Reports that recently, settlers in Yitzhar attacked an Israeli army ambulance with stones are not surprising; Yitzhar is one of the more extreme settlements.
However, the attack does raise questions about whether the extremes of the settler movement can be considered Zionist: Whether we define Zionism as support for the State of Israel, a Jewish democratic state, a modern Jewish nation state, or a state where Jews are the majority population, the movement fails: Israel is the pro-Arab authority that must be overthrown; democracy is overrated; a Davidic monarchy or country ruled by Jewish law is the ideal; and all of the West Bank – and perhaps, ideally, Gaza – must be part of Israel, even if that means Jews might not be a majority. Admittedly, the need for a Jewish majority becomes decidedly less urgent once you throw democracy out the window.
One of the basic definitions of a modern nation state is that it has the monopoly on violence – it has the police force and army both to protect and to control its citizens. Even though we expect a good, democratic state not to use that force either to start wars or to intimidate its own populace, the latent threat of violence is always there, and underscores the power dynamic between state and citizen. If it continues and remains unpunished, stone-throwing against agents of the state -especially agents of the state who represent its monopoly on violence (in this case, the army) – could threaten that monopoly, and, by extension, Israel’s existence as a modern nation state.
The stone-throwing at Yitzhar however, is not the only example of anti-Zionist stone-throwing: There are ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, as well as Arab neighborhoods and villages, where police and soldiers fear to tread. In both of these cases, the government has taken a traditional approach of not adequately policing those areas, figuring that as long as problems stayed within the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities, it didn’t matter -only to discover too late that, left unchecked, violence grows -especially when it is spurred on by poverty and unemployment.
As a matter of fact, Israel’s Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities have a lot in common. Both are anti-Zionist; both are not required to serve in the army, and both are reviled and marginalized by mainstream Israeli society. Like the remote (geographically and ideologically) settlement of Yitzhar, both are considered to not really be part of Israel – so what happens there doesn’t matter.*
In fact, what happens in Yitzhar and Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities does matter – however, there is an important reason that the Israeli government cannot deal with this challenge: Israel does not have defined borders. Without defined borders, it cannot truly exist as a sovereign nation-state, because it does not have a defined geographic area it is sovereign over. Is Yitzhar really part of Israel? Once we accept that some communities, like Yitzhar, have Israeli citizens, Israeli schools and Israeli water bills, but aren’t really part of the country, why should we hesitate to apply that logic to other communities of Israeli citizens – such as the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs?
The modern nation-state’s monopoly over the use of force is limited to a certain category of people (citizens and residents of the state) and geographic territory (within the state’s borders). Without these limitations, the monopoly is reduced to an abstract concept rather than a concrete reality: How can the state apply its monopoly if it doesn’t know to whom or to what to apply it to?
For fifty years, Israel has been pondering these questions. The movement to give up territories, and establish a Palestinian state next to Israel, with clearly defined borders, is often portrayed as anti-Zionist. In fact however, whether we define Zionism as support for the State of Israel, as the establishment of a sovereign Jewish nation-state or as a Jewish democratic state, the movement succeeds: It seeks peace and security for Israel. By giving up territory and drawing clearly defined borders, it preserves a Jewish majority and bolsters the Jewish state’s sovereignity. It preserves the Jewish state’s democratic nature by preventing it from ruling over a large population who are not citizens and don’t have the right to vote.
So who are the real Zionists?
*There are many types of Israeli Arabs and Israeli ultra-Orthodox, including some who might identify as Zionist-neutral, or even actively Zionist. I apologize that in order to write a blog, and not a paper, sometimes I use generalizations.