I confess!


I’m back!

Okay, let me first explain: I was gone.

I was in Israel, with the family. We did lots, over 2.5 weeks. Hiked, explored, swam up and down the country, hung with family and ate a lot. I got the older kid into falafel. (There’s a blog post in there.) A highlight was a watering hole at Nahal Arugot in Ein Gedi. I don’t think I’ve seen my boys happier than in discovering its depths.

I also got a sense of how Israelis are relating to the Obama administration. (Another post.)

Speeding to the airport along Route 6 (an environmental disaster, but a convenient one after having lost track of the time at, what else, a falafel stand in Haifa’s Hadar neighborhood) my wife noticed an exit sign toward a group  of "settlements" and asked me if that necessarily designated the West Bank. (I forget the exact exit.) I explained that the Hebrew word, "yishuvim," was neutral in Israel; it might as easily have referred to a group of villages inside the Green Line.

Outside of Israel, but in reference to Israel, the word is hardly neutral. It’s virtually a pejorative, which is a shame, but that is yet another blog post.

A week or so ago, while I was blissfully unaware of all things blogworthy, Philip Weiss used settler pretty much as a pejorative in reference to — me! He also says I "confess" to the sobriquet. In fact, in a (much earlier) post I disclosed my ownership of an apartment in East Talpiot. (His link to my piece is disabled, so here it is.)

Now, notably, the piece Weiss is quoting has to do with not ignoring the Palestinians, with addressing their rights. That quantifies much of his agenda – so why make a point of my "settler" status?

I’m not sure, but I have criticized the left here as well, and Weiss’ creepy self-laceration in particular. (One of his jeremiads has to do with Jewish America taking responsibility for the entire neoconservative movement. He has yet to to make the same case, lehavdil, about thug culture at, say, an African American church. Or the Mafia at a Knights of Columbus meeting. Or the IRA in South Boston.)

If you attach my name to "settler" and let it linger in the Internets, that helps undermine any credibility I might otherwise accrue in my sordid attempts to treat all sides with fairness. The word for this is McCarthyism.

This would be ugly even if I were a settler. (Where does Weiss live by the way — what property does he own? What is its political significance? I haven’t seen him say.)

So here it is: I bought my apartment in 1986 when there was a left-to-right consensus in Israel about moving into Jerusalem’s "new" neighborhoods, as opposed to the settlements. That consensus has since been eroded, I think, partly because of the intifadas and partly because successive Israeli governments have tried hard to pretend that the consensus extends as far north as Givat Ze’ev, as far east as Ma’aleh Adumim and as far south as Har Homa — and in so doing have stretched the concept to breaking point.

I would have paid less for more in 1986 for a flat in Ma’aleh Adumin, but chose not to. My considerations included not wanting to leave the consensus, not wanting to join a settlement, but also with practical issues of transport, potential for appreciation, etc. I also looked at much tinier properties in run-down areas of West Jerusalem, and rejected those. (I confess!)

East Talpiot, as one of Weiss’ commenters point out, is its own case. It is, like Ramat Eshkol, a neighborhood that included land that was designated as Israeli in 1949, but was militarized until 1967; parts by Israel, parts by Jordan, and part of it, a no-man’s land. My apartment is in the Jordanian area.

I mention this not in my defense (I confess!), but to explain how fraught and complex this issue is, pace Weiss’ reductions. I own an apartment in an area that once was grazing land and then was militarized; Jews inside the Green Line live in homes once owned by Arabs. Before I moved in, East Talpiot residents had made headlines by replanting an olive orchard that Israeli authorities had uprooted in Sur Baher, the neighboring Arab village.

Weiss is partly right: Where you live, or where you own property, helps shape your views. So does a willingness, as age bears on, to depart the consensus, and then to question your views when you do, and not get sucked into a self-righteous vortex that spins into meaninglessness.

Here’s a story, once again, not in my defense (defense of what?) but to explain how fraught this issue is.

A number of years after buying my flat I was employed by an organization that also employs Palestinians (no names here, to spare anyone embarrassment.)

During a closure, one of the Palestinians sought a place to overnight. His job did not depend on it, but it would not have helped his status in our workplace if he were to stay at home for days on end — however much he was not at fault.

Now, I’ve found that even among the most outspoken Israeli leftists, a series of taboos apply, and one of these is not to defy the security establishment, however stupid some of its conventions might be. I suspect this is because so many of its conventions are not stupid, and keep Israelis safe; under these cirumstances, it is considered presumptous to second-guess those conventions that are baffling.

One of the baffling conventions is never to overnight a Palestinian, especially during a curfew, however well you might know him, however absurd the idea is that he poses any kind of danger.

So, here is my central neurosis: In Israel, I feel very Canadian. Overseas, I feel implacably Israeli.

Anyway, I asked the Palestinian to stay overnight in my modest little apartment after others in the office — some much more outspoken than I have ever been about Palestinian rights — found reasons to turn him down. I could not have imagined doing otherwise.

This was a very modest act, and involved no courage at all. Whatever laws I broke, I’m sure were pretty much unprosecutable.

But now, at least, if some right-wing blogger would oblige me the favor, when someone Googles my name, "terrorist harborer" will feature right up there next to  "settler."



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