A Refugee in My Own Country

By Nadav Shragai

(TI) When Yael Ben Yaakov from Mevo Dotan in northern Samaria describes the brit milah ceremonies she held for her three sons in her home, she taps on the four tiles on which the chair the circumcision took place stood. "Here in Mevo Dotan my sons were circumcised. I held their bar mitzvah ceremonies here, and there," she points toward the cemetery, "Zamir, my husband, who died eight months ago, is buried … Then, those who were murdered in [terror] attacks were buried."

Ben Yaakov, who came to Mevo Dotan 25 years ago, speaks of the "transfer" that is facing the settlements in northern Samaria. She says she will feel "a refugee in her own country" and that it is doubtful whether she will be able to continue "referring to this country as `my country.’"

On Monday, Ben Yaakov became a grandmother, the first child to Ori, her son who lives in the settlement of Gan Or in Gush Katif, in the Gaza Strip. He is also scheduled for evacuation. Another son lives in Ofra. This is not an unusual case. Many of the first settlers have children and grandchildren living in other settlements.

Brothers Lior and Zevulun Kalifa are also talking about "transfer" with bitterness. Zevulun, a contractor, has been working in Gush Katif for the past 12 years. A few weeks ago he laid the first foundations for a new neighborhood, of 22 housing units, in Neveh Dekalim. Lior stood by President Moshe Katsav earlier this week, when the residents asked him why he differentiates between the transfer of Jews and the transfer of Arabs. "Even the president avoided the question," the brothers say angrily.

Nili Adar, sister of the Kalifa brothers, also lives in Neveh Dekalim, not far from Baruch and Dvora Sarusi. The Sarusi couple have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They all live in Gush Katif. Lior Kalifa says the Sarusi family and their offspring are a root, "and whoever uproots a root carries out a transfer."

The use of the term "transfer" to describe the evacuation of settlements, did not rise from the bottom ranks but trickled from the top: the grassroots grasped the spirit of the statements of their leaders. For example, in October 2003, in a rowdy debate held by the Israel Institute for Democracy on the question of the evacuation of settlements, the head of the institute, Prof. Arik Karmon, promised Israel Harel and other representatives of the settlers that in the future the institute would also consider scenarios not only of the evacuation of settlers but also the evacuation of Arab populations as part of an agreed solution.

This unusual promise has not been carried out. Karmon was forced into the corner when rabbis Avi Giser of Ofra and Daniel Shilo of Kedumim charged him with seeking to carry out the "transfer" of the Jews in the territories.

In 1982, when the residents of Yamit were evacuated from the Sinai, no one spoke of a transfer. The settler literature documenting that evacuation hardly makes use of this term. The origins of the term transfer, can be found in the latter half of the 1980s to describe the evacuation of settlements, when the right sought to set limits of obedience versus left-wing governments. Dozens of right-wingers, including Prof. Israel Eldad and the authors Nomi Frankel and Moshe Shamir, signed a declaration that set the removal of Jewish settlements an illegal order and called on soldiers to refuse to obey it. A long time passed before a number of the rabbis on the right made their rulings on refusing a command public, justifying it on the basis of the halakha.

The Organization for the Prevention of the Plan for Autonomy, which attorney Elyakim Haetzni from Kiryat Arba established in those years, disseminated, almost obsessively, literature that the Israeli left published on the limits of obedience. There were articles there by Yesh Gvul and of Prof. Yeshayahu Leibovitz, Asa Kasher, Adi Tzemach and Meir Pail. But the most popular articles, those that contributed most to shaping the description of evacuation as a transfer, were those of author Amos Oz, of former minister Yair Tzaban, and of MK Yossi Sarid.

For example, Oz wrote in 1990 that the transfer of Arabs is "an impossible idea … we will not allow you to evict the Arabs – even if we will have to divide the country, and the army. Even if we have to lie in front of the wheels of trucks. Even if we have to blow up bridges." Haetzni and his colleagues quoted these manifestos repeatedly and slipped in the same principles into the possibility of evacuating the settlers from the territories.

The use of transfer with reference to settlements was first adopted by extra-parliamentary right-wing movements, that were not part of the settler leadership. But gradually, mostly after the Oslo Accords, the term has found its way in the dialogue that the right-wing is having with the left. It is now well placed among the spectrum of views ranging from the Yesha rabbis to the "right-wing street." Even Rabbi Yoel Ben Nun, a pragmatist, who is willing to come to terms with the evacuation of part of the settlements, says that "there is no moral difference between the eviction of Jews from their homes and the eviction of Arabs from theirs."

"If they evacuate 1,000 of us, let them evacuate 1,000 of them," Ben Nun tells left-wingers with whom he debates, "or let them define Jewish islands in Palestinian territory as in Israel they identify Palestinian islands."

Haetzni, first to term the evacuation of settlements as transfer, goes as far as to use the phrase "ethnic cleansing." Dov Cohen, one of his neighbors in Kiryat Arba, also adopted this terminology. He says that as far as he is concerned the evacuation is no different from the cataclysm brought down on Noah’s generation: "The cataclysm wiped the world. The evacuation will wipe our world. If this is not a transfer, then what is a transfer?"

Prof. Ron Breiman, one of the heads of Professors for a Strong Israel, says, "In Israel there are two parties in whose manifestos transfer is carved. Moledet, for the Arabs, and Meretz [Yahad] for the Jews."

Some 240,000 Jews currently live in settlements in the territories. Tens of thousands were born there. Some have not only children there but great-grandchildren. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 85,000 Jews in the territories are children below the age of 14, and another 20,000 are between 15-19 years old. Those aged 20-34 are some 42,000 strong. The meaning of these figures is that some 61 percent of the settler population was born into the reality of post-Six-Day War Israel and knows no other situation.

The crux of the "settler transfer" argument is as follows: evicting Jews from the settlements in the territories is immoral, illegal, as is the eviction of Arabs from the homes in the territories or Israel. Transfer from here and transfer from there is a black flag act that must be opposed. Hagai Segal, head of the news department on Arutz Sheva, a pirate settler radio station, and a former member of the Jewish underground, has recently written that rape within the family (as he describes the eviction of Jews) is no more kosher than rape (transfer of Arabs).

It seems that the use of "transfer" has both and internal and external significance. Internally, Jews in the territories refer to themselves these days as UFOs. In conversation with residents of Kfar Darom, Homesh, Neveh Dekalim, and other sites set for evacuation, it turns that some feel like refugees in their own country. Others wonder if this is really their country.

Externally, the minute the evacuation becomes illegitimate, the public that opposes it allows itself to adopt more extreme measures. A campaign of mutual delegitimacy existed, for example, between the settlers and the government of Yitzhak Rabin, on the eve of his assassination. Such delegitimization is unfolding currently toward the Sharon government. Terming the evacuation as transfer is part of this campaign. For the settlers there is a huge difference between opposition to a legitimate act, even if they oppose it, and an act they consider illegitimate. It is no coincidence that the Yesha Council leadership is unwilling to sign a document of understanding, that some of its leaders did sign, with the left, in an effort to formulate the parameters for the debate or struggle that may unfold in the future. If the Yesha Council would now support this document of "rules," it would signify an announcement that the evacuation of settlements is considered legitimate.