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Facts On The Ground

Settlement Construction site in the West Bank (photo dpa)

Settlement Construction site in the West Bank (photo dpa)

These four simple words at the top, combined together to form the most typical, and topical of Israeli expressions – in Hebrew, poignantly, it takes only two words – can sum up not only the modus operandi of the current Israeli government, but epitomizes Israel’s policy and action in the last 45 years, going all the way back to the day after the Six-Day-War in 1967. One can even make the argument that, not entirely without justification, these four magic words – taken as a call for action – are actually representing the foundation for the whole Zionist endeavor; from Theodor Herzel to David Ben-Gurion, and from Ariel Sharon to Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yet there are differences and variations, not to mention some leaders – such as Menachem Begin, to a degree, and Yitzhak Rabin – who tried, in between, to reverse this policy and make peace. But let’s examine the differences first. Herzel’s vision was the creation of a Jewish State. At some point in his struggle to find such a place, he was even ready to consider accomplishing that in Uganda. Without going too deep into history, it is suffice to say that his main concern was that the Jewish people – suffering for over 2000 years from persecutions, pogroms and discrimination – would have a place they can call home, where they would safely exercise their culture, religion and heritage. Once Jews began to follow his lead, they made their voyage towards their “Fathers Land,” and began to settle there. Creating, in reality, facts on the ground.

David Ben-Gurion took the baton from Herzel and, being the practical leader that he was, transferred that dream into reality. Now, it is true that to a large extant this enterprise included the actual settlement of what was then Palestine, the building of Tel Aviv, the kibbutzim and moshavim throughout the land. Yet Ben Gurion was ready to accept the UN Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947. He drafted, together with others, the Declaration of Independence, the most wonderful document we have in Israel to date. He himself had settled in a kibbutz in the Negev Desert, down in the south of Israel, and had called on Israelis to do likewise, in this largely (still) barren land. Israel before his death, and before the Six-Day War, was a small but strong, democratic and secular state – the envy of the world on many levels. And it fulfilled Herzel’s vision and dream beautifully.

That war, however, had changed everything. It was no longer a question of survival, after it, but of expansion. It was no longer a question of a nation among the nations, but of fulfilling messianic, biblical aspirations on the grand scale of the “Kingdom of David.” The settlers’ movement of Gush Emunim and all their zealots and followers, found in Arial Sharon the right leader. It was probably he who coined the term “Facts on the Ground,” by actions if not by words. What it meant was that, when you came with Arik to a hill in the West Bank and looked around, and one would say that that hill over there would be a nice place to build a settlement, Arik would say: “Let’s bring the bulldozers.” There was no method of thinking behind that policy, and no process of long-term strategy. It was just let’s do it – let’s flatten the land and build on it – and ask questions later. Later though, he had to evacuate first a small city, Yamit, in Northern Sinai, and then the Gaza Strip, and flatten also some of the settlements he and his followers had built. No wonder he went into a coma afterwards.

And it is written in that book, also, that after King Arik came King Bibi. (Again – with some leaders in between, trying other things such as peace and reconciliation, without much success.) What did Mr. Netanyahu do when Vice President Biden came to town to prepare the ground for peace talks? He announced, in his face, the construction of more building-units in East Jerusalem and around it. What did he do when, supposedly, he had agreed to freeze the building of new settlements for a few months in order to “give peace the chance?” He actually continued to build more of the same, mostly in “old” settlements. On and on it goes. Build first; ask questions later. What was his reaction to the world’s decision (minus 6 countries, 3 of them you never heard of before), to grant the Palestinian People an upgrade status of a non-member observer state in the UN? You guest it, my friends, more settlements. He announced the settlement-construction of the E1 zone near Jerusalem, effectively putting an end to the idea and dream of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even the USA – practically Israel’s last friend in the world – has called this plan a “provocative action.” Stating that it “runs counter to statements from Israeli leaders that they are committed to peace.”

Israel is losing faith, and fast, with all its friends among the nations (European countries were even harsher in their response to the E1 building plans), and losing support even among American Jews and people who care deeply – such as yours truly – about the Zionist dream of a safe, secure, democratic home for the Jewish People in Israel. A latest survey showed that more than 40 percent of Israelis would leave the country if they only could. The movement to have two passports for every Israeli citizen (you know, just in case) is gaining momentum. In Tel Aviv, the sane, democratic, cultured, liberal, economic bastion of Israel, people are talking about “dancing on the deck of the Titanic.” And next month come new elections, which according to all predictions will make things even worse, and might transform Israel into an almost one-sided, completely right wing state. Time is rapidly running out, and there is an urgent need for a new kind of call for action: Reversing the disastrous policy of “Facts on the Ground.”

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