In the West Bank, many Israelis balk at uprooting (THE BOSTON GLOBE) By Charles A. Radin KEDUMIM, West Bank 01/28/05)
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KEDUMIM, West Bank -- Thousands of Jews slogged through the late-
winter mud of the occupied territories this week to plant seedlings
in observance of Tu Bishvat, an arbor day observed in Judaism for
more than 2,000 years.
Some saw the young trees they planted as affirming Jewish ownership
of the whole of Biblical Israel. Others planted alongside
Palestinians, in the path of the controversial separation barrier,
and said their effort was a statement of their hope for peace between
Israel and a future Palestinians state. Still others refused to plant
in disputed ground.
Tu Bishvat was once the most blithely Zionist of Jewish holidays --
an embodiment of the national undertaking to reforest and beautify
the homeland -- but this year the observance was fractious and highly
political due to steadily intensifying dissension over Israel´s plans
to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.
Across Israel´s hyperactive political spectrum, proponents and
critics of the pullback -- what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
calls "disengagement" from the Palestinian population -- are warning
of a looming showdown that could split the Zionist movement, threaten
the unity of the Israel Defense Forces, and even lead to civil war.
"The separation is very, very wrong," said Aviad Hason, 16, one of
about 2,000 members of the religious Zionist youth movement Bnei
Akiva who came to Kedumim, a Jewish settlement deep in the West Bank
and deep in Jewish history, to plant trees on Tuesday, the
holiday. "I came here to plant because I want to make roots here. It
is part of Israel."
Such sentiments are nothing new. According to numerous polls, this is
a minority view -- though a very substantial minority, perhaps 45
percent of Jewish Israelis. It´s what the young resident of the
Israeli town of Kadmina, who is due to join the army in less than two
years, said next that is setting off alarm bells throughout the
"If I am ordered to evacuate" Jewish settlers from the occupied
territories "I will refuse," Hason said flatly. "I will not evacuate
my own brothers. I have my ideals to live up to."
Interviews with numerous youths in the 80,000-member organization
suggest they are unanimous in opposing the disengagement, and deeply
split over whether, when they are called up for military service,
they will obey orders to make the series of evacuations that will be
necessary for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.
"I would fight for this land," said Naor Harari, 17, who is due for
induction this year and is against the disengagement plan. "But if
the government says soldiers need to do something, I would do it.
That´s what it means to have a democratic country."
Hani Mizrahi, 15, disagreed. "All those who refuse -- this shows how
much they love their country," she said. "This is the land that the
Lord gave to us."
Divisions in the adult population -- among politicians, rabbis, and
soldiers -- are similarly deep.
The day before Tu Bishvat, the parliamentary subcommittee drafting
compensation arrangements for homeowners and businesspeople who are
to be evacuated next summer held a hearing on compensation issues in
Gush Katif, the principal bloc of settlements in Gaza, and the three
subcommittee members were asked to plant trees in the settlements in
observance of the holiday.
The member who belonged to a left-wing party that advocates Israeli
withdrawal from all the occupied territories flatly refused. The
member from the center-left Labor party reluctantly agreed. The
member from the religious-Zionist National Union agreed
enthusiastically, blessed the settlers, and told them he hoped to
return in future years to enjoy the tree.
The sharply divergent attitudes toward this year´s tree
planting "represent certain aspects of the most basic ongoing
conflict in Israeli society," said Daniella Weiss, mayor of Kedumim
and a leading voice against disengagement. "The issue is what is
Zionism at this point in history. We are at an interesting and
On the one hand, she said, "we have Israel as an independent Jewish
state, young, modern, successful, with fine accomplishments in
science, technology, many areas. . . . But if there is anything that
is really Israel" in the historical and religious sense "it is
Jericho and Shechem [Nablus], and Hebron and Bethlehem" -- all cities
that loom large in Jewish history and now are virtually entirely
populated by Palestinians, many of whom deny that history.
The essential conflict is between a pragmatic approach, embraced by
Sharon and his supporters, and a spiritual approach based on Jewish
values, she said. "Sharon forgets the main factor of Jewish life in
the Holy Land -- the religion itself," Weiss said. "He thinks the
religion and the folklore are the spice, not the food itself. He
thinks they add to life, we think they are life itself."
Uzi Dayan, a former second in command of the armed forces and an
originator of the separation barrier concept, opposes the religious
Zionist goals but agrees with Weiss that a crucial moment is
Withdrawal from the territories that Israel occupied in the Six-Day
War of 1967 "is the historic decision of our generation," Dayan
said. "It is very controversial. There is a danger that Israel won´t
be able to take this decision, which is essential to our existence as
a democratic Jewish state," because of the depth of the divisions and
the risk of an irreparable schism between secular and religious
Citing recent statements by nationalist rabbis encouraging soldiers
to refuse orders and side with the settlers, Dayan also asserted
that "there is a real possibility of bloodshed."
Unlike most advocates of withdrawal from the territories, Dayan
supports the idea of a national referendum on the issue to help build
a deeper national consensus in favor of the step. "For such a vital
and controversial decision," he said, "I don´t think it should be
decided with a single vote [in parliament]. All Israelis should take
part in this decision."
Sharon so far has rejected political ploys and demands from the
political right and settlers, who are still seeking a referendum
despite polls indicating they would lose. Sharon´s supporters say
this is because the prime minister believes they are playing for time
in hopes that unforeseen developments will force new elections or
shift public opinion before he can get the withdrawal underway.
The opposition does not deny this.
"We are believers," said Moti Sender, a resident of Ganei Tal in the
Gaza Strip who organized a large tree-planting there this
week. "Things can change in the blink of an eye. Look what happened
in Asia three weeks ago. . . . We human beings do not control
everything. We continue to live our way of life. We believe things
But Binyamin Elon, the National Union parliamentarian who so
enthusiastically planted a tree in Gaza and blessed the settlers this
week, is now less sure that Sharon´s plans can be stopped than he was
when the plan passed the Knesset in late October.
"This man [Sharon] has experience and I am afraid he may be able to
manipulate things and continue," Elon said.
He called the task of drafting compensation provisions for settlers
who are to be evacuated "the most difficult job I have had in the
"How much for a house? How much for a business? You try to stop this"
withdrawal, he said, "but God forbid it should come, you have to be
prepared to deal with it."
Globe correspondent Alon Tuval contributed to this report. Charles A.
Radin can be reached at email@example.com. (Copyright 2005 The New York
Times Company 01/28/05)
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