One thing Eli Yishai cannot be said to have lied about is his dedication to the settlements. In June of 2009, he said “I promise to use my ministry, all the resources at my disposal and the ministry’s impact on local authorities for the good of expanding settlements.”
Neglecting his other responsibilities, Yishai has worked doggedly to expand settlements, to fund them and to ensure
they will grow throughout the West Bank, especially in East Jerusalem (which, we need to remember, is part of the West Bank).
Many Israelis, of all political views, are angry at Yishai now that his negligence, which can legitimately be considered of a criminal nature, has led to Israel’s near-total helplessness in the face of what has come to be known as the Carmel Fire. Yishai’s own pathetic and insulting attempt to claim that this is anti-Mizrachi (Jews of Middle Eastern descent) racism has found him little sympathy.
There is indeed no excuse for this. Israel is a wealthy country. In 2009, the World Bank ranked Israel 25th out of 162 countries. Yet Israeli officials knew very well that their ability to cope with a major fire was virtually non-existent. Instead, Israel turned to the rest of the world for help.
Despite the constant Israeli harping about the whole world hating them, being out to get them, being anti-Semitic, the help flooded in. Long before help came from the United States, lo and behold, there were the Turks, the Egyptians and even the Palestinians, pitching in to help. European countries, like Spain, Italy and the UK, those awful de-legitimizers, also pitched in. As Norway’s ambassador to Israel pointed out, the only thing anyone is trying to delegitimize is the occupation and its accompanying settlement program.
Yishai should be made to pay for his negligence, but it will not do for him to be a sacrificial lamb. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who holds by right-wing American economic views, also has to answer for the negligence. Bibi has been assaulting Israel’s social services and social safety net for a long time, not only in his two tenures as Prime Minister, but also during his time as Minister of Finance.
And still even that is not enough.
Some years back, I happened on an Israeli radio ad by the group Gush Shalom. In Hebrew, it was a jingle which translated to “Each settler costs Israel half a million shekels per year. It’s a fact.” So, about $119,000. I don’t know how Gush Shalom arrived at it, but that figure would have included construction of homes, roads, electric and water supply lines, subsidies for the housing, and security. So it doesn’t sound far off. A report earlier this year estimated the construction costs for buildings and roads alone at $17 billion over the time of the occupation. A 2003 report in Ha’aretz said that Israel had, in 2001, spent about $530 million of non-military money on the settlements. That is “surplus monies”, sums over and above what a settler would cost the state living inside the Green Line. For a breakdown, check out this Americans for Peace Now article from 2007. And keep in mind that Israel’s total budget this year is about $58.6 billion of which about 22% is for defense.
Yishai has turned out, like so many of his fellows in the current Israeli government, to simply be a more radical version of, or a more stark failure than, those who made similar mistakes before him.
How many different ways must it be shown? The settlements are destroying Israel’s standing in the world. The crimes it must commit to protect them, daily against individual Palestinians and in ongoing and monstrous fashion against the Palestinian people as a whole cause even greater ripples throughout the globe, including rotting the Israeli and organized world Jewish communities. They weaken Israel militarily by turning a military of defense into an occupying force.
And they cost a fortune.
Maybe, as I’ve been wondering of late, Israel’s passionate love affair with its settlement project, for which it jilted the love of its citizens, has already killed the two-state solution. But whether it has or not, that project has got to be stopped. And if we cannot band together to stop it for the obvious moral reason of the harm it does to innocent Palestinians, maybe it’s time to simply appeal to the more selfish reason—the destruction it is bringing to Israel.
The Carmel fire was a warning of how bad it can get, but doesn’t really even hint at it. Just what is it going to take for Israel and her supporters around the world to get the message?