The Hebrew word yishuv refers to the Zionist residents in Palestine before Israel’s establishment. The word means “to settle,” and to me it conjures a pioneering picture. It seems to imply that beforehand, the land was unsettled.
When I think settlement, I think a farm in Transvaal, a depot in Siberia, a pioneer gold-boom town in Nevada, taming a wild land. Or, settling a Promised Land.
Take a drive through Gush Etzion. If you can’t, I’ll describe it: dusty roads snake through pasty grey Arab villages with stone-faced inhabitants, and the tremendous amount of livestock on the road brings Africa to mind. Traffic is split about equally, and Palestinian and Israeli police patrol the roads jointly but don’t cooperate. Jews don’t leave secure areas on foot.
Before I visited friends in Tekoa last week, I hadn’t crossed the Green Line in a decade. For what? And places like Migron and Ulpana always seemed like terrible ideas – what, exactly, ever made sense about planting our population squarely among 4 million hostile Arabs?
It seemed a bit, for lack of a better word, colonial. Too forced, unnatural, unsustainable.
Unnatural? In 1922, the Jews numbered 11% of people between the Jordan and Mediterranean. In the 1940s, Jews were still no more than 30%, about comparable to the white population of South Africa during the same time. Today, travelling from fenced-in Tekoa to fenced-in Efrat (especially at night) feels like trying to reach second base without being tagged out, so to speak. But not long ago, traveling between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv carried a risk of hitting a land mine.
Bedouin whose families had been here for generations used to stone Jewish cars outside Tel Aviv, in 1947. Sound familiar? Colonial, you say?
I picked up a hitchhiker on the way to Allon Shvut, a young man born and raised in Yesha. After narrowly avoiding death by a swerving taxi, we agreed that the police should crack down on risky driving in the territories. He added that Arabs shouldn’t be allowed to use Israeli roads at all, and I let it slide. The sheer number of Palestinian taxis driving in the oncoming traffic lane – for no apparent reason – somehow made the statement less offensive.
In solidarity with the Palestinian cause, the Israeli left paints settlers as the source of all our problems. I’ve done it many times. Why do they have to live there, we ask. But Zionists settled this land, tamed it, made it what it is. And I’ll be first to admit my own hypocrisy – they have to live there because, and for the same reason, that we have to live here.
For better or worse, we are still the yishuv, the settlers, and none of this is new. We may disagree about the next step to take, but to forget our team allegiance is to desert our heritage in self-righteous self-pity. I, for one, am still a Zionist.