My second interview was with Nadia Matar, co-chair of the Women for Israel’s Tomorrow, more popularly known as the Women in Green. Founded in 1993 as a response to the Oslo Accords, it is guided by the philosophy that the Land of Israel belongs to the People of Israel. As such, “no one has the right to give away our land.”
When many Israelis were enthusiastic about the prospects of a peace agreement with the PLO, the Women in Green represented one of the few organized groups which engaged in public protest. Arguing that the Rabin government wanted to shrink the state back to the “Green Line,” they adopted the practice of wearing green hats at all public gatherings. Although engaging in weekly protests, rallies, and “street theatre,” their activities were initially ignored by the Israeli public.
It was then that they decided to “go where the cameras were.” Soon they could be found protesting wherever government officials were speaking and wherever news was being made. After the Baruch Goldstein massacre in Hebron in 1994, when the Supreme Court began its investigation, they rallied outside demanding that the court also investigate the killings of 33 Israeli citizens since the inception of the peace process. It was here that Nadia was first arrested.
This, she says, was the pattern for the first few years; they were “the voice of the Jewish people against Oslo.” While they were not initially popular, “the moment buses started blowing up, the people were with us.” After Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated, they were also the first organization to say publically that this would not mean that they would no longer protest Oslo. It is her belief that the intent of the Oslo Accord was the arm the PLO such that they would be able to kill and drive out Jewish settlers from the West Bank. However, when they proved stronger than expected and Palestinian terrorism turned its eyes to Tel Aviv, “the plan was thwarted.”
When Benyamin Netanyahu first came to power in 1996, they hoped to move away from public protest to public education believing that they now had a sympathetic government. But with the signing of the Hebron Accords, which effectively divided the city and handed most of its control to the Palestinian Authority and were to lead to other major territorial withdrawals, the Women in Green returned to the streets.
During the expulsion from Gush Katif and the disengagement from Gaza, Nadia relates that they naively believed at the time that they could thwart a withdrawal. They also believed that the political leadership of the Yesha Council would support them. Both assessments turned out to be wrong. The “mamlachti” leadership would not rally against the state and they would not support calls for soldiers to refuse orders. This effectively divided the settlement camp in two, and pushed many to understand that Yehudah and Shomron would be next.
From this, the Women in Green and their allies reached two conclusions. The first was that their struggle for Eretz Israel must be on the ground itself, less with public protest and more with open civil disobedience. When “the majority of the Jewish people voted for Ariel Sharon against Amram Mitzna and the disengagement and Sharon implemented Mitzna’s platform anyway,” this is not democracy. From this, they argued that their vote was much less meaningful than their physical activities to protect Jewish settlement.
The second was the realization that the Yesha Council could not be the body to which they turn for political and material support. So long as its members receive a government salary and are responsible to the Ministry of the Interior, they cannot be expected to support activities which challenge the state. As such, they are doing their best to build a parallel non-mamlachti leadership which can show a strong front in the face of efforts to dismantle the settlement enterprise.
One of their most prominent activities is their operation to “establish facts on the ground.” Their emphasis today, aside from regular public protest and educational lectures, is to engage in agricultural cultivation of the land. “The struggle for the future of our country versus a Palestinian state is for each and every centimeter.” The Arabs, she argues, are funded by millions of dollars from the international community and international NGOs to go onto state lands, work them, and then claim that they have been doing so since time immemorial.
This, Nadia believes, is a clever way to create a Palestinian state. While the older approach was to remove the fish from the aquarium, i.e. push Jews out of the land entirely, the new one is to drain the aquarium of water. If they succeed in taking over all the land between Jewish communities, as they have observed them doing even in the dense settlement bloc of Gush Etzion, there will be no continuity of Jewish settlement and they will be isolated in enclaves, unable to survive. (Here one cannot help but notice the parallels in the Palestinian narrative in their claim that Israel is trying to atomize and isolate their communities.)
As such, they are working hard to ensure a Jewish presence in all areas which the state abandons such as Shdema and Adurayim, which all sit on state land. These areas will be lost unless they confront Arabs who are gradually taking over these lands and assert the arguably prior Israeli legal claim. On their internal listserve, the organization has recounted these activities in great detail, particularly in their confrontations with Arab farmers in the fields of Netzer, between Alon Shvut and Elazar, “in the heart of Gush Etzion.” Nadia tells me this will be posted shortly on their blog, but the story in short is this:
In mid-September, it was discovered that an Arab farmer was plowing a field on state land in Netzer. In response, Women in Green activists arrived on the scene with maps in hands, demonstrating that the farmer in question did not own the land. After he left, they began a project of planting an olive vineyard and erecting a stone wall separating the field from the adjoining Arab property. The next day they discovered that their wall had been destroyed, so they returned and rebuilt it. They later checked their maps with the Civil Administration who asserted the validity of their claim. Within several days, they found their irrigation pipes had been sabotaged. In a confrontation just earlier this week, the Arab farmer called in the police while the settlers called in the army. The original land demarcation was again certified, but confrontations continue.
