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Sovereignty begins at Homesh

By not enforcing Israeli law for illegal West Bank outposts and other de-facto separatist communities, Israel is steadily turning itself into a shtetl with an army
A Jewish settler throws stones at Israeli forces in Homesh, a former Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Homesh was evacuated in August 2005. March 28 2007. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A Jewish settler throws stones at Israeli forces in Homesh, a former Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Homesh was evacuated in August 2005. March 28 2007. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The recent demands to retroactively legalize Homesh as an “appropriate Zionist response” to the recent terror attack in which yeshiva student Yehuda Dimentman was killed put the “young settlement” issue back in the news. The term “young settlements” (hityashvut tzeira in Hebrew) is PR verbal laundering coined to try and give a veneer of respectability to the dozens of illegal outposts that dot the hills all over Judea and Samaria. Homesh is one of them. 

Those making this demand all hail from the Mahane Leumi (Nationalist faction), the Likud-led coalition of parties that arrogantly claims a monopoly on preserving, protecting and promoting Zionism and Jewish nationalism, patriotism and sovereignty. 

But nothing could be more anti-Zionist and anti-sovereignty than this demand. The cornerstone of sovereignty is the willingness and ability to impose the law of the sovereign on an area under its control. Failure to do so is an abdication of sovereignty, an admission that the sovereign is incapable of fulfilling the most basic mission of sovereignty. 

Far from promoting sovereignty, the demand that the state overtly collude in flouting its laws and government decisions subverts the very notion of sovereignty and exhibits an appalling lack of comprehension of what sovereignty is all about. This brings to mind Zeev Jabotinsky’s famous quote, “it’s easier to get the Jews out of exile than to get the exile out of the Jews.” Jabotinsky was the founder of Beitar, out of which Herut, and later the Likud would evolve. 

The fact that those who call themselves the Nationalist Faction can suggest such an anti-sovereignty move indicates just how accurate Jabotinsky was. After more than seven decades of independence, Israel remains at heart a shtetl with an army, not a sovereign society. We talk the talk of sovereignty but walk the walk of “shtetlism,” which permeates every aspect of public life.

Sovereignty is based on responsibility and accountability; shtetlism is all about living by one’s wits. Responsibility is the realm of the sovereign, a word that cannot be used in conjunction with the shtetl.

The 3 rogue autonomies

This shtetlist culture, devoid of responsibility and accountability, manifests itself daily in all aspects of Israeli life. In abdicating its most basic responsibility, the state has gone so far as to permit no less than three separatist-tribal communities to establish de-facto rogue autonomies in areas ostensibly under its control, such that today we contend with the ultra-Orthodox autonomy, the Judea and Samaria settler autonomy, and the Bedouin autonomy. 

In the settler autonomy, they, not the government, decide what will be built and where in Judea and Samaria. For years they have spread a network of illegal outposts all over Judea and Samaria. Not only has the state failed to address this challenge to its sovereignty, it has collaborated with the erosion of its sovereignty. There is no other definition for a situation where the state declares the outposts illegal but provides troops to protect them. The result: empowerment of the more radical settler autonomy elements, who don’t hesitate to carry out pogroms against Palestinian villagers, and attack IDF and police forces who dare try and force them to adhere to Israeli law.

The ultra-Orthodox autonomy openly flouts a whole range of laws with which they do not agree. These include the National Service (army conscription) Law, the law that requires all schools to teach a core curriculum that includes English, mathematics and science studies to ensure that graduates will have skills that make them employable contributing citizens. In addition, they flagrantly violate building and zoning laws. The result: ultra-Orthodox cities look like refugee camps in Gaza, and their schools’ graduate ignoramuses in everything but Torah and Talmud, creating a generation of unemployable people destined to a life of welfare dependency. Here too, the state has emboldened this brazen challenge to its sovereignty by continuing to fund the autonomy’s institutions. This is shtetlism on steroids. 

The Bedouin, despite being politically and economically much more marginalized than the settlers and ultra-Orthodox, have nevertheless succeeded in effectively exploiting the state’s shtetlist tendencies, which expressed themselves in a decades-long policy towards the Bedouin that can be described as a cocktail of appeasement and of benign and not so benign neglect. 

