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Death and Life in Itamar


Fogel Family Residence

The entrance to the house where the Fogel family lived – until the brutal attack which consumed the lives of Udi and Ruth, and three of their small children – is still decorated with the note joyously announcing the recent birth of Hadas who, at three months, was the youngest Israeli victim on that fateful Shabbat evening.

I don’t entertain notions that my brief time in the Israeli Yishuv called Itamar,and conversations with the community Rabbi, Moshe, and his wife, Leah, could possibly provide a full picture of what life is like in this community of 1,000 – the vitality, nuance, and day-to-day rhythm which only those who call the place home can ever really accurately describe – but one thing is for certain:  While reasonable people can certainly disagree on the broader social and political implications of such communities across the green line, as with so much of what passes for reporting from Israel, the frequent and, at times, horribly callous pejorative depictions of those who choose to live here have almost no resemblance to reality.

In listening to Moshe and Leah – who, in their late 40s, are young grandparents – speak of Itamar, the Yishuv that’s been their home for 27 years, what they quite emphatically spoke of was not enmity towards the perpetrators of the grisly attacks on Friday, no calls for revenge, but simply their love for their country, the spiritual significance of the area (Itamar lies very close to Schechem, where Joseph was buried), and their belief in their right to live there, consistent with their desire to live in a Torah-observant community.

“Hard-line”, “fanatical”, and “extreme” – language carelessly, and lazily, employed in the service placing the rich, nuanced, complicated and passionate lives of the residents of  Itamar in a way conveniently consistent with one’s political edifice – represents nothing but dehumanizing hyperbole, and serves often to assuage the empathy and natural inclinations towards moral outrage over the suffering of “the other”.  Such words are often little more than name-calling, malicious invectives masquerading as journalism and polemical meditation.

One of the common questions – political litmus tests – most frequently posed by acquaintances back in the U.S., since I moved to Israel, is how I feel about the “settlers”.

Though I really never had a short and pithy reply for my interlocutors, I’m certainly now prepared to give a sincere and honest, though far less than exhaustive, answer: They are more than political abstractions and, whatever my thoughts about the decision to build and expand such communities, I will not be party to their demonization.

They are, simply, fellow citizens in the nation I love, and the place I now call home.

Young resident of Itamar

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20 replies »

  1. Adam,

    it’s all very well saying that settlement communities are nuanced and complicated and should not be described by such “dehumanizing” words as “hard-line” or “fanatical”. However, it’s hard to use other words to describe people who believe in their right to live on the land when this right is not accepted by international community, even the State of Israel, anyone except themselves and their fellow travellers. What do you consider the Palestinians who believe in their right to live anywhere in Israel (the so-called right of return for refugees), to reclaim the home of their ancestors in Haifa (even though it was long ago legally sold to the Jews)? I consider those Palestinians “extreme” and “fanatical”. But how are they different from the settlers?

    I’m proud to call myself Zionist but I don’t think that settlement activity is justifiable.

  2. “I’m proud to call myself Zionist but I don’t think that settlement activity is justifiable.”

    Assuming you live in Israel’s pre-1967 territories, have you made sure that you’re not currently residing on what was an Arab village prior to 1947? You know, I’m getting tired of all those “tzaddikim” who rant against the “West Bank settlers” from what used to be, long ago, the house of the village mukhtar.

    All the points raised against the “West Bank settlers” were made against the expanding Jewish inhabitation under the British Mandate. Are still being made, by the way. You’ll have to make a choice: Either the halutzim of the Ottoman and British periods were legit, in which case so are the Jews inhabiting Judea and Samaria; or neither enterprise is legit, in which case maybe you should be consistent and stop “stealing Palestinian lands” no matter what side of the 1967 War it may be.

    Zionism consists in believing the Land of Israel belongs rightfully to the Jews. This is so even if the international “community” thinks otherwise. The non-Jews lost their authority to boss us about long ago–according to a large swathe of rabbinical opinion, since the Cossack massacres of Jews in 1648-9 at the least.

  3. Al

    that same international community allowed the czechs to expel 500,000 ethnic germans from their borders in 48

    that same international community sat back and said nothing when ethnic cleansing and the deaths of thousands took place in india and pakistan during a forced population exchange

    that same international community said nothing while jordan ethnically cleansed jews from their occupation

    eff the international community

    eff the un

  4. Death, and life, will continue in Itamar.

    It is the gangrenous stench emanating from the Guardian which should be of concern to people here in the UK.

