The Settlers: Who is Really to Blame?
Isreali journalist and historian Gershom Gorenberg has long struck me as the most authoritiative source on the history of the West Bank settlements. His book, “The Accidental Empire,” has certainly been my bible in trying to understand how we got to where we are today.
The main lesson I’ve drawn from Gorenberg, and a key to how I look at the West Bank, is to grasp that it is Israeli governments, both right and left, since 1967, who are really to blame for the growth of settlements. Either by deliberate (and often secret) design, or by indecision, it is the leadership that allowed the national religious settlers to pursue their idea of destiny. I don’t blame them, I blame the politicians who made it possible
Gorenberg takes particular issue (in the American Prospect) with the recent Shimon Dotan documentary “The Settlers,” which in his view depicts the national-religious settlers as the main driver of the settlement enterprise. I found the film compelling and well done, but I also have to pay attention to Gorenberg’s detailed critique.
In regard to the emphasis on extremist settlers, Gorenberg writes:
“The problem with this account is that it mistakes the supporting actors for the stars. Religious nationalists have played a key role in the settlement saga—but as the fractious clients of Israel’s major parties, Labor and the Likud. Those parties, and their leaders, are the main characters in the drama.”
“The narrative that focuses exclusively on religious settlement is more than an academic error. It stands in the way of Israel coming to terms with what happened in 1967 and after: Settling Israelis in occupied territory wasn’t imposed by a radical fringe. It was a national policy, for which the country’s major political camps—Labor as much as the Likud—share responsibility.”
“Even worse, the distorted telling of the past continues to distract attention from the hard political reality of today: Any home, built in any settlement, makes it harder to negotiate peace. It’s one more knot in the Great Entanglement.”