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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Reflections on Israel, Part II (Zimmers and the Gaza Evacuation)

When I last discussed my recent trip to Israel, I was exalting the virtues of Israel's improved infrastructure, which facilitated my trip with now-fiancee Wendi to Had Nes.  One of the neat things about Israel is the proliferation of what are called (in the plural) zimmerim.  Taken from the German, the name refers to inns that are similar to bed and breakfast places operated and owned by a single person or family in various scenic places in Israel.  But they rarely provide breakfast, and they usually don't have more than one room/suite to rent out.  Zimmers are a cheaper alternative to fancy hotels even though they have virtually all the amenities one might wish for, even more in fact.  The zimmer where I proposed to Wendi, named Achuzat Ashtar (011 972 54 461 6554 for reservations), in the village of Had Nes, had an indoor jacuzzi, dvd player and satellite tv, as well as a kitchen and a hammock overlooking the Kinneret; the zimmer's owner generously includes a bunch of yummy sweets and a bottle of Golan wine, made in a winery scarcely 25 km away.  All for less then 80 USD a night.  I highly recommend them.

Although we largely escaped the barrage of news that feeds Israel's news junkie society, we were not entirely successful.  One of the things that kept coming up during our trip was the increasing domestic tensions surrounding this summer's evacuation of the Israeli settlements in Gaza.  Though I expected the demonstrations and the supporters wearing the rebellious color orange, I was surprised to see signs posted on the highway signs that boldly stated that "Jew doesn't expel Jew."  I wasn't surprised to see the sentiment itself expressed, but I was amazed at how the supporters of the settlers actually placed these orange and black banners on highway signs, and that they weren't removed immediately since they were defacing state property.  (I guess it's an interesting question whether leaving these signs up on government property would create an Establishment Clause issue if the same situation arose in the US!)  I should note also that when I came back to DC last week, and that morning saw Hillary Clinton and Ariel Sharon speak at the DC Convention Center, Sharon's speech was interrupted by frumpy old women protesting the evacuation before they were themselves led away by security.

Even though there is an overwhelming popular mandate for Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza settlements, time spent with a variety of Israelis helped illuminate why the issue was so painful for the minority position. Returning from a day at Masada, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea, Wendi and I gave a lift back to Jerusalem to a couple "national religious" girls.  Their grandmother had a place in Gush Katif, which they informed us was their choice as "the most beautiful place" in Israel, with great views of the beach.  What's more, many of the residents of the various settlements were encouraged and/or heralded as heroes for going to Gaza to establish residences there, indeed even at the behest of Ariel Sharon in earlier ministries he led.

Even if they recognize the claims of the government that evicts them and appreciate the squalor in which many Palestinians in Gaza live, some settlers are being forced to relinquish homes after living there decades, in a place that speaks to one's sense of courage, patriotism, and aesthetic beauty.  This is no doubt heart-rending for those involved, and it is easy to see how sympathy can be created.  And, as you know, the homes there are likely to be razed to make room for development of apartment buildings for the overcrowded Palestinian population nearby.  So the sadness is palpable even if the settlements were wrong to begin with.

But the evacuation of the settlements itself is the immediate focus for Israelis. While the settlers are supposed to turn over their weapons in advance of their departure, the concern of course is that not all weapons will be confiscated.  More pressing is that while the local Jewish population in Gaza is thought to be law-abiding, scores of ultra-nationalists from other areas in Israel or the territories might try to disrupt the disengagement with violent means.   (See, e.g., this recent interview with a local police chief.)

I was told that the evacuation forces will be unarmed during the process of evicting those settlements' residents who refuse to leave voluntarily.  Additionally, Israel plans on embedding journalists with its forces to make sure the government position is presented in the media too, and not just that of settlers.  That the soldiers or police will go in unarmed is a fascinating (albeit risky) use of moral power.  We will see then what strength rule of law and democracy carries.  I wonder if other governments have used non-violent means to achieve their goals this way.  It's quite a twist on Weber's description of the state as the sole possessor of legitimate force.

Posted by Administrators on May 31, 2005 at 11:55 AM in Law and Politics | Permalink

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