Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Settler and the Minister

Last week we published a number of previously classified documents from the early days of the settler project in 1979. We put up an English-language synopsis of the documents, which are all in Hebrew. Over the next few days we'll describe some of them in greater detail for our Hebrew-challenged readers.

The first two documents were written by Daniela Weiss to Ariel Sharon. Weiss was one of the most vocal and well-known of the settlers; Ariel Sharon was in his first ministerial position, Minister of Agriculture, after an illustious and sometimes controversial military career. Where Prime Minister Menachem Begin was openly in favor of settling Jews on the West Bank - which he now insisted be officially called Judea and Samaria - Sharon was the person in charge of making it happen. Most days of the week Weiss and Sharon were partners in a project they were both committed to. On November 22, 1979, however, after the High Court of Justice had decreed that the settlement of Elon Moreh had to be dismantled for having been constructed on land owned by local Arabs--with the government having accepted the ruling and begun preparations to move the setlers elsewhere--Weiss had no patience for the politicians, not even for Ariel Sharon. So she wrote him two irate letters, one short official one, and the other five pages long.

The first, addrssed to "Mr. Ariel Sharon, Minister of Agriculture," called upon him to resign. "Dismantling Elon Moreh will be a surrender to the PLO. We must protect Israel's honor. Everyone knows the last moment to achieve benefits from the Camp David Accords is now, before we hand over the oil fields [in the Western Sinai] to the Egyptians. The PLO and the Egyptians understand that dismantling a settlement is like desecrating Israel's honor, and that must be prevented. Israel's government dare not desecrate Israel's honor. If the government can't change the legal status of the settlements then you must resign and salvage Israel's honor." (underline in the original)

In an 8-sentence letter Weiss referred to Israel's honor no less than four times.

The second letter, addressed simply to "Arik," went into greater detail, and is far more interesting, for all that the themes of both letters are similar. Unlike the first, it has no file number and no Gregorian date. This was Daniela writing to her friend, or at least close aquantance and political accomplice. The first was probably leaked to the press; the second wasn't. It reflected what the writer really thought, and in a tone she expected the recepient to understand and respect. She numbered her points, at least until her emotions took over:
1. Dismantling Elon Moreh will be a victory for the PLO. The day the court's decision was published mayors of West Bank towns were interviewed in the media and they all said they expected the decision would cause the dismantling of all the settlements.

2. Sadat has a seismograph in his head, and he constantly measures our national strength [she may have meant something closer to national fortitude]. He understands perfectly well that whichever side has the upper hand in this contest of national wills will write an important page in his nation's history. What I don't understand is how you don't understand this. Now, at the last moment before we hand over the Sinai oil wells to Sadat, is the time to snatch a national achievement and legalize the settlements.

3. Following your recommendations, we've been concentrating on capturing strategic points step by step. Yet in the face of the approaching Palestinian autonomy [agreed upon between Israel and Egypt in the peace treaty of 1979] it is doubtful if such an incremental policy has much of a future. The Palestinian autonomy will lead to a Palestinian State, and we won't be able to create any additional settlements.

4. Most important of all: the power of ideas. Jewish history is motivated by ideas. Powerful ideas inculcate physical [or political] power, not the other way around. As we wonder how we'll explain to our children how we left Elon Moreh, it seems to us that the problem was simple: Israel's government lacked the courage to say that Judea and Samaria are part of our homeland and we'll build there just as we build elsewhere in the homeland. Any child will respond that in such a case, the government is bad.

Of course, you'll respond that a child doesn't have the ability to see the full picture, such as for example the fact that a different government would be worse. But this isn't so. If the government is worse we'll have clarity, and we'll struggle against it.

I assume I won't live long enough to see the fulfillment of the settlement project, but I know that since we've done the correct thing in educating our children it will go on until fulfillment. That's why a change of course and its resulting conceptual weakness is so dangerous to the process.

Finally, were the government to act cannily it would extend its law over Judea and Samaria, and thus enable creation of many more settlements. If instead the government decides to confront us, following the dictums of "Peace Now," we will know that our historic task is to resist. We hope the government will come to its senses, but if it doesn't I will take my daughters to Elon Moreh and we'll demonstrate our physical attachment to the land; the strength of our determination will thus be branded into the minds of our children, and they'll spend their lives determined to return to Elon Moreh, and they'll restore Israel's honor.
The term honor, interestingly, appeared only once in the second letter, in its final line.

Daniela Weiss is still alive, though it has been some years since anyone turned to her for an opinion. Even the settlers today use different terminology--but that's one of the fun things in archival documentation, that it offers a window into the minds of past actors in earlier historical contexts.

The next post in this series will look at the top lawyer in the story, who saw the world in very different terms.

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