Gideon Levy: The Greatest Settler

By Gideon Levy

Among the many obituary notices published by various groups after the death of Teddy Kollek, one group’s notice was conspicuous in its absence: the Yesha Council of Jewish Settlements. It is a bit difficult to comprehend this ingratitude by the settlers toward the person who brought approximately 200,000 Jews to the occupied territories – perhaps more than any other person. The settlement enterprise owes a great historic debt to Kollek. Neither Rabbi Moshe Levinger nor Hanan Porat nor Aharon Domb nor Ze’ev "Zambish" Hever are responsible for settling so many Israelis beyond the Green Line as Kollek, the enlightened Viennese liberal.

The fact that most of the eulogies for the former Jerusalem mayor left out this detail and that Yesha did not embrace the mega-settler Kollek is no coincidence. Israeli society has adopted sundry and strange codes to whitewash the settlement enterprise. The settlement of the occupied territories in Jerusalem has never been considered hitnahalut (the term used for Jewish settlement in the territories). And the gargantuan neighborhoods of the capital, which were built during Teddy’s term and span extensive Palestinian territory, have never been considered a controversial issue.

The fact that almost no one in the world recognizes this enterprise and the new borders it charts does not change a thing: In our eyes, but only in our eyes, not every settlement is the same and each settlement has its own moral code. But this is a game we play with ourselves. Every home built beyond the Green Line – in Yitzhar or Itamar in the West Bank, in Nov in the Golan, or in French Hill in Jerusalem – is built on occupied land and all construction on occupied land is in violation of international law. Occupation is occupation. Not everything is legal, even if it is anchored in Israeli law, as in the case of the Golan Heights and Jerusalem.

The Israelis invent patents for themselves, but this sophisticated semantic laundering will not meet the legal and ethical test. The Ramot neighborhood is a settlement. There is no difference between the "neighborhood" of Pisgat Ze’ev and the "settlement" of Givat Ze’ev. This artificial distinction does not end with the Jerusalem region. In the West Bank, distinctions are also made between settlements and "illegal outposts," another virtuoso but groundless exercise in semantics with regard to an enterprise that is entirely illegal. There are also no settlements (hitnahaluyot) in the occupied Jordan Valley, but rather yishuvim, a generic word for settlements, unrelated to the 1967 borders. An ethical blemish has never been attached to the residents of these Jordan Valley settlements. Why? Because this is the way it was determined by Labor governments at the time, when they established moshavim and kibbutzim in the Jordan Valley – not "settlements."

Does this make any difference from the perspective of international law? Certainly not. Were the moshavim in the Jordan Valley not built on the land of residents who were disinherited? Have they not crushed the surrounding residents?

With regard to the Golan Heights, we went up another level in the word game we play with ourselves. There are no hitnahaluyot there at all. Why? Because we decided so. There are towns, kibbutzim and moshavim, just like in the Jezreel Valley. But no word game or Knesset legislation can alter the unequivocal fact that the Golan Heights is occupied Syrian land and all of its residents are settlers and that international law regards them as criminals.

This phenomenon reached its peak in Jerusalem, which will celebrate 40 years of its "unification" this year. This act of unification was an act of occupation and the fact that a charming and charismatic figure like Kollek presided over it does not change a thing. Kollek demolished a neighborhood in the Old City and built the new neighborhoods on Palestinian land for Jews only – apartheid at its worst – and this should also be remembered in the balance of his considerable achievements.

The Jerusalem mayor Kollek left behind is a divided and wounded city, despite and because of its enormous development, replete with explosives that will yet explode in our faces. In fact, it was never unified. Like any colonialist city, there is a dark backyard for the natives. To this day, most Israelis do not set foot in Palestinian neighborhoods and the Palestinians avoid Jewish neighborhoods. The city remains divided, despite all of the lofty words about its unification for eternity. Regarding equality, there is nothing to say of course. It is sufficient to travel to the Shuafat camp or even to Sheikh Jarrah to note the outrageous disparity between the services in the eastern and western parts of the city.

Societal neglect, piles of garbage, no playgrounds or community centers, no sidewalk and no streetlights. Gaza in Jerusalem, all on the basis of abominable ethnic discrimination. This did not begin with Ehud Olmert nor with Uri Lupolianski. This began with the wily Kollek. A city whose rule in the Palestinian section is conducted through the strength of arms, with surprise checkpoints and hundreds of violent Border Policemen routinely patrolling the streets, and whose residents are subject to prohibitions that violate their fundamental liberties, is not a "unified" city. Teddy is responsible for this.

The history of the occupation, which has already lasted more than twice the amount of time than the years the state existed without it, is full of "men of peace" from the "left" who are responsible for this injustice. What would the settlement enterprise be without Yigal Allon and Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir and Yisrael Galili and, of course, Shimon Peres? Kollek must now be added to them, belatedly. He brought the wide world to Jerusalem but only to its Jewish part. He loved his city very much, and built and developed it in an impressive way, but on the downtrodden back of half of its residents. Moshe Amirav wrote in his article on Thursday ("Division, where unification failed") that Kollek said to him in his waning years: "We failed to unify the city. Tell Ehud Barak that I support dividing it." Better late than never, but why did we not hear a word about this in the lofty eulogies?

(Copy Rights Haaretz, January 7, 2007) 

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