The Washington Post’s conservative blogger visited the West Bank and returned home convinced Israel should keep it. Many on the left would agree, though not for reasons that would please Rubin
For some time now, settler leadership has been undertaking a PR campaign, designed to improve the way that Jews living in the West bank are presented in the media, and to fight attempts to boycott or isolate them. As part of this effort, Israeli and international celebrities, politician and journalists are taken to tours between holy sites and flourishing settlements in the West Bank. Their goal is to show that settlers are “ordinary Israelis” rather than the violent fanatics you sometimes get to see on TV.
This VIP treatment was recently given to the Washington Post’s Jenifer Rubin, who visited Israel a couple weeks ago for the Herzelia Conference. Rubin visited Ariel, passed by Nablus and stopped at a local winery. Tremendously impressed, she shared her experiences with her readers.
…What I saw surprised me. Even well-informed consumers of international media imagine that the West Bank is crowded, dangerous and replete with roadblocks and officious Israeli security forces. So when one leaves Jerusalem, crosses the Green Line — a cement wall and a checkpoint (not unlike the set-up for an agent at a U.S. border) — and travels up and down the highways of Samaria (the portion of the West Bank extending north), you realize how little non-Israelis know about the Jews who live in territory that is the focal point of so much international attention.
The media terminology doesn’t comport with one’s direct observations. “Settlements” are not hovels tended by goat herders. Settlers are not uniformly religious. The Palestinians who demand the right of return are generally the descendants of those who left Israel proper in 1948; the region is still sparsely populated and was even more so in 1967.
Naturally, Rubin wasn’t taken by her hosts from the Yesha Council (the settlers’ representative body) to Palestinian towns or villages, and the only non-Jews she met were two workers in a Jewish-owned factory. She praises the Israeli landlord for the salary he pays his Arab workers, and engages in a short conversation with the Palestinians, in which she tried to expose them as Hamas-sympathizers, and ends up declaring that “at least for now, economic cooperation has not inspired political realism.” Oh, those ungrateful Arabs.
Rubin is a radical neo-con, so it’s not surprising that her trip to the West Bank reads like a journey to the segregated south, hosted by a hospitable Klan member. Traveling on the Jewish-only highways, Rubin portrays a picture of a pleasant co-existence; she spots a Palestinian in a grocery store and concludes that the boycott attempts goes against the will of ordinary Palestinians. Obviously, she knows nothing about the military courts, the arrests of children and the tortures, the severe limits on traveling from and to the West Bank or the limited access of Palestinians to Jerusalem. At one point, Rubin claims that 95 percent of the Palestinians have no interaction with the IDF. It’s not clear whether it’s her ignorance that fails her, or if she knows the truth – Palestinians encounter soldiers daily, at checkpoints, during nightly raids, in Jewish Hebron and more – but prefers to engage in propaganda.
All this was not that interesting, if it wasn’t for the the political sub-text of Rubin’s post. Even if she doesn’t say it in so many words, it’s obvious that Rubin accepts the settlers’ narrative, according to which (a) the West Bank is the heart of the land of Israel, part of Israeli life and of Jewish history and that (b) for security reasons Israel cannot leave the West Bank. The Zionist-Liberal line was always that Israel prefers not to rule over the Palestinians, but is forced to do so because of the effect of extremist – settlers and Palestinians – on the political dynamic. Rubin presents a different narrative: The West Bank belongs to Israel, but it’s actually not that bad for Palestinians as well.
We are left with the unpleasant issues of equal rights. There are over 2 million Palestinians living in the same territory as the settlers, subject to military control, and with no political rights. Even after Oslo and the establishing of the Palestinian Authority, Palestinians can’t travel freely; they are tried in military courts and are subject to the decisions of the regional military commanders. Ben-Dror Yemini, a conservative rightwing columnist for Maariv and the Jerusalem Post, calls it Apartheid (though he blames the Palestinians for it). So who are we to argue?
Much like Rubin, I am not happy with the demonization of the settlers by the media. The occupation is an Israeli project, initiated and executed by government agencies. Blaming it on the settlers, like most liberals do, is making life way too easy. But if the territories are indeed part of Israel, as the settlers’ leaders claim, then the only possible solution would be along the lines of “one person, one vote.” This is one issue the rightwing neo-cons refuse to deal with, and when they do – they come up with the craziest ideas.
A year ago, I interviewed a group of rightwing people who were experimenting with these ideas; among them were former Defense Minister Moshe Arens, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and former Chief of Staff for PM Netanyahu, Uri Elizur. It’s no surprise: One cannot think of another sustainable solution that wouldn’t include the evacuation of most settlements. If Jenifer Rubin’s political sympathies truly lie with the settlers, she should be honest enough to extract the full meaning of her views, that Israel should apply its laws on the entire West Bank population rather than just the Jews, and become a bi-national state.