The first stage in enabling this autonomy to develop was the blind eye turned to the wholesale flouting of the law prohibiting bigamy among the Bedouin. The rationale was to respect their supposed cultural traditions. In addition to a blind eye, the state, in typical shtetlist fashion, continues to this day to fund this blatant subversion of its sovereignty by paying child benefits to the large families generated by polygamous marriages. Instead of increasing employment via economic development, it alleviated the results of unemployment by paying child allowances, which, for a polygamous family that can easily include 15-20 kids, amounts to a tidy sum.

Realizing the state had no intention of abandoning its shtetlist ways and would continue to ignore whatever went on in the developing Bedouin autonomy as long as it stayed within its boundaries, the Bedouin autonomy embarked upon its own economic development program, based on a flourishing criminal industry. Initially focused on drug smuggling (mostly hash) across the Egyptian border, for use within the community, the state didn’t give a damn. In addition, they also smuggled Palestinian brides into Israel from the West Bank, since fewer Israeli Bedouin women were willing to accept being part of a polygamous family. As soon as this industry had established itself as a major economic enterprise within the Bedouin community, it began to upgrade, to take advantage of the lucrative potential of penetrating mainstream society. They formed alliances with urban Israeli Arab and Jewish crime gangs, becoming major hash suppliers throughout the country. They also trafficked illegal economic migrants from Africa seeking work in Israel. 

Still, the state continued to do nothing, which further emboldened them. Soon Jewish companies found themselves being extorted into paying for “guards” supplied by these gangs. Any company that did not pony up found itself the victim of theft, arson and bombings. If the owners still didn’t get the message, they and their families were attacked. Despite growing public pressure, the state still acted as a shtetl and took zero responsibility for the increasing collapse of its sovereignty in the Negev and other centers of Bedouin population. 

Further empowered, things reached a point where for the past several years, those gangs entered IDF bases in the area, especially in Tze’elim, with impunity. Soldiers, forbidden to use their weapons against civilian criminals, were helpless to prevent wholesale theft of IDF weapons from these bases.

Equipped with the best weapons they could steal from the IDF and unlimited chutzpah, the gangs have morphed into dangerous militias, which operate with increasing impunity all over the country. Their protection racket evolved into a parallel tax authority, collecting huge sums from contractors, farmers and manufacturers. 

In the riots that hit Israel’s mixed Jewish-Arab cities, such as Jaffa, Lod, Ramle and Acre, these gangs targeted Jews and Jewish property with impunity and turned large parts of the Negev, including downtown Beer-Sheba, into a sort of Israeli wild west, where they do as they please while the sheriff hides in his office. 

Homesh first

This must end, here and now, and these autonomies eliminated before it’s too late. Homesh is the place where a red line must finally be drawn and enforced because only in this way can we begin to restore the collapsing Israeli sovereignty.

For those who ask why start at Homesh, the answer is simple. Sovereignty begins with the adoption of a governmental culture based on accountability. The Nation-State law, initiated and legislated by the “Nationalist Faction” states that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and only Jews have national rights in it. This means that the responsibility for preserving and fortifying a governmental culture and sovereignty rests first and foremost on our shoulders. This is the essence of the difference between shtetlism and sovereignty. shtetlism deals with the distribution of petty privileges, sovereignty deals with taking responsibility and accountability.

The ironic fact that the Nationalist Faction, the self-proclaimed champion of Israeli nationalism, continues to glorify Israeli sovereignty with words while acting in a way that subverts it shows just how shtetlist a society we still are, and how much has to be done before we succeed in getting the exile out of the Jews. 

Homesh is our crossroads. One way leads to the restoration of sovereignty and shedding our shtetlist ways. The second way leads to increasingly shedding our sovereignty until we truly and fully become a shtetl with no hold and no claim to a state. 

About the Author
Jonathan Ariel is a South African native who served as an intelligence officer with the ANC and subsequently worked with Nelson Mandela. In Israel he was News Editor of Makor Rishon, Editor-in-Chief of Ma’ariv International, and Editor-in-Chief of Jerusalem Online’s English-language website Channel 2 News.