Can a settler be against the occupation?

Is it possible to oppose the occupation from within the settlements? Does one become a settler because of their race, religion, political views, ideology, or just by living beyond the Green Line? One settler sets out to find answers, and you might just be surprised with what she has to say.

By Orit Arfa

Can a settler be against the occupation?
A view from the Israeli settlement of Beit El with Ramallah in the background. (Photo: Michael Omer-Man)

People who’ve read my op-eds in Arutz 7 might think that publishing an article with such a title — in such an outlet — means I’ve defected from the cause of the “settlements.” (I know, they’re Jewish communities.)

I have defected — from dogma, party lines, slogans and talking points that people invoke to make themselves feel righteous, or worse, to secure donors who like tough-talkers. Lately, leftists, centrists, rightists, pro-this, anti-that just play with themselves, convincing themselves they’re right so that political discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today amounts to ideological masturbation — or ideological prostitution.

Well, I’m here to have some forbidden intercourse, always more exciting.

Back to the title.

Yes, I’m a “settler.” I live in the city of Ariel. I became a settler for a job, because I’ve lived in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and I prefer the countryside, because rational values are at stake here. And because I want to see the West Bank with my own eyes, rather than pontificate, and work to make things better.

But what is a settler?

Is a settler defined by geography? If a Jew’s kitchen is the only part of the house situated in the West Bank, is he a settler only when he’s cooking? What about Jews who’ve returned to their grandparents’ home in Gush Etzion?

Is a settler defined by his or her religion or race? If so, what is a Christian living in Ariel (I’ve seen the crosses)? What about a Muslim from Dubai who settles in Jenin?

Is a settler defined by ideology, which is often cast as extreme religious-nationalist? If so, secular liberals might be surprised to know that allies exist within the settlements. Take statements I’ve heard from religious and secular Jews alike in the West Bank (or Judea and Samaria, for those hung up on terminology.)

• “Israel shouldn’t discriminate by race or religion.”

• “Let’s live under one secular democracy and share the land.”

• “Israel made many mistakes in its treatment of Arabs.”

• “Tear down the wall!”

But “out-of-the-box” statements by those dastardly settlers don’t make it into the mainstream media because they go against the stereotypical image of kippah-wearing rock throwers.

Now for the other loaded term, Occupation.

Some Palestinians refer to all of Israel as “occupied.” Generally, it is defined as uneven, military rule in the West Bank, with Jews, as Israeli citizens, enjoying more rights than Palestinians. Thanks to the Oslo Accords, the majority of West Bank Palestinians live under the Palestinian Authority which runs their local affairs in Area A, but who are at the mercy of the Israel Defense Forces or the Civil Administration to travel, work, or build in Israeli-controlled territory, living under threat of random checks, restrictions on movement and military policing. If Palestinians have their own state, some argue, their problems would be solved, no matter the PA would likely control their lives by impinging upon freedom of religion (no Jews), speech, and women.

People on all sides have gotten so pre-occupied with who’s doing the occupying that they forgot what really matters: ethical governance. When governments are based on ethnicity, and not ethical standards, they seem to have more leeway in oppressing, or “occupying” their own. Jews can kick Jews out of their homes in the name of Zionism and Hamas and Fatah can engage in street wars in the name of Palestine.

How have enlightened people made the state a god, to which they easily sacrifice the happiness and freedom of citizens to preserve the state’s prestige — either Israel or Palestine?

I’m against the Occupation – the Occupation of Jews over Arabs, of Arabs over Jews, of Jews over Jews, and Arabs over Arabs; I’m against Occupation when it routinely stifles anyone’s civil rights in the name of some collective.

Granted, I don’t have to suffer through checkpoints, but I hate feeling afraid to enter Palestinian areas, which the IDF forbids. Driving Route 60 alongside Palestinians, I wish I could stop for a bite in Ramallah without constantly looking over my back. I’d gladly welcome peaceful Palestinians for some of Ariel’s own Palestinian-made hummus, unless they prefer Café Café. Better yet, a rebellious drink at a pub?

I care less about living in Israel or Palestine and more about living in a country that allows me the most freedom to be who I am, to start a new business, to purchase property (in Ariel or even Nablus), to express myself — whether as a religious Jew, a heretic, a Buddhist, a Christian, a slut or a saint. A state should enable the best of its citizens to flower — not the other way around — guarding them against murder, theft, fraud and any other assault.

If that’s anti-Zionist, ask American Zionists why they don’t move here.

Let’s start by judging people by their actions and character, not ethnicity or geographical location. I’d take an Arab Jeffersonian over a Jewish Stalinist any day. Let’s make the quality of life of people the modus operandi in any attempt to solve this mess, not what flag they’ll wave or what anthem they’ll sing. I know settlers who will work with Palestinians to make that happen. In fact, they already do.

Some settlers may very well be among the most “post-Zionist” in the sense that they don’t place racial purity above moral governance. They’re pro-people. We cried over the destruction of Jewish Gaza because we viewed something more sacred than the institution of the state: the private home. Alternatively, fringe elements who want peaceful Arabs forced out of their homes exist everywhere.

If only people would stop boycotting or maligning us long enough to figure out that “settlers” could lead the fight against the…Occupation(s).

American-Israeli Orit Arfa is author of The Settler, a novel about a young woman’s crisis of faith following her withdrawal from Gaza. She has reported for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, The Jerusalem Post, and other outlets. Her views are her own.