Occupation for the Perplexed 2: Settlers and Settlement

Myth: There are no settlers, only “pioneers”. The settlements in occupied territory are an integral part of Israel’s defense and are reminiscent of the “tower and stockade” settlements prior to the establishment of the State of Israel.

Fact: Prior to the existence of the state, the tower and stockade method of setting up agricultural settlements enabled the establishing of a Jewish presence far from the centers such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on land purchased by the JNF, served as defense outposts and provided a basis for a partition plan for a future Jewish State with a Jewish majority.

Unlike the tower and stockade period, the settler enterprise today in occupied territory occurs way after the establishment of the Jewish State which is fully recognized by nations of the world and is a member of the UN with its security ensured by the Israel Defense Force.

Outposts are often built illegally on private land owned by Palestinians, sometimes for generations. Whereas many tower and stockade pioneers worked the land far from urban centers ,the current settlements are physically near Israel’s large metropolises, serve no or little agricultural purpose and most of the settlers work in the extended Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas.

Findings: Rather than serving purposes of defense they are a burden on defense, as the settlements in occupied territory demand huge resources and infrastructure from the army with soldiers placed on or nearby almost every settlement enclave for protection of the Jewish civilians. Rather than fight for the right of a state to exist, the settlement endeavor fights for a Greater Israel with borders that will ultimately include a majority of Palestinian and Israeli Arabs and that threatens to turn the Jewish presence in Israel, into a minority thereby bringing an end to the Jewish State itself. The justification for this is pure biblical entitlement and ultra-nationalism, without a thought for private property, a peace process or long term sustainability. Extremist settlers such as in Hebron, rather than respect the Israeli soldiers who protect them, often hurl abuses at them.

Many of the residents of the larger settlement blocks are by no means pioneers of any kind, have no idea that they actually live outside the international borders of the recognized state of Israel and have bought houses there unwittingly or without thought as to the consequences due of the attraction of low costs, a country view and benefits provided by the government.

Fantasy: As the Greater Israel comes into effect, Arab residents will prefer to forego their basic human right to vote and will voluntarily “transfer” themselves to Jordan, the “real” Palestine.


Myth: There is no demographic threat to a Greater Israel. Palestinians will always be a minority. Therefore Israel should annex occupied Palestinian territories and declare sovereignty there, rather than work for a two state solution.

Fact: According to a seminal study conducted by the JPPI (The Jewish People Policy Institute), an academic research devoid of any political bias concludes that by 2015 Jews will be definitively a minority within the territory between the sea and the Jordan river. The implications of this are that a Greater Israel will in effect either be a non-democratic state or a non-Jewish state.

Findings: Purveyors of the myth work under the guise of various agencies, spokesmen and media organizations. They reflect a position widely advocated by the Judea and Samaria council, many members of the Israeli Knesset and lobbyists who contend that there is no demographic threat and seek Israeli sovereignty over occupied territory. In order promote this idea, incorrect data and propaganda material is presented as fact, ostensibly introducing future population growth and false statistics without any factual reference or sources of significance.  This is no less than poppycock, promoted for a purely political end. It can be likened to snake oil salesmanship or a false messianic deception and should be treated as such.

Fantasy: When Israel declares sovereignty over the occupied territories, Jews of the world will be so enthralled that biblical Israel has been restored and that the Messiah is near, that they will all undergo an epiphany and will come to live in the Greater Israel ensuring a Jewish majority forever.



Myth: Ardent settler expansion is actually a reflection of a strong commitment to Zionism, the State of Israel and its principles. Those who oppose it, oppose the concept of Zionism, seek to delegitimize Israel and can be considered anti-Zionists.

Fact: The facts point to the opposite. Leaders of the vision of a Greater Israel are taking Israel into a reality which brings with it an end to Zionism as we know it and an end to the Jewish democratic state.  Organizations such as Peace Now and the political party Meretz who oppose settlement expansion are fighting for Zionism and for the sustainability of a democratic Jewish state with internationally recognized borders, based on the Declaration of Independence which calls for a “country for all of its inhabitants…based on freedom, justice and peace as envisioned by the prophets of Israel” and “complete equality of social and political rights for all its citizens, irrespective of religion, race or sex”.

Findings: A recently published quote from one of the previous heads of the Judea and Samaria council and an important founder and leader of the settler movement highlights the problem: (paraphrased into English) “I would say that democratic Israel has today one central function…to disappear from the landscape. Israeli democracy has completed its mission. It must now dissipate and bow down to Judaism.” (Benny Katzover, January 2012)

This reflects a position of a substantial body of settlers who denigrate democracy with its checks and balances and court rulings and who seek either a Jewish orthodox theocracy in its place or a geographically obese Jewish state that claims democracy but disenfranchises the majority of its inhabitants of the vote and basic human rights.


Myth: Extremist settler views and actions such as calling for Israeli sovereignty in occupied territory and the building of illegal settlements reflects a small ineffective minority.

Fact: While it is true that the extremists in the settler movement are a minority in terms of the total population of settlers, they number tens of thousands and dominate government policy. They have prevented the freezing of settlement activity despite the request of the US administration and have enabled aggressive settlement expansion during this term of government.

Findings: In order to understand the power of the Greater Israel movement one needs to understand the system of elections and decision making in the Likud party. A system of primaries determines who will serve in the Knesset and ultimately that in turn influences who will serve as ministers in government. Rather than join minor right wing parties, a powerful body of tens of thousands of settlers and ultra-nationalists now are Likud members. When they vote, for the most part they vote en bloc for a particular list of candidates. Thus for a Likud politician to gain or retain as high a place on the Knesset list as possible, he or she then needs the support of this bloc during their term in office. This explains why cabinet ministers and Knesset members made what can only be described as a pilgrimage to the illegal settlement of Migron after the Supreme Court ruled that it must be dismantled since it was built of private Palestinian owned land. The quest to bypass the courts in this case and in the recent Ulpana event was also motivated in order to appease settler sentiments. In effect a small minority of the settlers in total, and a seemingly insignificant minority of Israel’s citizens are now defining policy with an end goal to full annexation. In the last instance, despite the cabinet decision not to bypass the courts and proceed with the court order to dismantle five buildings at Givat Haulpana, the settlers were rewarded with the following package of Greater Israel goodies: a further 300 units to be built in the same illegal settlement on land held by the military, a further 500 units to be built in occupied territory and the five buildings on private Palestinian land that were to be demolished will simply be sawed off their foundations and transplanted to another site on the same settlement. How this is physically possible with concrete structures is a feat yet to be encountered by the science of civil engineering. Not to worry though: with the inventive Israeli mind and a three billion dollar US aid package, a young working middle class in Israel who pay their taxes yet cannot afford a home within Israel’s recognized borders, money is no object.

Final Score: Common Sense 1, Settlers 800

Theatre of the absurd?

No, Israel’s march of folly 2012.


Fantasy:  The new coalition with Kadima will bring about a change of heart, open negotiations for a two-state solution and curb settler extremism.


This is a fantasy I would love to entertain but not one to linger on. I believe we may have run out of time.


About the Author
Originally from South Africa, Jonathan made aliya in the seventies, and lived and worked on a kibbutz for several years. He has a graduate degree in business from Boston University and is a managing partner of an Israeli based business. He was a co-founder of the Forum Tzora peace action group and participates in the Geneva Initiative workshops. He is the author of the book “Valley of Heaven and Earth”.