In a moment that had to tug at the heartstrings of their listeners, a young Israeli couple whose baby was killed as the result of a terrorist attack sought to find consolation amid their sorrow. Amichai and Shira Ish-Ran spoke at news conference at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem a week after both were shot while waiting at a bus stop. Shira, who was seven months pregnant, was hit in the abdomen. The wounds doomed her baby; the newborn died three days after an emergency premature delivery as doctors sought in vain to save his life.
The Ish-Rans chose to find the silver lining in this tragedy when they spoke of their son—whom they named Amiad Yisrael during his brief life span—as “uniting the Jewish people.” Rather than expressing bitterness, they noted the prayers, help and gifts they had received from Israelis from all walks of life.
But expressions of compassion for the young couple, who vowed to deny victory to their assailants by having more children in the future, were not unanimous. The fact that the Ish-Rans live in Ofra, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, was enough for at least one prominent commentator to vent his spleen at them. Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy caused a stir when he wrote a column in the paper saying, “I Feel No Sympathy for the Settlers.” Though writing outrageous articles is nothing new for Levy, whose anti-Zionist views are no secret to his readers, the columnist’s callous attitude in which he denounced the Israeli media’s “fake show of national grief” was still remarkable for its lack of sensitivity.
But while one can dismiss Levy as an outlier, I’m not so sure that he is as isolated as many of us might think. Though only such extremist would write in that manner, animus against the settlers is widespread among Israelis and American Jews. The question is whether disagreements about whether the communities where settlers live should exist have grown so bitter as to color our reactions to human suffering.
For many on the left, the settlers are both a hated political special-interest group, as well as the source of what they think are most of Israel’s woes. If you accept the notion that their existence is denying the country the peace it desires, then their every action, including instances of violence against Palestinians or the evidence of their political leverage over the center-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is another reason to resent them. Indeed, for all of the sympathy expressed in the Israeli media for the Ish-Rans, the anger of the settler population after the attack—and the possibility that Netanyahu may accede to their wishes and legalize some outposts or other measures intended to punish the Palestinians for the crime—was highlighted in most of the international coverage of the incident.
The spate of recent lethal attacks in the West Bank, which cost the lives of two other Israelis in addition to the Ish-Rans’ baby and for which Hamas has already claimed responsibility, has not triggered much concern or mourning in the Diaspora.
Many of their political opponents aren’t as brazen as Levy. But there is a general sense among many of the settlers’ critics that they either have it coming or are needlessly risking their own lives and those of their children by living in a place where their rights are not internationally recognized, and where they are most definitely not wanted by their neighbors. Some speak of them as thieves who are guilty of hurting the Palestinians just by choosing to stay in their homes.
But while disagreements about the settlements are legitimate, the claim that they have prevented peace is as untrue as the assertion that they are fair game for terror is immoral.
Arguments that it was wise of the Israeli government to let them be built should be separated from any discussion about the rights of the settlers to be where they are or to be able to live in security. That’s not just because there is a case to be made that Jews were guaranteed the right to live and build anywhere in the country, according to the League of Nations’ Mandate for Palestine, or that Jewish rights to do so are rooted in history, faith and international law (albeit, a right the international community chooses not to recognize).
Had the Palestinians opted to accept any of the peace offers, including statehood, that Israel made to them in the last two decades, settlements like Ofra would probably have been evacuated long ago. The settlers who live in them can’t be blamed for that intransigent refusal to give up a century-old war on Zionism.
Nor should all settlers be blamed for the extremism of a tiny minority.
Even more to the point, as far as most Palestinians, including members of the supposedly moderate Fatah as well as Hamas, are concerned, Jews who live anywhere in the country—even inside the 1967 lines—are all illegal settlers. The settlers are easier targets to reach, but the claim that they are placing themselves in danger is no more persuasive than telling the people of Sderot (or anyplace else in the country that is subjected to ongoing rocket attacks or other forms of terrorism) that they, too, are responsible for putting their families at risk because of where they live.
Jews everywhere, including those in the Diaspora who are attacked by anti-Semites who masquerade under the rubric of anti-Zionists, are legitimate targets in the eyes of those who refuse to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.
The Ish-Rans aren’t preventing peace because of where they choose to reside. But those who can’t muster up any sympathy for their loss or to condemn terrorist murderers because of political disagreements are helping rationalize a terror campaign whose goal is the destruction of the State of Israel, not merely evicting the settlers. That’s a position all decent people, no matter where they stand on settlement construction, should unequivocally reject.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — Jewish news Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.