“I collected my children and I explained to them that if they hear a strong boom, it’s mortar shells. They usually land in foursomes and then you have to run into the nearest building, even if you’re in a different neighborhood and you don’t know the people who live there. You go in and lie on the floor and put your hands on your head.” – Yifat Tal from Gush Katif, last weekend.

This is war. In Gilo and in Bat Hefer, in Rimonin and Tekoa, in Kfar Azza and Nahal Oz.

A new Middle East, we can now say with certainty, will not be established here in the near future, and a new Arafat is also nowhere in sight. The Palestinians in Hebron and in Lebanon, in Umm el-Fahm and in Nazareth have all linked hands and are demanding the implementation of the right of return: to Acre and Ashkelon, to Jaffa and Haifa, to Lod and Ramle. And today too, as in the past, they do not make any distinction between “the settlements of Kibbutz Ma’aleh Ha’hamisha and Acre” (inside the Green Line) and “the settlements of Ofra and Kedumim” (in Judea and Samaria).

While in Israel, the last of the Oslo accord loyalists are seizing almost obsessively on the settlements as though they are a lifeboat that will somehow save the fragments of the sinking dream, which from the very outset, it now turns out, was no more than a dangerous delusion. These people are even trying to rectify the Palestinians’ mistake for them by reminding them that there are settlements and there are settlements, but the Palestinians, sad to report, are declining to pay heed to this argument.

This bad habit of singling out “the settlements,” which has turned into almost a conditioned reflex in the past 34 years, has now become more repugnant than ever. The comparison that is being made between the settlement enterprise, which is characterized primarily by building and creation, and terrorism, which is characterized primarily by hatred and the murder of women and children, is absolutely and completely groundless. Anyone who talks about terrorism and the settlements in the same breath these days is in effect providing justification for the classic argument advanced by the Arabs against the establishment of the State of Israel.

If the same reasoning is taken to its logical conclusion, it becomes necessary to define as a “catastrophe” (to use the same terminology as the Arabs in the Land of Israel) the establishment of the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Aviv on the soil of the Arab village of Sheikh Munis, or the building of Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv on the soil of another village, Sumeil.

Those who were behind the establishment of the settlements, it has to be said, operated within the bounds of the legitimacy that was supplied by the moral umbrella for the whole enterprise of Zionist settlement, including Galilee and the Negev. It is true that the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel and the creation there of a state came at the expense of another public, but the definition of the legitimacy of the Zionist act was clear: even if we were a conqueror, we were not an alien conqueror. We came back to the homeland. The lands and districts in which we settled were not foreign to us, they were the land of our forefathers.

Were it not for these very clear definitions, it would have been sufficient to make do with a haven, and not necessarily in the Land of Israel. It was only our historic, religious and cultural attachment to this land that conferred morality on the Zionist enterprise. This ostensibly self-evident perception of Zionism of itself has to be reinvoked today because this is also the conception that from the outset guided, and to this day continues to guide, the settlement project in Judea, Samaria and Gaza (known collectively by the Hebrew acronym of Yesha). If the settlements there, which draw their legitimacy from the same sources and the same definitions from which Zionism drew its legitimacy are pronounced illegitimate, what must our attitude be toward the entire Zionist enterprise?

The comparison that some people are making today between terrorism and the settlements has the practical effect of validating terrorism – because in this version of the situation the case is one of terrorism against terrorism, not against “settlements.” The same comparison also provides post factum legitimization for the terrorism that was perpetrated against us in Ma’alot, on the coastal road and in Avivim, all of which preceded the Oslo accord by many years.

In addition, this point of view necessarily leads to the creation of a scale of terrorism and thereby to a distinction between terrorism that is more legitimate and terrorism that is less legitimate – and from here the way is short also to discrimination between blood and blood. The blood of a “settler” from Ofra will be less red than that of a “settler” from Acre, and the blood of a “settler” from the Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem will be less red than that of a “settler” from Bat Hefer in the center of the country or from Kibbutz Nahal Oz opposite the Gaza Strip.

This scale of blood also requires us to completely ignore the fact that Arafat has committed himself time after time in writing to resolve differences with Israel peacefully and through dialogue.

It must be admitted that Elon Moreh, which is in Samaria, may not be a security asset, but then neither is Kibbutz Misgav Am, on the border with Lebanon. The tanks and the missiles will not stop at the one or at the other.

Indeed, there may even be some who will argue that from a purely military point of view both places are a burden. But Elon Moreh and Misgav Am have the same Zionist value and meaning. Both places were established as part of the attempt to create a political fact that would bring into being the borders of the state.

The fact that there is no consensus in Israel concerning the political wisdom of establishing settlements in any part of Yesha certainly cannot provide validity for the perpetration of attacks on their residents or for asserting, as MK Yossi Sarid (Meretz) did, that the settlements are also a form of violence.

At least for the time being, Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon have cast aside their disagreement over the settlements, and the time has come for the entire left-wing camp to break this bad habit too.

This article appeared in Ha’aretz on 20th May, 2001