We are all ‘settlers’

Descendants of conquerors the world over should take a long look in the mirror.

View of the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumin in the West Bank on Jan. 2, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
View of the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumin in the West Bank on Jan. 2, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Jaime Oksemberg
Jaime Oksemberg is a Toronto writer. He has a B.A. from the University of Chile.

Referring to Israelis living in Judea and Samaria as “settlers” has become commonplace in public discourse—a category all its own. But to be fair, people all over the world could be referred to the same way.

For some time now, a kind of reckoning has been underway in the Americas regarding the conquest of these lands by Europeans. The descendants of the conquerors and all others of European descent are now being branded as settlers—colonos in Spanish—and required to make restitution to the descendants of the original inhabitants.

Earlier this year, ice cream makers Ben & Jerry’s tweeted, “This 4th of July, it’s high time that we recognize that the U.S. exists on stolen Indigenous lands and commit to returning it.” They didn’t boycott the U.S., as they did regarding Israel’s “occupied territories,” since it would have demolished the company, but it is clear that, under Ben & Jerry’s definition, Americans in general should be considered settlers.

In Canada, there are discussions about how to reverse colonial norms maintained by a “settler” mentality. This may include self-governance of lands now occupied by descendants of their original inhabitants or a real estate tax to compensate them.

Latin America is undergoing a similar social phenomenon, though it is not as pronounced as in North America. Some argue that descendants of settlers and a settler mindset still control the power structures and educational systems of these societies. This is blamed in turn for lack of economic development and an unequal distribution of wealth.

It is now common to say that the duty of a conscientious country is to  “decolonize” its land, returning at least part of it to the descendants of those who originally occupied it.

Moreover, a parallel can be drawn between Israeli residents of contested lands and similarly disputed areas in Europe and Latin America, some of which are still being argued over.

Alsace and Lorraine changed hands between France and Germany depending on the results of armed conflicts. In South America, the 1879-1884 War of the Pacific between Chile, Bolivia and Peru resulted in Bolivia’s loss of access to the sea. The latest development in this ongoing saga took place on Oct. 1, 2018, when the International Court of Justice ruled that Chile, the victor in the war, was under no obligation “to negotiate Bolivia’s sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean.”

Judea and Samaria seem to be always in the news, but conflicts involving disputed lands in other parts of the world are seldom mentioned. It’s hard to believe that this lack of attention is not caused by the fact that those disputes do not involve Jews.

It’s essential to keep in mind that Israeli homesteaders—as they should be called—have only made use of public lands or land they have purchased. Any cases of encroachment on private lands have been resolved by Israeli courts.

The Palestinians rejected the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan and have continued to dismiss it for more than 75 years, indicating that their slogan of a state “from the river to the sea” is not just a slogan; it is a war aim.

Israel was attacked in 1948 by surrounding Arab countries. Then, for 20 years, Palestinian terrorist incursions originated mostly from what the U.N. now calls “occupied territories. Clearly, the term ignores the fact that the “occupation” of these territories is not a cause of terrorism but a result of it.

As a result of the Six-Day War of 1967 and in order to prevent future attacks, Israel assumed control of the disputed territories. The previous borders, as Israeli diplomat Abba Eban said, should be considered “Auschwitz borders.” The “occupied” territories are obvious examples of areas that ought to be retained indefinitely, because otherwise they would be a source of continuing aggression.

If all else fails, only time will resolve this conflict, as it has other international disputes. In the meantime, those who disparage the so-called “settlers” should be careful—they may be talking about themselves.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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