out, they ask after me, after us, they want to see pictures of the children, they’re sorry we’ve moved away. One cousin in particular has the warmest, most gentle smile. She makes you feel like you’ve made her day just by walking into the room.

But the truth is that it matters not in the least that they are kind, or warm, or gentle. Because they are the problem.

They — in the broadest sense: they, and their friends, and their beautiful houses, and their armed guards, and their by-pass roads — are what stands in the way of peace and security for 7.3 million Israelis and 4 million Palestinians. I would venture that a good few Palestinians might even find them to not be particularly kind, warm, or gentle.

I know some people can compartmentalize their lives so completely that this sort of cellular-level disagreement regarding the ethics of one’s daily behavior can be overlooked for the sake of the relationship, but I am not such a person. Beyond what I’ve just said, I can’t really tell you much more about this side of the family, because I’ve worked pretty hard not to know them.

When I was once forced (it felt like I was forced) to spend the night in one of their homes, I couldn’t sleep; when celebrating family milestones together, I frequently have to leave the room, just to breathe. Whenever I see any of them, talk to any of them, hear about any of them, I want to — I don’t know, what? I guess I want to take away their homes and their land and move them bodily into Israel proper, and then shut the door and walk away, so as not to hear the stream of lies-that-they-believe that would inevitably pour from their mouths about Greater Israel and the knife I had just plunged into the nation’s back.

When the neighbors of the woman with the gentle smile were killed in a terrorist shooting, I did call. I asked how the family was doing, how the children were doing. I did it through gritted teeth, and I did it because it was the right thing to do, and, I will admit, I did it to make a point that the left often fails to make: No matter where you may live, you do not deserve to be shot to death on your way home. Terrorism — perhaps it bears repeating — is evil.

But it took terrorism for me to make any kind of effort, and that was years ago. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about their lives now.

Other than, of course, the earlier stated fact that they are the problem.

Their homes are the problem. Their decision, and the decisions made by half a million other Jewish Israelis to live on Palestinian land and slowly but surely turn the entire Jewish State into the Settlers’ Auxiliary and Bugle Corps, their decision to build and keep building and keep building and keep building — this is why, when history looks back on the Jewish State, it will see a sea of blood followed by the ultimate dismantling of the state.

When our blood is in the ground, when the Palestinians and Israelis have reached the point that the killing has utterly destroyed both societies and The State of Israel is but one more disaster on the long, long list of Jewish disasters, when, finally, this long, horrific tale is done — our blood will mingle, and no one will know which drop belonged to whom.

And the anemones will cover our graves, grow up and down the hills, heedless of battlelines or borders. Because that’s what anemones do.


For information, background, and statistics on the settlements: The Foundation for Middle East Peace

For historical documents on the occupation and settlement project: South Jerusalem (note, in particular, this legal opinion finding that settlements were contrary to international law, issued two months after the 1967 Six Day War).

For the impact of settlements on the Palestinian population of the West Bank: The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

For the history of the settler movement, read: Gershom Gorenberg’s excellent The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 (Gorenberg is also one of the left-wing Orthodox bloggers at South Jerusalem)

For a close look at Palestinian life under occupation, read: Saree Makdisi’s heartbreaking Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation

Note: If anyone knows of a good source on Israeli perceptions of/responses to the settlements — a sociological or psychological study, something beyond polls such as these — please let me know.


Update: Coincidentally, Bradley Burston at HaAretz wrote a very similarly-themed piece in today’s paper: “Confessions of an Israeli anti-settler bigot”:

They say the first step in dealing with rage is acknowledging it. So here it is: I have become a bigot where it comes to the settlement movement.

I believe that the officials, the activists, and the Diaspora bankrollers and rooting section of this movement have ruined my life. They ruin it a little more every single day.

The extent to which they have embittered the lives of millions of Palestinians is incalculable. I won’t pretend to know what they go through or how it feels. For the moment, I just want to talk about what the settlement movement does to its fellow Israelis, and why so many of us are so fed up.

Bradley Burston is one of my favorite Israeli commenters. Please click through and read it all.


  1. Safe travels, Emily, to you and to yours.

    Conflict free family time, in all ways.

    And Peace.

  2. moe99

     /  June 18, 2011

    I am travelling back east this week to visit my strongly Catholic, anti abortion mother and see my NRA member brother. My sister has not spoken to me in 10 years, so no idea where she is on the political scale these days. I can identify, at least a little bit, with what you are going through.

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