ISRAEL: The golem turns
Uri Avnery «View Bio

One may well ask: “What foolishness possessed Sharon, when he proposed that the Likud members, of all people, should decide on his plan? Did he not realize that this is the only arena where the settlers can command superior forces?”

In Jewish legend, the golem was a man-made creature endowed with enormous strength. Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague, also known as the Maharal, created him of clay and gave him life by putting a piece of paper with the secret name of God under his tongue.

The golem helped the Jews defend themselves against anti-Semitic rioters, but one day he turned against his creator. He sowed ruin and destruction, until, at the last moment, the rabbi succeeded in extracting the piece of paper from his mouth. The golem turned back into a heap of clay.

Ariel Sharon is not a rabbi and the Kabbalah is a closed book to him. But he has created a golem: the settlement movement in the occupied territories.

He was sure that the golem would serve him. After all, the settlers owe him everything. It was he who nursed them for decades, diverted funding to them on a massive scale, put at their service all the political positions he occupied one after the other: the ministries of agriculture, defense, foreign affairs, housing, industry and trade, infrastructure, and, finally, the prime minister’s office.

Ever since he served as the commanding general of the southern sector in the early 1970s, Sharon preached to everybody he met, Israelis and foreigners alike, the gospel of the settlements, spreading maps in front of them and demanding that they act. According to him, it was vitally important to set up settlements in order to turn all of Eretz Israel – from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, at least – into a Jewish state, to tear the Palestinian territories into ribbons and prevent the creation of a Palestinian state, which would be an obstacle to the achievements of the full aims of Zionism.

Like a bulldozer without brakes, Sharon leveled all opposition. He saw to it that tens of billions of dollars were turned over to the settlements, bent the laws to their benefit, and enlisted the officers of the army in their service. In this way, a closely woven network of settlements and special roads came into being, with perhaps 250,000 settlers.

When he coined the slogan “unilateral disengagement,” it never occurred to him that the settlers might oppose him. Don’t they owe him? Aren’t they eternally in his debt?

Sharon offered them a deal that seemed to him eminently reasonable: Give up the isolated settlements, with a few tens of thousands of settlers, in order to secure the future of the big settlement blocks, with 80 percent of the settlers, which will be incorporated into Israel. Sacrifice some fingers in order to save the body. This way not only do we save the settlement enterprise, but we also gain the better part of the West Bank.

But the golem, once the piece of paper is under his tongue, demonstrates a logic of his own. He does not intend to give up the dozens of small settlements, especially as that is where the hard core of Messianic extremists live. He also understood that the evacuation of the first settlement would create a precedent that would endanger all the others. The real settlers may have nothing but contempt for the Gush Katif ‘settlers,’ who are first and foremost calculating businessmen, but they understand the crucial importance of the battle for Gush Katif.

Like the Maharal, Sharon underrated his golem. He treated him as a servant. Now he is learning that it is much easier to create a golem than to reverse the process.

In the surfeit of interviews that Sharon gave last weekend, he declared that the settlers are only a small minority of the people. And indeed, even according to the settlers themselves, they constitute less than 4 percent of the citizens of Israel. But the numbers do not reflect their actual power. In a democratic society, a small, fanatical, and highly motivated minority can influence matters more than a big but apathetic and flabby majority.

Sharon speculated on the unpopularity of the settlers in Israel. The ordinary Israeli sees them as a bizarre sect. Also, at long last, it has dawned on the Israelis that the settlements are devouring the billions that are needed for Israel’s economic and social recovery.

But in the course of the decades, the settlers have set up an extensive apparatus of control and propaganda. They have infiltrated the army, where they now occupy the key positions once held by Kibbutzniks. Their independent media are expanding. The settlers are in possession of huge funds, not only the money that flows to them through hundreds of channels from the state coffers, and not only the lavish donations from American Jewish multimillionaires, but also from the plentiful resources of the American-Christian evangelists.

Again, one may well ask: What foolishness possessed Sharon, when he proposed that the Likud members, of all people, should decide on his plan? Did he not realize that this is the only arena where the settlers can command superior forces?

The answer is, as usual with victory-drunk generals: out of sheer arrogance and contempt for the opponent. At the pinnacle of political power, he disparaged the settlers.

He did not dream of the mass home visits. He underrated their emotional appeal and their well-oiled logistic machine, created with the money of the state.

“My head supports the Sharon plan, but my heart supports the settlers,” a Likud member confessed. That is quite natural: when a settler pair with attached baby (there is always a baby attached!) knocks at the door and asks: “Do you want to evict us from our home?” – how can he resist? After all, from the day he was born he has heard that the national aim is to possess the whole of Eretz Israel, that the settlers are the salt of the earth.

One good thing has come from this referendum: suddenly the public has woken up and seen the golem that has come to life in their midst. From the first moment, the writing was on the wall: the settler movement is sucking the marrow from the state, it is an obstacle to peace, it is a danger to Israeli democracy and to the future of the state itself. Now the general public, too, sees the danger represented by this rampaging golem.

It is not too late to remove the piece of paper from beneath the golem’s tongue. Not yet!

Uri Avnery is an Israeli journalist and peace activist