The Settlement Regulation Law: A Small Detail in a Long Process
The Judea and Samaria Settlement Regulation Law is just foam on the much deeper water of our lives here, a minor detail that will be swallowed up in the surge of details that will keep the history writers busy.
More important than the law itself is the impassioned public discourse about it and the international pressure, as well as the process it jump-starts. In effect, the process started 250 years ago, when the Jewish people returned to history as a national collective that blended in among the peoples among whom they lived as a minority, and later on as a living nation that was returning to its ancient homeland, seeking to renew what was once there. This process included painful withdrawals along with great achievements. Anyone who sees only as far ahead as the next bend in the road is likely to be disappointed, because there are plenty of other turns to follow. The thinking that we’ll be left alone if we only solve this problem or that one is a recipe for despair. Since we came into the world, we haven’t been left alone, in peace or in quiet.
We have always struggled with God and with people. Sometimes we were able to overcome, and sometimes we took to our heels and got out, limping and bleeding. Among ourselves, too, we have never made peace with who we are, with our beliefs, our values or our aspirations. Count up the number of internal cults and branches and opinions and beliefs and disputes and wars that have taken place among us for thousands of years. Our historic existence has shown that we are not like other people: We knew how to survive outside our country, to live in exile. But the good periods always came to brutal ends, with persecution and slaughter and expulsion. Despite everything, we survived, and even managed to create outside our country a great, deep culture that influenced not only us, but the world.
But the reality changed.
It has been more than 200 years since the pendulum of history has been swinging the other way. We are gathering in our land. The great Hebrew culture has also returned to this country. Most of the Jewish intellectuals who live outside our country do not speak our ancient language and cannot approach our rich treasure of texts, the like of which no other nation has left its descendants, without an intermediary.
Talking about this ancient people and attempting to analyze its present in light of the past and predict its future without the ability to delve into its books and literature — from the Bible to the Midrash, Mishneh, Talmud, mysticism, philosophy, commentaries from the Middle Ages to today, the vast body of questions and responsa, Hassidism, the literature of the Enlightenment and pre-state Zionism, ancient and contemporary poetry and prose, and more — it’s hard to impossible to say anything about the People of the Book that will have value for future generations.
Jewish culture isn’t the only thing to have come home. The possibility of living in a sovereign Jewish state that allows Jews to work and create for themselves and for their nation and protect their own lives has also returned, as has the possibility of looking on in astonishment at the Jews who live among foreign peoples who for most of history didn’t want us.
It’s one thing to long for the homeland, to recall Jerusalem every day, year after year, when the land lay in ruins and great courage was needed to make aliyah and live under the auspices of foreigners. It’s another to elect to stay in the Diaspora at a time when we have been privileged with what generations dreamed of: the immediate possibility of living in an independent Jewish state in the land of Israel.
The existence of a large part of our people in other countries — especially Jewish communities’ insistence on clinging to the places they live, despite growing antisemitism and a lack of safety for maintaining a Jewish life, or emigrating to countries other than Israel — has to do with Jews’ historic pathology regarding their ancient land, and especially their attitude toward an independent diplomatic life. It is indeed difficult to take the sons of Israel out of Egypt, but it’s even harder to take Egypt out of their hearts.
After returning here, it’s one thing to live on the coastal plain or central Israel while the hilltops and Jerusalem are under foreign rule (as prior to 1967), whether Crusaders, Ottomans or Arabs. It’s something else entirely to return to the historic sites, hold power there, and then treat them like territorial cards to be placed down in some imaginary peace negotiations. Conceding the places whose names we called and to which we swore allegiance for generations is to cast doubt on the righteousness of the entire return to Zion.
Anyone who returns to Zion and is privileged to take hold of it through governance and settlement, and then proposes to give up its core, demonstrates not only historic impatience and a lack of faith in the victory of the Jewish people, but also a capitulation to desperation in the middle of the historic process of our return home to ourselves and our identity. Like a person who suggests killing a baby as it is being born out of concern for the mother’s life, without wanting to wait until the birth is over, especially when evidence shows that forfeiting the life of the baby could present a much greater danger to the mother’s life. In the past 100 years, we painfully experienced the disastrous nature of territorial concessions that turned the hope of reconciliation into bloody clashes, and before our eyes the Middle East broke down into its primal components.
Samaria and Judea, and Jerusalem most of all, are not mere geographical areas or even just territory. Behind their names lies the great mark of our identity as an ancient people with a substantial culture and ancient beliefs that are renewed in every generation. One cannot swear for generations “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill” and “May our eyes behold your return to Zion,” and found successful movements to bring us back to Zion, establish an independent state, return to the heart and center of historic Zion, the places where we became a people and thanks to which we survived the Valley of the Shadow of Death of other peoples and nations, wars and destruction — and then, out of pity after difficult wars, announce: “We’re tired; we can’t go on; we give up.”
Anyone who thinks that the goal of returning to Zion was only a “safe haven for Jews” won’t get that, either. In the moments when the haven isn’t so safe, there will be enough Jews, in Israel and outside it, who will cast doubt on the feasibility of the effort to conduct a sovereign Jewish life. Samaria, Judea and Jerusalem remind us that our return home after a long exile does not lie only with building up our military, diplomatic, and economic power, but also in addressing, frankly and in depth, the spirit and ancient identity of our people.
This is the greatest goal that lies before us, and we are only at the beginning. The settlement regulation law is a little detail in this long historic process, another catalyst on the way to applying sovereignty to all parts of our country on the path to bringing the return to Zion into full flower.