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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Why 'settler' is a dirty word

Sorry for the lengthy break - I'm back in Israel now.

As any of you who have read this blog for some time probably know, I don't use the term 'settler.' I refer to the Jews of Judea and Samaria as revenants.

But why is it that the word 'settler' has become such a bad word in politically correct society? The Jerusalem Post Magazine has a lengthy article about that question this weekend, comparing the settlers of the Negev in 1946 with the 'settlers' of today. The bottom line fits in perfectly with Israel's NotInMyBackYard attitude:
"Israel is not a pioneering society anymore," says Prof. Shmuel Sandler of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. "In general, all over the world, there are less aspirations and impulses to control territories where other people live. Settling and building an empire was once a very positive concept, but the world has changed its views and Israel has changed its views, and today colonialism is a dirty word."

But Sandler offers a deeper answer to the change in values, having more to do with the Israel's becoming a more affluent society since the 1940s and less to do with the settlement ideology.

"Israel has become much more hedonistic," he says. "To be a pioneer you have to sacrifice, living in the settlements is a sacrifice, and people don't see this as a worthy goal anymore. They're tired. It's much better to live in Tel Aviv than in a small settlement surrounded by Arab villages."

Sixty years ago, the main agenda was the welfare of the group - the individual was of secondary importance, elaborates media crisis consultant Amir Dan, CEO of the media and strategy office at McCann Press of McCann-Ericsson. "Today, people care more about themselves and their families and less about the collective good."

The main problem according to Amrusi is that today's generation lacks the education necessary to grasp the importance of the Land of Israel and thus of the larger significance of the settlement movement.

Less Jewish history and Bible studies in schools have led to more disconnection from their past, she says, and as a result, many have no idea who the land really belongs to. Without a strong Jewish identity and connection to Jewish roots, Israelis miss the bigger picture of the State of Israel and its role in the destiny of the Jewish people.

"Our history didn't start in 1948, it started thousands of years ago," Amrusi says. "We aren't talking about occupying a new place - we're talking about going back to our homeland, to where our culture and religion began with Abraham and King David."

The settlement movement, she contends, is just another link in the very long chain of the history of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.

But the public doesn't empathize with the settler movement because it doesn't identify with the settlers, viewing them as dangerous extremists, explains Dan.

Sixty years ago, he says, settlers were looked at as people who risked their lives for the country, whereas modern-day settlers are viewed as risking the country for themselves and their own interests. Sixty years ago, the settlers were the soldiers of the state that was to come, but today they are not seen as soldiers but rather as the ones risking the lives of our soldiers.

Why? In 1946, he explains, everything was simpler because there was one clear-cut target - establishing a state. Today, there are many groups and many goals, and the settler movement differentiates itself even further from other groups because "it looks different, acts different and sees itself as different ideologically."

While Dan admits that the media play a large role in distinguishing and disconnecting the settlers from the rest of society, he says the settlers also separate themselves by thinking their ideology is more important than explaining their convictions to the consensus. Indeed, this realization led Gush Katif settlers on a campaign in 2005 going door-to-door to homes across the country in an attempt to show people that settlers are normal people and just like them.

Wherever the fault lies, 60 years from now, Dan says, the details of today will have faded away, and we will only remember the stereotypes.

"Settlers will conjure up extremists who hated Arabs and were religious and were different from me, they won't be learned about as heroes who saved the land," he predicts.

There are ways for the settlers to change this, of course, as they tried to do in their campaign before the disengagement. But, says Dan, "if I had to guess, Ariel Sharon will be the one remembered as a hero for taking the settlers out of Gush Katif."
I think it's more likely that Ariel Sharon will be remembered for starting the State of Israel on the path to its destruction, God forbid. Read the whole thing.

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