What Is a Settlement?

On Friday, March 9, 2012 I leave for Israel to teach at Ariel University for about two months. Ariel is a settlement and I will be blogging from there. Some thoughts are below from something I’ve been working on related to settlers and their discourse. I will take up related issues over the next few months. Please feel free to comment. The remarks below are the basic issues related to settlements beginning with “What is a settlement.”

Contiguous land can be claimed or annexed for any number of reasons including economic, security, or military defeat. Benvenisti argued that Israel’s position with respect to the territories was not ideological but purely economic and practical. He held that the land was legally available to Israel and Israel’s incursion into the territories was justified by economic interests. Israel also makes the distinction between pure colonization and the slow integration of a new population into an older one. The new population is typically more powerful and considered superior and they slowly overwhelm the older or indigenous population. This process mostly describes post-1967 settlement justifications. Israel has struggled with the definition of the territories as a frontier land that is subject to the legitimization process. This is one reason that various strategies have been used to justify land acquisition. Sometimes these justifications are political and economic and other times they are ideological or religious. My concern is with religious and ideological justifications. But in either case the “settlers” and their “occupying” behavior have become a part of Israel and restructured how Israelis define themselves. Lustick  is interested in state expansion and contraction and describes stages of territorial expansion. He argues that Israel is in the throes of regime occupation and so increasingly intertwined with the territories that it cannot extract itself without violence. The conflict is at the intersection of the settlers desire to naturalize and justify their existence, and the fact that their project is opposed by many and will have to be abandoned or severely curtailed in order to secure a stable peace. In the face of this conflict, the settlers must work through discourses about the land, sanctity, Zionism, and the cultural “other,” namely, the Palestinian Arabs.

            A settlement is a communal Israeli village purposefully located in the West Bank or what religious settlers refer to as the ancient biblical land of Judea and Samaria, land that is currently contested territory. The settlement represents religious and political significance in every manner from architecture to geographical location and design. Israel’s victory in the Six Day War in 1967 resulted in a return to holy places and thus reconnected the Israeli public with sacred places and religious feelings. Gadi Taub in his book on the settlements credits Israel’s literary figure Amos Oz with being the first to recognize in just a few months after the Six Day War the political division that would overtake Israeli politics for years to come. Oz wrote that Zionism in the future would either continue to be about democratic self determination in the best sense, or it would be about redeeming the land. Oz knew that if Zionism drifted toward religious redemption of the land then the Palestinian population would be under the boot of occupation and Israel would evolve toward a modern Sparta focused on military expertise and subjugating a local population.

            Settlements are self contained communities that require roads, schools, buildings, and all the essentials of municipalities. Various religious and political organizations (e.g. the Gush Emunim, Yesha council) have taken the lead in promoting settlements by developing apparently normal communities in every way except location. Settlements typically resemble modern suburban bedroom communities where residents come and go at will. But these settlements are anything but innocent or normal. They are a discursive space for a counter Israeli society that has religious redemption and control as its goals. We will see below how the settlements have discursively constructed authenticity through language, symbols, and the creation of their own meanings. Settlers employ a discourse that is an interrelated set of practices that shape meanings. These practices, whether cultural or interpretive, are patterned and systematized within a social and political context. A critical point about discourse is its constitutive nature. That is, a discourse states how the world is, should be and what matters the most. It defines an acceptable way to talk and conduct oneself. By attending to the discursive practices that give rise to meanings we can reveal settler claims of rationality, the ways in which they relate to institutional norms, and the political implications associated with them. Discourses, then, exist at local levels of interaction but are also related to broad discourses that become historically situated and enduring systems that take on political and cultural significance.

Consequently, discourse constitutes relationships and meanings by prescribing what conforms to the dominant discourse. And, discourse can be transformative.

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on March 7, 2012, in Israel, Political Conflict and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on What Is a Settlement?.

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