The never-ending enterprise


Meron Benbenisti, Ha’aretz, 21.11.02



The response to the bloody ambush in Hebron was instinctive: After all, establishing "Jewish points of presence" along a line of territorial contiguity between Jewish areas that were built in their day in the wake of previous incidents, has been "an appropriate Zionist response" ever since the days of Tel Hai and the "stockade and tower."


After more than 80 years of "appropriate responses," no wonder it has become second nature. Everyone knows their role in the sound-and-light show underway in Hebron for the 800th time - the number of Jewish "points of presence" that "have gone up on the land" since the start of the Zionist enterprise.


The government, responsible for the never-ending Zionist revolution, ordered the army - Zionism's main executive arm - to demolish houses and uproot trees so as to create empty areas in which to go ahead with Jewish construction. The housing minister "promotes" plans to expropriate Palestinian property through legal processes with "full compensation." Architects, who of course don't have a political view, only a professional one, are already planning hundreds of apartments. The zealots are making Palestinian lives intolerable, as the army and police stand by, ignoring the harassment.


The audience remains mostly apathetic, and only a minority expresses opposition to the efforts to use the old-fashioned honorable terms of pioneering Zionism to glorify looting that will only intensify and perpetuate the conflict. But even that minority doesn't dare confront the basic fault, inherent in the current project of occupying the new physical space, as in all its predecessors: Neither security, settlement or community needs are being served, but rather the urge to cover the frightening, hostile land with asphalt and concrete.


If anyone dares confront this Zionist pretention on it merits - and not only the harm to the Palestinians or the immorality of ethnic cleansing and persecution of the foreigner - then out of the deep will rise questions best kept deep and latent in the heart of the consensus: How is it possible that for three generations an entire country has been one big temporary construction project that never arrives at a permanent reality, with a defined topography, stable borders, and a "normal" routine of life?


The common answer, which blames the hostility of the enemy, only discloses the conceptual basis for those responsible for the construction site: Its purpose is to be an instrument in the existential struggle, which does not end, also because continuing the battle for the physical space serves powerful economic and political interests. Standards of living are a marginal goal, enjoyed by only a few, while an immigrant mentality feeds an insatiable appetite for grabbing land, both for the individual and for the collective.


For 35 years, Israel has made a supreme effort to take control of the physical space of the West Bank, which is perceived as an "outback" in which the Zionist revolution can be fulfilled. But after investing tens of billions and settling hundreds of thousands, the entire built-up area of all the settlements is no more than 2 percent of the land in the West Bank. True, nearly half the West Bank is defined as "state land," but this formal definition does not make it controlled by Jews.


No wonder the struggle over the physical space is not measured any longer with the establishment of settlements and houses, but through the denial of Palestinian use of the territory in this space - from legal limitations, and through to uprooting crops and preventing olive harvests, prohibitions on vehicular traffic, sieges and closures.


The enormous gap in the balance of forces should seemingly have tilted in favor of Israel, but the struggle is going to end in a tie in the short run, and in a Palestinian victory in the long run, because the physical space is filling up, running out, and has ceased functioning as the critical element. Instead, demography rules.


"The appropriate Zionist response," of which expanding the Jewish settlement in Hebron is but the latest expression, will yet boomerang against its perpetrators. The number of Palestinians born in Hebron in one week is more than all the Jews who live in the city. When will someone in an Israeli government get up and declare a glorious end to the Zionist enterprise?