January 14, 2011


The Vengeance of the Occupation: There's a limit to how long a fragile democracy like Israel can maintain an undemocratic regime next door, in occupied territory, before democracy at home is corrupted. (Gershom Gorenberg | January 14, 2011, American Prospect)

[T]here's a limit to how long a fragile democracy can maintain an undemocratic regime next door, in occupied territory, before democracy at home is corrupted. A border, especially one not even shown on maps, cannot seal off the rot.

Take, for example, the Admission Committees of Community Settlements bill, presently before the Knesset. A "community settlement" is a kind of membership-only exurb invented by West Bank settlers. The community is managed by an association responsible for "preserving the character of the settlement," in the words of a late 1970s report from the Gush Emunim settler movement. New residents have to be approved by an admissions committee, to ensure a shared "ideological-social background," the report states. Residents enjoy "single-family homes, quiet streets, fresh air" in a community limited to a few hundred families -- an "island" of a "selected population."

The design made it possible to enforce ideological conformity and social snobbery at the same time. It was assiduously implemented in settlements across the West Bank, then imported to sovereign Israel. In particular, the government has used the community-settlement model in efforts to "Judaize the Galilee" -- to draw Jews to northern Israel, which has a large Arab population. The policy applies the concept of the West Bank settlement enterprise to part of Israel: The land is treated as an arena where two ethnic groups struggle for control, acre by acre; the Arabs are seen as a hostile population rather than as citizens.

The challenge to that approach came from Adel and Iman Kaden, a couple from the Israeli Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiyah. In 1995, they tried to buy a lot in the community settlement of Katzir. As young professionals eager to live in a place with good schools so their daughters could get into the right universities, they fit the Katzir profile. As Arabs, they were rejected. As citizens of a democracy, they turned to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which filed suit before the Israeli Supreme Court. In its judgment five years later, citing sources ranging from Genesis to Brown v. Board of Education, the court ruled that "equality is one of the foundational principles of the State of Israel" and rejected housing discrimination. To evade that decision, Katzir's admissions committee claimed that the Ka'adans were "unsuited" to "fit in socially" and again denied their application. It took another round before the Supreme Court until the couple could start building their house in Katzir. More recently, a set of human-rights organizations has asked the Supreme Court to ban the entire admissions-committee procedure.

The Admission Committees bill is a bid to preempt the court. It will protect committees' authority to reject candidates who "do not match the social-cultural fabric" of the community. The lead sponsor is David Rotem, a West Bank settler and a member of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's far-right Israel Is Our Home Party. The bill is likely to pass.

"For us to love our country, our country ought to be lovely."

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 14, 2011 7:49 PM
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