Israeli Settlers Publish Their Reality, with Palestine as Fiction – Isabel Kershner/The New York Times
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Israeli settlers have long asserted that the Palestinians are an invented people, that the West Bank’s real name is Judea and Samaria, and that it was liberated by Israeli soldiers in 1967. Now the settlers, apparently worried that their version of history is not reaching other Israelis, are promoting it in a Hebrew-language publication that resembles a comic book.
This week the Yesha Council, the settlers’ umbrella organization, announced that it was printing 10,000 copies of a 22-page booklet titled “Kibush Kishkush,” which translates roughly as “Occupation Baloney.”
With folksy explanations and cartoon-style illustrations, the booklet has already been ridiculed by critics as naïve propaganda. The authors regard the booklet as an easy-to-understand guide to how settlers see reality.
It presents the settlements, which most countries consider illegal, as a normal, integral and now inseparable part of Israel, noting that hundreds of thousands of Israelis live in 150 established communities, many founded in the 1970s and ’80s.
What remains unclear is why, nearly half a century after Israel conquered the territory from Jordan, the Yesha Council felt the need to explain the settlement enterprise in Hebrew to Israelis.
Yigal Dilmoni, the deputy chief executive officer of the Yesha Council and the primary author of the pamphlet, said it was created as part of an effort to address what he called widespread ignorance about the settlements among the Israeli public. Mr. Dilmoni also said the booklet would provide settler youths and others with “tools to counter the claims” of what he described as the Israeli leftist news media, politicians and organizations that have called the settlements an underlying obstacle to peace.
The Palestinians, the booklet says, are “a name used to describe Arabs who live in the territories of Judea and Samaria,” the West Bank’s biblical name. The occupation, according to the booklet, is a fiction. Rather, it says, the lands in question were freed by the Israeli Army in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967.
“Our enemy is ignorance and lack of knowledge,” Mr. Dilmoni said. “People won’t connect with a place if they don’t know it or understand it.”
Mr. Dilmoni said the settlers first realized they had a problem 10 years ago, when Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza involved the razing of 21 Jewish settlements and the evacuation of about 8,000 settlers. Four small settlements in the northern West Bank were also evacuated. Most Israelis supported the move.
For the ideologically motivated settlers, the traumatic episode underlined what they described as the dangers of estrangement from wider Israeli society.
There has since been a concerted effort by supporters of the settlement movement to penetrate politics and the news media. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in his third consecutive term, heading a coalition dominated by right-wing and religious parties.
Still, the Yesha Council appears to fear the influence of Israeli leftist groups that support the establishment of a Palestinian state in lands Israel seized in 1967. Mr. Dilmoni would not identify them, but organizations like Peace Now, B’Tselem and Yesh Din frequently release reports tracking settlement activity, what they cite as violations of Palestinian rights, and shortcomings of Israeli law enforcement.
The booklet would “not change the facts,” said Hagit Ofran, who leads Peace Now’s settlement watch team. “For close to 50 years there has been an occupation,” she said. “This pamphlet is evidence that they, too, understand they have a problem.”
On its Facebook page, Peace Now said the Yesha Council had proved that its greatest expertise lay in “concealing from the Israeli public the reality that millions of Palestinians live around the settlements, lacking in rights and under Israeli control.”
An Israeli left-wing online magazine, +972, called the booklet “the idiot’s guide to whitewashing the occupation” and gave it the title “Occupation, Shmoccupation!”
The plan, according to Mr. Dilmoni of the Yesha Council, is initially to deliver copies of the booklet in settlements for distribution among the younger generation. When Israeli universities reopen in October, he said, copies will be distributed to the students.
Mr. Dilmoni said he hoped the booklet would help dispel what he called “stigmas” attached to the settlers.
The booklet addresses the policy of “price tag,” under which radical settlers and their supporters have vandalized Palestinian property, mostly to avenge or deter actions by Israeli security forces against unauthorized settlement activity. The issue took on added poignancy after the July arson attack in the West Bank village of Duma that killed a Palestinian toddler and his parents. Israeli authorities say Jewish extremists were responsible.
“The vast majority of the residents of Judea and Samaria are law-abiding citizens who respect their Arab neighbors,” the booklet asserts, while conceding that “a criminal, radical minority does at times damage Arabs’ olive trees and property.” The booklet also claims that sometimes the damage results from internal conflicts and that Jewish-owned olive trees are sometimes damaged by Arabs.
The booklet mostly blames what it calls the provocations of left-wing organizations. They, according to the booklet, have misled the Israeli public into thinking that such violence “takes place on a daily basis.”
There can be no further Israeli withdrawals, the booklet states, pointing to repeated failures of the peace process “despite a strong Israeli desire to end the conflict through negotiations.”
The booklet also asserts that every attempt at territorial compromise has led to terrorism and violence. Instead, it concludes, the solution is long-term maintenance of the status quo.
As for Israelis who question living in contested territory when it sounds so dangerous, the booklet says, “The answer is simple — because it’s ours.”