The other side of this story, that of settlers sabotaging Arab vineyards and fields or of unilaterally taking over land is well known. Reports such as those above are not, or are frequently disregarded as right-wing propaganda. A recent op-ed by Orit Struck, who heads up the legal department for the Jewish Community of Hebron, takes on this issue. My point here is not so much to privilege this narrative over the more commonly known one, but to raise awareness that there are two sides to this issue. Anyone who takes the time to speak with people representing a broad political and ideological range in this country will quickly discover that the reality is much more complex than the black-and-white narrative so commonly heard in the United States.
Returning to the mission and ideological foundation of the Women in Green, I asked Nadia why she believes Jews should be living in the West Bank at all. She responded that this is an issue to which the Israeli leadership does not emphasize nearly enough. In Barack Obama’s Cairo speech last year when suggested that Israel exists because of the Holocaust, that the Jewish people need a place of refuge, is entirely inaccurate. “The Land of Israel is not a land of refuge, this is where we belong. The first Jewish settlers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob came to this land received from G-d and here laid their claim. The Land of Israel,” she insists, “belongs to the People of Israel based on the Torah of Israel.”
It is ludicrous, she believes, that any Jew could give away this land. The Jewish connection to Jerusalem, Yehuda and Shomron, and even Gaza and the Golan is more important that the connection to Tel Aviv. “This would be like giving away our heart. You cannot be a Jew without Judea. We are here because it it ours; it is our land. Only when we have leaders who declare that this is ours will the Arabs back down.”
Of course, there is a valid security argument for Israel remaining in the West Bank, and it must be discussed. However, it is secondary to the historical and cultural imperative described above. If people are not convinced by the historical or moral aspect of Jewish claims to the land, than they must listen to the security claim. If after the Gaza Disengagement, the country suffered the bombing of the Negev, a withdrawal from the West Bank will lead to a bombing of Ben Gurion Airport. “This will be a big problem for leftists who want to go on vacation.”
In the end, Nadia believes this is not a conflict about settlements. It can be summarized in graffiti which she argues can be found throughout the West Bank: “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.” The confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis, she argues, is just a small sub-set of the larger conflict between “Islam and the Judeo-Christian world.” Israel is simply the first domino in this chain of conflict. As such, the security argument is not just about security for Tel Aviv, but for the whole Western world.
If she is against the establishment of a Palestinian state, however, what does she believe should be done with respect to the sizeable Arab population which resides in this land? Up until the Olso Accords, Nadia says she believed in the idea of coexistence, a coexistence which was only possible because after 1967 the Arabs were scared of Israel and convinced it would not give up one inch. Oslo, she argues, destroyed the idea of coexistence because it shattered both the idea of deterrence and of Israel’s commitment to preserve the unity of the land.
The only way to reassert this deterrence is the destroy the Palestinian leadership and expel those who seek to attack Israel. Only after this will Israel find that it can live with the Arabs and find an Arab leadership interested in co-existence under Israeli control. Arabs who are loyal to the state may continue to live here, she suggests, so long as they accept Israel’s clear statement of ownership of the land and diminished political rights. If they want to have full political rights, there are 22 other Arab states to which they can move. In the meantime, the opposition of Palestinian Israeli citizens to being transferred to the control of a Palestinian state demonstrates their preference to remain in Israel with limited rights to sovereign representation under a “radical” regime.
To those on the Left who adamantly oppose such a plan, she asks if they are willing to have an Arab prime minister or even an Arab president? She believes they would not. Israel needs to annex the West Bank and other disputed areas and find a global solution to the challenge of the Palestinian Arabs. The most important thing is to press the message to the Arab world that this is “our land.” Only through continuing to build in the West Bank and by refusing to bow to Arab demands, will the conflict come to an end.
And what of Israel’s final borders? Just as the area of Gush Etzion was lost to Israel for 19 years between 1948 and 1967, and Israel returned, so too will Israel one day return to Gaza and Gush Katif. In the end, there will be some kind of war and Israel will return. Here she noted that Jordan too is part of Eretz Israel, that lots of Jewish history happened there too.
One may indeed ask whether such claims are politically realistic or even legitimate if their realization requires such violence. It is clear to me that this is perceived by Nadia and the Women in Green, as well as most of the pro-settlement movement, as a battle for another day. The most pressing issue is preventing the division of the land as it stands today. In this respect, it is important to understand from where they are coming. While the question of physical security of the state is certainly foremost in their minds, the policies which they believe assuring this security entails are dictated by a larger picture of where the state should be and to whom the land legitimately belongs.