Three Dilemmas for Israeli Settlers
Given that the territories are defined as a “frontier land”—neither sovereign nor part of the Israeli official map—their definition is open to construction. Israeli settlers frame three discursive dilemmas they must solve. These three dilemmas are (1) the construction of authenticity, (2) the discourse of marginality including the confrontation with the Palestinians or the “native others”, and (3) the use of rituals and collective memory to normalize life and established cultural and religious authority. Settlers must engage in various sense making patterns in order to facilitate the appropriation of the land.
The Authenticity Dilemma
Ethnoreligious communities are mostly constituted by narratives about their origins. These narratives are composed of bits of history and group identity that are consolidated into a narrative or “imagined community.” Such narratives must be complete and coherent enough to include discourses about belonging, citizenship, culture, as well as position people in relation to one another. These narratives are particularly potent because they clothe power with legitimacy, which is just the discursive puzzle that requires resolution.
The most important settler element of recorded time is the sanctity of the past. The insistence on the divine promise of the land to the Jewish people negates any legal arguments about property rights in the present. The relationship between the land and the Jews is transhistorical and therefore not subject to secular considerations. The land is a heavenly bequest to the Jewish people and their rights can never be relinquished. Moreover, the Jewish people are not “born of the soil” but arrived in the land on the basis of the covenantial relationship with God. In other words, the claim on the land is stronger than mere historical rights. Just as the American Indian cannot claim rights to the land, a Jew could not claim rights to the land of Israel on the basis of historical inhabitants; rather, the Jewish people claim their unique covenantial history and the fact that they created this history.
The solution to the discursive dilemma – the one most fundamentally associated with Jewish authenticity for settlers – about how to reconcile redemption with the institutions of the state lay in pragmatism. Religious settlers would not turn away from the commandment to settle the land, but find a more practical way of fulfilling it. This would be accomplished by the invocation of the security frame.
The Marginality Dilemma
The discourse of marginality is about the relationship between the center and the periphery and how the concept of the periphery, or margin, is essential to the concept of the center. The Palestinians live at the periphery of the environment and this increasingly informs their identity, albeit an undesirable one. The margins of a landscape contain what one is but not what they should be, and the conflict comes from the individual’s struggle against being socialized by the margins. The discourse of marginality depends on comparisons of the center to the margins.
We can borrow some from Gramsci here by pointing out that the marginal or disadvantaged group is in a binary relationship with the dominant group, cut off from most avenues of legitimate participatory politics, especially in the dominant sphere. The discourses that emerge from the authoritative center overwhelm local specificities and place the marginal group in a position that is enervated and without agency.
The Authority Dilemma
Settlers marginalize Palestinians by appealing to authority, but it is an authority that resonates with the settler community and deep elements of the Jewish historical consciousness. In other words, they are unconcerned with the general international community or the public at large and seek a form of self justification based on internal community authority standards. Traditional social movements are more successful when they use frames that are pragmatic for the intended audience. Hence, the appeal to the biblical right to the land or Jewish ethnoreligious roots creates arguments that resonate and converge with the interests of the target settler community.
The dominant settler discourse is built on the premise of biblical promise. It stresses the authority of the Bible and the word of God and projects an unassailable morality and inevitability. The invocation of the Bible and the word of God frames the narrative in language sealed from criticism and scrutiny. By definition, any questioning or challenge is viewed in moral terms and considered unacceptable. In contrast, the Palestinian narrative is less grounded in religious terminology but no less hardened by claims of historical rights.