Philip Weiss’s “The World the Settlers Made”

When I was in Palestine last summer, I mentioned that I was going to be spending some time visiting Jewish settlements in the West Bank. I ended up doing less of that than I had planned. And though I did some, I never got the chance to write about it here. Since then, I’ve just let the experience fester in some dark corner of my brain, watching the “third intifada” from afar with that experience in mind. Part of the reason for failing to write was, as usual, lack of time. But part of it was that I met people out there who knew more than me, had spent more time there than me, and were likely to do a better job than me at saying what needed to be said.

Though we’ve never met, I just happened to read the journalist Philip Weiss’s short but informative booklet, The World the Settlers Made, chronicling his experiences this past January among West Bank settlers. Like him, I visited the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements, and like him, I spent my time there with the settler he calls “David” (not his real name). Weiss gets the dynamics of the place and its inhabitants spot-on. I won’t try to describe it; you just have to read it. If his reporting on Gush Etzion is as good as I think it is, I’m inclined to trust the reporting he does on Na’aran, Shiloh, and Ofra. It’s not reporting of the kind one is likely to encounter in, say, The New York Times or Washington Post, in part because they don’t seem motivated to do the relevant reporting, and in part because (ironically enough) I doubt they could get the kind of access that Weiss managed to get–by misrepresenting who he was to his interview subjects. That’s not my preferred approach, but I understand why he did it, and it had useful results.

This passage near the end of the booklet neatly sums things up:

The settlers’ argument that they are merely the latest extension of Zionism makes perfect sense to me. They are continuing a project begun 100 years ago. Everywhere I go in the settlements, I’ve remembered Yousef Munayyer’s argument to Peter Beinart last June in New York that if you oppose the occupation it is pointless just to boycott settlements: the state and the broader society are all behind this growth.

“The government supports settlement at any time,” Netanyahu says. I also remember Munayyer’s critique that the real problem is a Zionist ideology that puts Jews and their rights–and Jewish refugees and their rights–ahead of the people who were living in the land first, many of whom became refugees from Israel. My conversations with settlers convince me viscerally of something I have only known from reading before: the conflict won’t end until that ideology of settler colonialism infused with religion ends, and everyone has equal rights. I know there is hatred and enmity on the Palestinian side too. It won’t make for a smooth transition. But as Munayyer says, Westerners must begin to imagine what one state will look like.

A continual surprise on my tour is that the American media have done so little to tell Americans about the stick-to-itiveness of the settlers and their political support. Ze’ev Elkin and Avigdor Lieberman, whose houses I walked by, are very powerful men in Israel. The media’s failure gives me a sense of responsibility–to describe the discriminatory ideology of these colonists to Americans.

Ari Shavit has argued what Avi also argued to me: Israel keeps American Jews Jewish, so they must support Israel. But anti-Semitism in Europe, and assimilation in the United States (my decision to marry a non-Jew, which vexes my hosts) are not really important in this conversation. What matters is the discriminatory one-state reality before my eyes. It is the world that the Zionists made.

The booklet is about 21 pages long, with 31 color photographs and text, and is available for $6.60 through the Mondoweiss website. I highly recommend it.

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