  5. The God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob never slumbers nor sleeps and those who prepetrated the cold blooded and evil murder of innocents and unarmed civillians will in due course stand before the Creator who will judge them accordingly, no matter what the craven western media says. The settlers are living in the Promised Land and are not doing anything wrong. But because they are in the Land promised to them, because they love life, because they are Jews the world and the religion of Satan and his minions hate them. It is a tragedy to see the cold blooded murder of a family who were just living their lives in Israel. We are living in days when evil is called good and good called evil by the mainstream media in the west and many of thier politicians and the intellegentsia. However a day of judgement is coming because those who oppose the settlers and the Jews rights to Israel are opposing the Creator. I am a Christian Zionist, I support Israel and my heart goes out to her and her people.

  6. Al, if you place so much credence upon an international community’s opinion, which has been against Israel from the get-go, then you’re hardly in any position to judge are you?

    I know that Palestinians believe in their right to live anywhere they like in Israel, but do you not agree that it’s what they do about it that matters? The fanaticism lies in the behaviour as well as in the overblown rhetoric from Abbas and his ilk which cranks up that behaviour.

    Where I come from there’s a saying that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, an approach which appears to be far too sophisticated for the Palestinian leadership which somehow never seems to learn from its many mistakes and still goes on to blame others for them.

    Do Israelis go into Arab villages and slit the throats of sleeping children? Do they name football stadia and streets after murderers and teach their children to want to die whilst murdering Jews?

    Palestinians got their chance of a state of their own in 1947 had they behaved peacefully and in a civilised fashion towards their Jewish neighbour. Israel should not be blamed because they lacked the intelligence to accept and instead chose to miss that and subsequent opportunities because they wanted all rather than part of the land.

    Settlements are an inevitable by-product of that Palestinian intransigence.

  7. @ziontruth,

    “Zionism consists in believing the Land of Israel belongs rightfully to the Jews.” And the Palestinians believe that the whole land belongs rightfully to the Palestinians. Now that belief doesn’t make them right. It is not a belief that counts.
    And don’t try to define Zionism for me. If you say that Zionism consists in supporting the State of Israel AND believing that Sun goes round the Earth, I’d reject the latter belief and still proclaim myself a Zionist. Mind you, the belief that the Sun goes round the Earth has as much credence as the belief that all the land rightfully belongs to the Jews.

    @SilverTrees
    Look, I’m not here to argue the Palestinian side. As I said, I’m a proud Zionist and Palestinian terrorists who after 60 years still can not understand that the Jews are not going anywhere and resort to violence out of this antisemitic denial are the last people on Earth I’d want to defend. Their intransigence and fanatic desire to destroy the Jewish State are well-documented and uncontested (even though many on the left are too ignorant of the facts).

    The only issue that I’m raising here is that of irrational belief that the Jews can build their homes wherever they please on the whole land just by the virtue of them being Jews. This belief is not different from the Palestinian belief that they can live anywhere in Israel. I find both of these beliefs rather extreme.

  8. AI,

    “And the Palestinians…”

    The Palestinians are us Jews. So-called “Palestinians” are Arab settler-colonist invaders who are illegally squatting on our turf.

    “And don’t try to define Zionism for me.”

    I will defend a currency from being devalued. If you can call yourself a Zionist and believe a certain part of the Land of Israel doesn’t belong to the Jewish nation, then even Ahmadinejad could call himself a Zionist.

    “…and [Arab] terrorists who after 60 years still can not understand that the Jews are not going anywhere…”

    Oh? Why should they give credence to a claim that you say has much going for it as the belief that the sun goes round the earth?

    “The only issue that I’m raising here is that of irrational belief that the Jews can build their homes wherever they please on the whole land just by the virtue of them being Jews.”

    I don’t believe it.

    I. Just. Don’t. Believe. It.

    With one fell swoop, you negated the morality of the entire renewed Zionist project. All of it. Not just its post-1967 part. If it’s irrational for Jews to think they can build homes wherever they please on the Land of Israel by virtue of being Jews, then it’s not just the inhabitants of Ariel and Itamar but those of Tel Aviv, Eilat and Kiryat Motzkin who are devoid of a sound basis.

    Call yourself whatever you like, including Zionist if you want to, but it should now be clear: Objectively, you sir are no Zionist.

