Having spent two evenings this week at candle-lighting ceremonies organized under the auspices of ‘Tag Meir’ (translated by the organizers as “Spread the Light”) I find myself reflecting about glimmers of hope in today’s situation. On Tuesday night 400-500 people gathered together outside the Prime Minister’s house to light the first candle of Chanukah. Rabbi Yoel Ben-Nun spoke at the event – suggesting that though he was a settler himself, the actions of Tag Mechir were beyond the pale and could not be condoned by anyone; stressing the importance of observing the limits of democratic argument ‘within the home’ of the State of Israel. On the one hand, it seems encouraging that he chose to participate in the event and clearly labelled the Tag Mechir actions as ‘terrorist’. On the other hand, he sees no logical correlation between his own presence in the West Bank and the Tag Mechir (‘Price Tag’) actions of the Jewish terrorist wing. I am less convinced that the separation is as absolute as he would like to think.
On Wednesday afternoon I travelled with around 20 other people to Asira elKabilia, near the settlement of Yitzhar in the Shomron, to visit a family whose home has been repeatedly attacked . The family’s only provocation is their very existence. Their house is the last house in the village, the windows are covered by layers of bars and wire in a vain attempt to protect the inhabitants, a family with five children who welcomed us into their courtyard and told us about the harassments of the settlers. The family told us that they live in fear in the lower two rooms of the house, afraid to use the upper rooms in case the settlers break in downstairs. We brought them rolls of galvanised iron fencing to provide further protection. They told us that sometimes the army are present during attacks on the village, but stand by and do nothing to protect them. As we left, asked to keep quiet and hurry away by the family who were afraid of retaliation for our solidarity visit, we saw a settler standing on the hill watching everything, flanked by two soldiers. It was not in the least clear what the soldiers’ role was – were they there to prevent action by the settler, or were they protecting the settler from us? Whatever their instructions, one could well understand the family’s feeling that the army and the settlers work hand in hand, whether or not this is the case.
Despite the palpable fear that radiated from the family themselves, both the parents and the children were friendly and welcoming. During the speeches a representative of the Governor’s office in Shechem told us that in the 80’s many more Israelis visited and expressed solidarity, whereas now almost no-one comes. Despite their fear of retaliation, it seemed that the family were grateful for our visit. One glimmer of hope was the friendly reaction of the family and all the children of the village who waved enthusiastically as we passed in both directions, escorted by Palestinian jeeps who met us at the main road and accompanied us back again. As we left, we couldn’t help but notice the makeshift army checkpoint that had sprung out of nowhere during the short time we spent with the Jamal family.
Its been a long time since I travelled across the breadth of the West Bank. The network of modern, fully lit roads that have been built made us feel we could almost have been in Israel – particularly as we passed signposted settlement after settlement, with only the Google Maps program on my phone giving me the names of the Palestinian villages as we drove by. Again, it seemed clear that the attempt to Judaize the whole of the West Bank is not some extremist, way-out minority plan, but a policy systematically endorsed by the Israeli government. Since we have already effectively wiped the Palestinian villages off the roadmap, can we be surprised that for the extreme wing, the logical next step is to attempt to wipe them out of physical existence?
So try as I might to find glimmers of hope, I must admit that it was not an altogether uplifting experience. But given both the family’s enthusiastic reception and the fact that the representative of the governor of Shechem expressed the desire for more solidarity visits and support from peace-minded Israelis, I would suggest that we all take every opportunity offered to make such visits, to see for ourselves what’s going on in our name, and to make it clear that there are still Israeli Jews who want to spread a message of peace and light in these darkest days of the year.