By Raphaël Kempf
As a European volunteer working in Israel and Palestine, I sometimes take the bypass road north of Ramallah to go to Nablus with a Palestinian service bus. Such an experience is always tough because of the check-points, which are the very symptoms of the Israeli occupation.
Anyone who comes from abroad can feel what the Palestinians are living everyday by going into an Arab taxi. It is quite a different and bewildering experience to take the very same road in a settlers' bus, one of those famous Israeli green buses that we can see on the West Bank's roads. I took one of these buses from Jerusalem to the Ariel settlement, which is located in the middle of the Northern part of the West Bank. On a map, the settlement of Ariel is shaped like a finger, which looks like a thorn in Palestine's heart.
Because this bus is going from one Israeli city to another, while stopping on the way at some Israeli villages (settlements) located between both cities, we cannot feel that this territory is an occupied one. Had I not been aware of the problems facing Palestine, I would have thought that I was in Israel during the entire journey. From the viewpoint of an Israeli traveling from Jerusalem to Ariel (a journey which costs 11.50 NIS), there is no such thing as an occupation.
Once in Ariel, I felt like I was in any Israeli city. There are a lot of similar houses, a kind of modern and ugly but pleasant promenade with a few restaurants and shops. The students are dressed like those in Tel Aviv, and there is a cultural center managed by Elias, a really nice young father who is proud of his son. To say it clearly, I was quite shocked not to see ultra-orthodox Jews or settlers with big skullcaps and wires along their legs, as I saw in Tel Rumeida in Hebron. I just saw normal people managing their lives in a very boring and usual way.
Despite Ehud Olmert's statement that "Ariel is Israel", and will remain part of it in any future agreement; despite what the director of the Ariel Development Fund, Dina Shalit, who is fundraising abroad to develop the settlement, saying that "According to international law, no one has a better claim on this land than we do", I think that Ariel's normality will be a very difficult problem to resolve in a future global settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is one thing to fight on a moral and legal level against a government and some officials quoting the Bible or some mythical existential threats, it is another thing to fight against normal people who came to live in Ariel mainly because it is a cheap city. When it will be the time for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, the likelihood of these settlements being dismantled is slim, because the government will have to fight against this feeling of normality anchored in Israelis' minds.
This feeling comes from Zionism's blindness. One just has to read Herzl's book (the Jewish State) to understand that there is no Other in Zionism's thought. Never in his book, does Herzl think about the indigenous people living on the land where he wants to create the Jewish State.
Hence, because the Other does not exist, it is possible to settle and live normally as if there were no one on the land. Later in the history of Zionism, former Prime Minister Golda Meir said that "There is no such thing as a Palestinian People." On this point, Israel changed, but it is not willing to recognize that there is an occupation. Otherwise, the buses from Jerusalem to Ariel would not go through West Bank, and the Israelis' feeling that "this land is ours" would collapse. The most urgent task for the Israeli government is to destroy this feeling of normality if it really wants to achieve a global settlement of the conflict.
* Raphaël Kempf is a European volunteer in Mada al-Carmel, the Arab Center for Applied Social Research in Haifa, Israel. Mada al-Carmel is an independent research institute, which aims to promote theoretical and applied social research on the Palestinian national minority in Israel. mada-research.org