  9. Al, respectfully, I just don’t know how you can compare “settlers” with terrorists who slit the throats of innocent civilians. Look, nobody is questioning your commitment to Israel, but I think you’re falling for a false moral equivalence. Many reasonable people (including many Israelis) don’t support building across the green line, but I’m merely asking that we don’t demonize such people who make the decision, for various reasons, to live there.

  10. Al

    Nice post ! Have you thought of helping out our local [London ] branch of ISM / JFJFP. They could do with some extra” As a Jew” assistance on the frontline

  11. @ziontruth,

    “The Palestinians are us Jews. So-called “Palestinians” are Arab settler-colonist invaders who are illegally squatting on our turf.”

    You can call them whatever you want. It’s all a question of semantics. Patriarch Abraham was a “settler-colonist” in his own time too.

    “With one fell swoop, you negated the morality of the entire renewed Zionist project.”

    When the Jewish State was established in 1948, it was established on some part of the land. Now, perhaps, you’re disappointed with that but then you should really direct your complaints to David Ben-Gurion, not to me. Now we’re in a situation similar to this. You own a house legally and your neighbour owns his own house legally. Your neighbour also owns a piece of land next to your house. Now you can believe that this piece of land belongs rightfully to you and even have a proof of some long-forgotten relative of yours who owned it two thousand years ago but it doesn’t matter a bit. Try to understand: you may believe some things are true and just but your belief, in and of itself, doesn’t make them so.

    As an aside, I’ve been called by my left-wing acquaintances “right-wing fanatic” and “fascist supporting genocide of Palestinians”. It’s quite astonishing that on this blog I appear as some sort of “pinko-leftie traitor”.

  12. “Try to understand: you may believe some things are true and just but your belief, in and of itself, doesn’t make them so.”

    That may be true, but without belief you can just fly the white flag right now. If you believe in something, you’ll fight for it; if you don’t believe, the enemy can win without firing a single shot. This has been the story of Israel since the Oslo debacle.

    I’m not seeking the enemy’s agreement to my beliefs. I know that’s absolutely unreasonable. What I wish is for all Jews to take their own side in this war, to believe in their own narrative and not in the enemy’s–not even entertain it as a possibility. The enemy is a strong and uncritical believer in its false and vicious narrative. We will not win unless we become equally strong and uncritical believers in our true and good one.

  13. Adam,

    I appreciate your respectful response and commend you on your sterling work exposing often vile and prejudiced “journalism” of the Guardian. However, I have to disagree with you here. As you might have noticed if you read my posts a bit more closely, nowhere did I compare the settlers with the terrorists. I have no truck with anyone who is trying to sanitise despicable and wicked terrorists. What I did compare was the settlers’ belief in their right to live wherever they please in Judea and Samaria with the belief of non-violent Palestinian Arabs in their right to live wherever they please in Israel. Both beliefs are irrational and condemned not only by the international community but by the State of Israel itself.

  14. @Charlene.

    “I will bless those who bless thee and curse those who curse thee”

    On that note I say may G-d bless you.

    Very well put. Thank you for supporting my people.

  15. “They are, simply, fellow citizens in the nation I love, and the place I now call home.”

    They are truly fellow citizens, but not “simply”. They “complicate” their status by making a deliberate political statement that directly affects your future in “the place [you] now call home”. This does not justify “demonizing” them as individuals, but as a group we cannot judge them “simply” because that means not debating the legitimacy and implications of the settler movement – a debate whose legitimacy in a democracy supersedes all.

  16. “What I did compare was the settlers’ belief in their right to live wherever they please in Judea and Samaria with the belief of non-violent Palestinian Arabs in their right to live wherever they please in Israel”

    You aren’t making any sense. Arabs can live anywhere they want in Israel. Unlike Jews, who are demonized by the Palestinian Authority. And it has nothing to do with the occupation or the settlements.

    In the 20s and 30s, the Arab leadership grouped up and criminalized the sale of land to Jews, and often killed other Arabs who dared to defy the ban.

    This, among other economic disputes, fueled the revolts that are dubiously cast as a response to a zionist provocation. this is revisionist history.

    jews as well as other minorities have always been seen as inferior and will always be. if the palestinian authority replaced the current israeli government how would the jews be treated? better or worse?

  17. I think it is sad that a 12 year old orphan has to stand up and say that she will be the mother to her younger siblings. Where are her aunts, uncles, older cousins, and grandparents?