In the course of Wednesday’s confrontation at the Beit El settlement, where hundreds of people confronted troops who had been dispatched by court order to demolish two apartment buildings built on private Palestinian-owned land, Channel 2 footage showed a man in a red polo shirt, knitted skullcap and sunglasses grab a microphone to whip up the crowd into greater resistance.
The previous speaker was an anguished woman, head covered in a scarf, who appealed to all for restraint. “The cops need to calm down. We also need to calm down. Everyone needs to calm down now. Our emotions are in turmoil.”
Red-shirted sunglasses man took the microphone rather brusquely from her and delivered an entirely different message.
“All the cops, move back. All the cops, move back,” he demanded. “Don’t calm down,” he exhorted the crowd. “Destruction” — he urged, choosing the Hebrew word hurban, often used to describe the razing of Jerusalem’s two holy temples. “War,” he shouted.
The Jew-on-Jew confrontation over the two unfinished apartment buildings in the Dreinoff project in Beit El, in the West Bank north of Jerusalem, could have been far, far worse. No blood was spilled. Nobody was badly hurt. The rule of law ultimately prevailed.
But the alarm bells should be ringing.
We should worry about another instance of what has become the routine denunciation by pro-settlement extremists of their uniformed fellow countrymen and women. Last summer, Israel’s conscripted youth risked their lives — and in dozens of cases lost their lives — to protect this country from the latest installment of Hamas’s ongoing bid to wipe us out. Now, months later, here they were at Beit El — the House of God — being pelted by Israeli Jews with stones, bottles, chairs… and abuse.
“This is what you joined the army for?” one protester snarled into the face of a Border Police officer. “You have no conscience,” a near-hysterical young woman shouted at another. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” added a third demonstrator. “Oh, you’re tough on Jews, but we didn’t see you act like this (against Arabs) on the Temple Mount,” sneered a fourth. “This will haunt you for the rest of your life,” chimed a fifth. The troops — our troops, our young men and women, whom we require to put on uniforms to protect us — remained impassive. But they’re not deaf. Shame on those who abused them.
We should worry, too, about the lawmakers who champion defiance of the rule of the law. Jewish Home Knesset member Moti Yogev was not the only offender, but he was the worst, declaring with the cold, precise, arrogant certainty of the zealot that “we need to take the blade of a D-9 [bulldozer] to the High Court of Justice. We in the legislature will ensure that the judicial rule of this country, the tail that wags the dog, is reined in.”
When our legislators show contempt for the rule of law, and incite violence against its upholders, the alarm bells should be ringing loud and clear.
And we should worry, too, about a prime minister and a government who reward the demonstrators and their Knesset champions. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon — the bleakest of pessimists when assessing Palestinian intentions toward Israel, and a committed champion of settlement expansion — was adamant Wednesday that there should be no appeasing those who had resorted to violence to try to thwart the demolition of the Dreinoff buildings. Ya’alon’s objections were brushed aside by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who ordered the immediate construction of 300 more housing units at Beit El. For Netanyahu, evidently, accommodating the extremists is a small price to pay when your coalition might otherwise be fracturing. This is the same Netanyahu who scandalously preferred to release dozens of the most dangerous orchestrators of Palestinian terrorism from Israel’s jails in the course of Secretary of State John Kerry’s doomed peace effort in 2013-14 rather than temporarily freeze settlement building.
The Beit El confrontations and their immediate fallout could have been far worse, but they underlined the long, long, long, overdue imperative for Israel, almost 50 years now since we found ourselves in control of the Biblical Judea and Samaria after the 1967 Six Day War, to decide for ourselves where our territorial red lines must be drawn.
The root of our conflict with the Palestinians lies in their refusal to internalize and acknowledge thousands of years of Jewish history in this part of the world, and thus stake out positions, however reluctantly, in favor of a viable compromise to enable our two peoples to live in something approaching tranquility. But the root of our growing international isolation — which is accelerating even as we stand on the West’s front line against Islamic extremism in all its brutal guises — is the apparently untrammeled settlement enterprise. By enabling our soaring ranks of detractors to depict Israel as bent on a relentless West Bank land grab, we are empowering those who wish us ill, and baffling those who want to support us.
We make it easy for Palestinian extremists to recruit, and harder for the dwindling proportion of moderates.
And we do our own people a disservice.
By failing to distinguish between those areas we would seek to retain under any permanent accord and those we would relinquish, and by therefore failing to follow a coherent policy, we mislead the Israelis who live in and move to the settlements, and whose attachment to Biblically and historically resonant land naturally deepens year by year. We waste resources. We exacerbate internal divides. And we entrench our presence in areas that can only complicate any future separation — a separation from millions of Palestinians that is vital if we are to ensure that Israel remain both a majority Jewish state and a democratic one.
The confrontation at Beit El could have been far worse, but the alarm bells should be ringing. Three days after Jews mourned the destruction, the hurban of the two temples on Tisha B’Av — our divine focal point smashed as a consequence of baseless intra-Jewish hatred — an Orthodox man with a microphone urged an intra-Jewish hurban for the sake of two apartment buildings that Israel’s judges had determined were built on a Palestinian’s land. And like-minded others spat venom at the Israeli troops who sought to ensure that the word of the court was done. And the Israel government rewarded them.
This is the path to renewed destruction. It could have been far worse, but if we keep going, the Iranians won’t need to do anything.