Ya'aqov Shenkin

The Morality of Settlement

An IDF soldier comforts an evacuee during the evacuation of Neve Deqalim, 2005. IDF archives.
An IDF soldier comforts an evacuee during the evacuation of Neve Deqalim, 2005. IDF archives.

Sunday night’s conference on potential post-war settlement of Gaza gave pundits of all sides of the political spectrum much to talk about. Does settlement bring security or more danger? Is settlement a national and religious value? If it is, how should we go about it?

In true Jewish fashion, we may answer this question by first analysing another one: why do Arabs mistrust Jews? And why do Jews mistrust Arabs?

One part of the answer presents itself clearly: residential segregation.

The settlements which exist in the West Bank do not have a single Palestinian living in them. Similarly, under both Israeli and Palestinian law, Israelis are barred from living in Area A of Yehuda and Shomron.

Within Israel proper, nearly 85% of Israelis live in nearly or entirely ethnically homogenous communities. Even Israel’s supposedly “mixed” cities, making up the final 15%, are entirely segregated by neighbourhood, and there are strong disparities between ethnic communities. (Tzafadia, 2011)

And then there is Gaza. An entire generation has grown up in Gaza in which many have not even laid eyes upon a Jew in their lives, despite them living only a few kilometres away. And whilst Jewish Israelis may see Arabs on the regular, true and human interactions are incredibly sparse.

The strong variety of data on the issue decisively tells us: residential segregation leads to lower levels of trust and segregated neighbourhoods have fewer incidents of altruistic behaviour. Meanwhile, integrated and diverse neighbourhoods will lead to higher levels of trust and social cohesion. (Uslaner, 2009) (Van Der Meer & Tolsma, 2014) (Nai et al., 2018)

Our lack of contact with Palestinian Arabs is much of what drives the conflict between our peoples. In the midst of Tzuq Eitan, the 2014 Gaza War, Rav Adam Sinai shlit”a, leader of the Sulam Community in Ramat Gan noted the following:

“Unity, peace and love – they are the victory in the game that is life, not the conquest of others. The ability to respect another party requires the understanding of their private role in relation to the whole, as well as taking a commitment to fulfill my own role in relation to the whole. The imperialist desire to conquer the other side, to defeat him and make him subordinate to me as the conqueror of his soul, body and country, is the Greek way – the way of the corporeal. [Conversely,] the soul seeks unity. And she is the one who wants to win. Have we tried to understand what is the uniqueness of the Arab world in the broader universal human role? Moreover, have we accepted responsibility for our own role in the human fabric?” (Sinai, 2014)

When settlement is done as an outgrowth of Greek-like imperialist desire, it is a destructive and negative force. Unfortunately, such urges were prioritized at Sunday night’s conference. However, when settlement is done as a fulfillment of our role, as laid out to us in Hashem’s commandment to us in Bamidbar 33-35, the Ramban’s codification of the value, and the variety of Jewish literature on the topic, and in conjunction with the Jewish drive to peace, as the Mishnah tells us: “Rabbi Shimon ben Halafta said: the Holy One, Blessed be He, found no vessel that could contain blessing for Israel save that of peace, as it is written: “The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace”” (Oqtsin 3:12, Translation from Sefaria), and most importantly, when done with an understanding of “the uniqueness of the Arab world in the broader universal human role,” understanding their wants, desires, fears and suspicions, it can be enacted in a way that will bring peace. Many on the left believe that the convergence of all these values is impossible, meanwhile, many on the right refuse to even try. Both are wrong.

Integrative settlement may indeed be a cog in the solution to the conflict, but the type of segregate settlement which has been pursued manner for the past six decades most certainly isn’t. Jews living in Gaza once again and encountering Arab neighbours can lead to a flourishing peace and unity, and a “victory in the game of life” as Rav Sinai describes it. But making Judenrein, or ‘Palestinianrein’ areas, whether done by a left-wing government implementing some ‘peace solution’ on lines of segregation or a right-wing one enforcing occupation requiring segregation, will only lead to more suffering.

In Singapore, laws of forced integration helped bring the country out of ethnic tensions faced by the early state. (Badalge, K. N., 2020). It has become an all-too-common hasbarist talking point to compare the successes of Singapore to the failures of Gaza. Perhaps here is where we can set the ship back on course.

Gaza is not the end of this conversation, however. We should be having conferences on when and how Jews might live in Gaza. We similarly must start having conferences on when and how Palestinians might live in Tel Aviv, Herzliya and West Jerusalem, and Jews living in Hevron, Shechem and Ramallah.

Then on that day, may we see all the nations come under one tent of peace and unity in service of the Creator, regardless of who they are and where they live.

References (in order of appearance):

Tzafadia, E. (2011) Review: Mixed Cities in Israel: Localities of Contentions on JSTOR. Israel Studies Review, Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 153-165

Uslaner, E. (2009). Segregation and Mistrust: Diversity, Isolation, and Social Cohesion. University of Maryland

Van Der Meer, T., & Tolsma, J. (2014). Ethnic diversity and its effects on social cohesion. Annual Review of Sociology, 40(1), 459–478.

Nai, J. et. al. (2018) People in more racially diverse neighbourhoods are more prosocial. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 114(4), 497-515 (Contact me for specifics if you are unwilling to pay for the study)

Sinai, A. (2014) What do Hamas Want? HaSulam

Badalge, K. N. (2020). The country where diversity is enforced by law. We Are Not Divided.

About the Author
Ya'aqov Shenkin is a British-Israeli Jew residing in Jerusalem with a passion for Jewish history, Jewish politics and Torah knowledge.
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