Friday, June 26, 2009

The potency of a right

Nadav Shragai

One can continue waging the argument with the United States over settlements by citing mathematical figures, numbers and formulas on natural growth or natural development, and perhaps doing so is the correct thing, but whoever believes that settling the territories of Judea and Samaria is the actualization of a natural right and historical justice cannot be content with simply stating these figures.

Perhaps one can continue to bombard George Mitchell with numbers; to inform him that the settlers constitute 17 percent of the residents of Judea and Samaria (300,000 out of a total population of 1.8 million people); that the built-up areas in the settlements occupy just 1.7 percent of the land area of Judea and Samaria; and that if the settlers continue to build solely at the rate of their natural growth (9,000 births per year), they will only need a small fraction of the area to do so (0.054 percent of the territory).

Perhaps it's possible to persuade Mitchell and his boss, President Barack Obama, that over the next decade the settlers will consume just one-half of one percent for construction purposes in an area already delineated as "their municipal boundaries." But this math is just a minor argument between merchants. One might expect more national pride and a clearer, more lucid statement from a government that believes Judea and Samaria are inseparable parts of the historic homeland, and at the very least sees the "settlement blocs" as an inseparable part of the State of Israel in any final status accord. Perhaps a statement in the spirit of Simon Maccabaeus, who said: "We have neither taken other men's land, neither do we hold that which is other men's: but the inheritance of our fathers, which was for some time unjustly possessed by our enemies."

Our friends in the United States, both real and imagined, need to hear from us that the historic, religious, legal and sentimental links that bind the people of Israel with Hebron and Beit El are no less legitimate than those of the Palestinians; that we are not occupiers in our own country and that there are Jews for whom this land is holy, just as it is holy to Palestinians - Jews whose connection to these pieces of land are bound by love, the Bible, tradition, nature and beauty.

Many years ago, a member of the British House of Lords asked Chaim Weizmann why the Jews insist on settling in the Land of Israel when there are so many undeveloped countries that could serve as a national home. Weizmann responded with a question: Why do you drive 200 kilometers every Sunday to visit your mother when there are so many old ladies living on your street?

This elementary truth in relation to all parts of the Land of Israel has not changed. From a moral standpoint, there is no difference between settling the Land of Israel at the beginning of the last century in areas where Arabs lived and settling the Land of Israel at the beginning of this century in areas where Arabs reside; no difference between settling the Galilee, the Negev and Petah Tikva - which Moshe Smilansky described generations ago as "a small Hebrew community among large Arab villages to the east, north and south" - and settling Judea and Samaria.

The real argument is about possible borders; it is certainly not about rights. This right must once again be raised with our friends in Washington, even if there are those, particularly in Israel, who will chafe at this claim because it is not within the realm of realpolitik.

This right, it should also be remembered, is not based on security concerns. Theoretically, a Jewish state could have arisen anywhere in the world, and perhaps we would have attained security elsewhere. In practice, the Jewish state was established specifically in the Land of Israel as a national home and a country of refuge on the strength of this right and the historic, national collective memory - a state that succeeded in gathering Jews from exile.

Whoever makes do with number-crunching and the petty settling of scores will sooner or later find himself in a battle over Jerusalem and a more truncated Israel, with which the Arabs of Israel and the entire region have yet to reconcile, to this day, as the state of the Jewish people.

Thus far, the preoccupation with numbers has not yielded benefits, and perhaps this is a positive development. Obama's U.S., which is not prepared to accept the minimum - construction to accommodate natural growth in settlements - is forcing the government of Israel to look in the mirror and to remember the strength of the right. .

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