News that Hillel Halkin sleeps well at night –could not have been more timely (``If I were religious, I’d be worried," November 1). Halkin’s piece arrived via Email but moments after a good friend, who, like Halkin, would be described as secular, kept me on the phone for an hour lamenting Israel’s lack of a future.
According to my friend, when Chief of Staff General Moshe Ya’alon told a group of leading industrialists last week that there is no alternative to winning a decisive victory over Arafat, even though it might take years, they responded that he was quite mad: The State of Israel doesn’t have years; its economy is on the verge of collapse. One of the major banks may soon fail under the weight of bad business loans, credit for business has dried up, and anyone who can move his factories, and in many cases his family, abroad is doing so.
Even worse, in the view of my friend, the settlers, their ultra-Orthodox allies in any right-wing government, and various parties of the Left have all, in one way or another, made common cause with Hamas, against the idea of a Jewish democratic state – the former with their dream of one state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, in which there will soon be a majority of non-Jews; the latter with their advocacy of a "state of all its citizens".
After getting off the phone with my friend, the wonder was not that anyone is sleeping poorly, but that they are sleeping at all. Thus news that Halkin sleeps soundly came as a relief. It was a further relief to learn that Halkin is convinced, despite his lack of belief in any Divine promise, that ``this land belongs to [us] inalienably." I’m not sure, however, what the source of that inalienable right is, or why it provides Halkin with such a sense of security. The American Indians presumably felt the same way, and it does not appear that they will be reclaiming former hunting grounds any time in the near future.
If he were religious, Halkin informs us, he would be greatly worried by the warnings of exile for our failure to heed God’s commands found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Not, mind you, because of the widespread trafficking in women’s bodies, our world leading rates of school violence, the general ignorance of the Torah’s teachings, or ubiquitous Sabbath desecration – all among the reasons given by the Torah for Divine wrath, but because of the treatment of their Arab neighbors by the settlers of Tapuah and Itamar.
At the very least, then, Halkin’s oped demonstrates how far the actions of a few crazies can go to alienate one’s staunchest supporters. Halkin, after all, authored perhaps the strongest defense of the settlement enterprise just a few months ago in Commentary (‘’Why the Settlements Should Stay," June 2002).
He surely knows that there is much more to the story being reported last week than the standard portrayal of settlers wantonly attacking Palestinians and depriving them of their livelihood. Last week’s murder of two teenage girls and a woman in Hermesh by a terrorist who hid himself in an adjacent olive grove demonstrates why settlers react with fear to Palestinian olive-pickers approaching their perimeter fences.
In addition, it is clear that the army can provide, at best, only partial protection for the settlements. If one’s wife and children are subjected to life-threatening stonings, and even shootings, from Arab olive groves, a call to the local muktar with the message, ``Nice olive grove you have here, it would be a pity if anything happened to it," may be the only way to protect one’s loved ones. That is essentially the strategy pursued against the fedayeen in the fifties. And no less a civil libertarian than Alan Dershowitz has recommended that Israel eliminate homicide bombers by announcing that any village from which such a bomber comes will be leveled. By comparison, cutting down a few olive trees is mild.
Still, it must be admitted that some settlers have acted to their Palestinian neighbors in ways that completely belie the oft-expressed desire to peacefully coexist with those neighbors. Just as Al Qaeda has provided an ideological justification for social misfits and common criminals around the globe, so too can Judaism be hijacked to provide cover for those suffering from multiple personality disorders.
Nor is it only the settlers who suffer from the bad apples in their midst. So does the chareidi community. My Rosh Yeshiva once told me that the stone-throwing on the Ramot Road did more to temper the first wave of the teshuva movement in Israel than anything else, as the entire hareidi community became associated in the public mind with the stone throwers. Two decades later, 50-100 descendants of the original stone-throwers now moved to Ramat Beit Shemesh, seem determined to repeat their ancestors’ original triumph. In order to force closure of a road running through their neighborhood on Shabbat, they have resorted to throwing rocks and sending flaming shopping carts hurtling at traffic below, in many cases even after the end of Shabbat.
There are many reasons why other hareidim refrain from condemning these crazies. One is that they do not see themselves as implicated by their actions. Just as no secular leader feels the need apologize on behalf of the community for every axe-murderer or drug dealer, they see no reason to apologize for those whom they see as part of a completely different community – e.g., `` fanatics." But as A.M. Rosenthal once wrote of well-heeled American Jews, ``In your eyes you may be Madison Avenue, in their eyes you’re just another hasid." So too is the entire haredi community, and more important the Torah itself, tarred by association.
Another reason that settlers and haredim alike refrain from condemning those identified with them is their reluctance to join hands with enemies of the entire settlement enterprise or the larger haredi community, who are using the actions of a few to blacken a whole community. Nothing could have served Peace Now’s cause more than the theft of Palestinian olives or the harassment of the villagers of Yanoun. And similarly, the mayor of Beit Shemesh has his own political calculus for keeping the situation heated.
Another reason for refraining from condemnation is sympathy for the protesters’ "issues". The road through the religious neighborhoods of Ramat Beit Shemesh could be closed with minimal inconvenience to secular drivers. And the haredi community has been repeatedly shafted by the municipality in the provision of buildings for synagogues and schools in Ramat Beit Shemesh.
But the Chechnyans who seized the Moscow theater also had their ``issues." A good cause, can never justify using methods forbidden by the Torah. And nothing will taint a just cause more fatally than employing immoral means.
We can thank Hillel Halkin for the reminder, that we must protest, and protest loudly, when those perceived as marching under our banner disgrace the Torah.