Hillel Damron
Writer, filmmaker and blogger

Thieves in the Night

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night;” Peter iii, King James Bible

We shake off the old life which has grown rancid on us, and start from the beginning. We don’t want to change and we don’t want to improve, we want to begin from the beginning.” A. D. Gordon, Galilean pioneer.

These two epigraphs set forth the novel, Thieves in the Night, by Arthur Koestler. He was a renowned Hungarian-British author, most literarily regarded for his novel Darkness at Noon. He led an adventure-full life, and in 1926 immigrated briefly to then Palestine. For a short period of time he lived in Kibbutz Hefzibah, the same kibbutz where I was born 20 years later, the year he also had published this work. As it happened, his application to join the kibbutz was rejected by its members, reason unknown, and that kibbutz is mentioned — sarcastically, I think — a number of times in this novel.

The book, which I just read, is dedicated to Vladimir Jabotinsky (he was his secretary for a while), and describes the settlement of a new kibbutz in 1937, and the whole settlement endeavor of the Hebrew people coming to the land of their ancestors from Europe between 1937-39, as well as the struggle against the British rule and the local Arab population.

Here’s a short description from book: “The new settlers found themselves in the center of a landscape of gentle desolation, a barrenness mellowed by age. The rocks had settled down for eternity; the sparse scrubs and olive trees exhaled a silent and contented resignation. A few vultures sailed round the hill-top; the curves they described seemed to paraphrase the smooth curvature of the hills.”

What follows is not a review of the book — though I enjoyed reading it and warmly recommend it to all who are interested in the Zionist endeavor of old — but an introduction to a complicated, conflicted, and most demanding question regarding the settlement of the land back then, and since then. I’m going to challenge myself, and I hope that you’ll join me for the ride, on this treacherous, steep road.

Here it is in a nutshell: What is the difference between the settlement of kibbutzim and moshavim prior to the 1948 War of Independence and the 1967 war, and the settlement of outposts, villages and towns in the West Bank — i.e., Judah and Samaria — which followed these wars? Reading this book, where the description of capturing the land — עלייה על הקרקע — is so vivid, including the buying of the lands from the local Arabs, and the fight against them, including their point of view of the Hebrew settlers, strike me as so similar to the experience, the endeavor of the current settlers’ movement.

Except back then the chalutzim were mostly communists, socialists and idealists, and now they are mostly religious zealots. But if one of them would to ask me, an imaginary settler let’s say, what is the difference, really? What shall I answer? Me — who opposed so much, still do, of what they’ve been doing, and where they’ve been leading Israel since that war of 67, which I fought as a soldier.

First, I would say, back then — again, as described so vividly in this book — the Jewish immigrants, the Olim, were refugees fleeing Europe before the storm of the Second World-War, and then after the Holocaust (like my parents), coming to their ancestors’ land to fulfill the dream, and the ideal, of creating a safe, secure home for the Jewish people. Since they had no such country and home. In contrast, the settlement endeavor that has followed the ’67 war, and continuing to this day, is conducted while the Hebrew and Jewish State, i.e., Israel, is already in existence; it is a state amongst the nations. The dream has become a reality. Furthermore, following that ’67 war, which was an unequaled military victory, the people and their army have proved their strength, securing the country’s prominence, and permanence, in this hostile region.

Second, the settlement movement before the ’48 War of Independence and the ’67 war, was largely legal. Indeed, as describe in details in the above mentioned book. The lands were bought from the local Arab population, who participated silently — most of them, anyway — in this endeavor. The settlers then settled and built their settlements largely on legal basis. The British objected to the flood of Jewish immigrants, and tried to stop it, but though they ruled the land — it was not their land, and they eventually were forced to leave. Following the ’67 war, and according to international law, all the settlements in the West Bank (and prior to that in the Gaza Strip) were/are illegal. Period. The West Bank is defined as an Occupied Land, and Israel as its military occupier.

Even more so, the various Israeli governments, following the ’67 war, and in accordance with the opinion of their legal experts, have realized that, and therefore designated all the places where settlements were being build — with or without permission of the government — as military outposts. A legal trick that, at least internationally, doesn’t hold any water.

Third, a lot of atrocities — as described so well in another, newer book about the same topic, the internationally acclaimed nonfiction work by Ari Sahvit, ‘My Promised Land’ — were committed against the Arab population in Palestine prior and during the ’48 War of Independence. A lot of injustice was done, some inevitably as result of the war, some on purpose. Hence the Palestinian refugees’ problem — not so unlike the Jewish refugees, back then — and their aspirations for a country of their own. Nothing can undo the wrongs of the past; but justice can remedy the situation by creating a Palestine state. This state can only be created in the West Bank, including the Gaza Strip. You cannot achieve that goal if you continue, so I tell that imaginary settler, to settle their land. Even more so, the Zionist endeavor and movement of creating a safe, secure home for the Jewish people, can only be fully achieved and fulfilled, and be internationally justified, by creating, side by side, a Palestinian state.

The settlers since the Six Day War of ’67, and those of today, are also like “Thieves in the Night.” Only now they have a state, a government, and an army behind them. And they endanger, with their endeavor and behavior towards the Palestinians, the whole Zionist dream of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state. Enough is enough — land wise, and otherwise. Living by the sword for eternity is no solution, and ensures and secures no future. We have a state already. It is small — but it is ours. That is the deference. That is the answer.

About the Author
Hillel Damron is the author of novels, essays, and short stories—one which won the 2011 ‘Moment Magazine Memoire Contest.’ He studied films at the ‘London Film School’ and became the film director of TV documentaries, a feature film, and video shorts. He was the Executive Director of the ‘Hillel House at UC Davis'. He was an elite IDF paratroops unit officer who was wounded in battle; he was born in kibbutz Hephzibah to parents who survived the Holocaust.
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