Finally i found the time to write it.
Here’s the story of the formation of my political beliefs. I look at it now, think and rethink some details, understand many things differently, and the more i think about it the more i am convinced that i am right, no pun intended.
In the beginning there was the Sunday Hebrew school in Moscow. There were really good teachers there and sometimes there were also lessons about Judaism and Israel. Of course there was one about Israel’s wars and borders. Although the story of the Six-Day War was particularly impressive and almost unbelievable, it all nevertheless seemed quite logical – we tried to build a country (i already thought about Israel as “we”), the Arabs attacked, lost and we gained some more land. This sort of thing is going on all the time. At least as i see it, for people educated in Russia it isn’t so hard to appreciate the concept of victory.
The Religious Years
Then my family came to Israel. My parents, although totally secular, made friends with the wondeful people from the religious village of Nir-Etzion near Haifa, who wholeheartedly decided to help us with integration into Israeli/Jewish society, although quite expectedly they tried to make us religious. Thus i landed at a yeshiva-tichonit in Haifa. Back then i thought it was just another “religious school” and only many years later i understood that it was one of the best schools in Israel and whether i was to be religious eventually or not i should have used the great opportunity that was given to me to study the Gemara at a level which was very high compared to most religious schools. The secular lessons there (math, literature, etc.) were very good too. Anyway, being surrounded by my parents’ religious friends, religious boys and teachers at school and seeing that essentially all of them have a pretty clear and consistent political worldview cemented my opinions too. Not that they were really different in the first place, but that gave me a rather firm ideological ground. Most of all i remember a graffiti at the school’s dining room: “Lo’ nachzir shtachim” – “We won’t give the territories back”. It was an ugly graffiti in the middle of a school, but no-one bothered to remove it. It stayed on the wall as long as i studied there, and probably a long time after i left too.
Rabin’s victory at the 1992 elections was a shock to this religious society. Everyone was afraid that the first thing he’ll do will be evacuating all the settlements. He did freeze all the building there almost immediately, but waited with the evacuation. Then suddenly the Oslo accord came along. He shook hands with Arafat. It looked totally unbelievable. Many thinking people in the religious society, including myself, kept asking themselves: “Is there something we just don’t get? Does he really trust that
goy guy who always wears a uniform that he really means to make peace with us? Is it remotely possible to divide this land fairly between two peoples? Why should we talk about, or even consider, giving away any territory that we won in a war for survival, a land of huge historical and security importance? And to whom – to Arafat? But maybe Rabin is serious? Maybe we just don’t see it, but Arafat is really an angel or at least the right man to make
Pragmatic but Still Firm
Fast forward to 1994. We moved to another town, i left the yeshiva and removed the kipa for good. I never really became religious, although for some time i considered it quite seriously – i prayed at home even on the days that i didn’t go to school and several times refused to eat the pork steaks that my parents tried to almost force-feed me. But it just didn’t hold up. So i finally became totally secular, but politically stayed firmly at the right-wing. It made perfect sense to me and i’m quite sure that i would be opposed to giving away the territories even if i didn’t learn at a yeshiva. But i can’t deny that it was an important influence.
The “Peace” Process progressed slowly. It was a strange period – the secular newspapers kept telling that the Israelis are getting filled with optimism and belief in the Oslo accords; many of my new secular friends were right-wing and only a few firmly supported Rabin; the teachers, on the other hand, were either openly pro-Oslo or quietly supportive. The school principal, who also taught History, was openly pro-Rabin. I remember that on one lesson he drew on the blackboard a map of Israel with ’67 borders, called them “the natural borders of Israel” and gave me a piercing look. He knew that I disagreed. It’s fortunate that we are a democracy and he couldn’t punish me for having a different opinion (he did rightfully scold me for a lot of unprepared homework, but i still received 97 at my final History exams). Only one teacher, Itzik Levi who taught Hebrew grammar (and who’s not related to Hadar’s father), shyly admitted (!) that he has doubts about Oslo, because he “wasn’t sure what kind of a state the Palestinians will establish”. I admired that teacher. First of all, Hebrew grammar was, quite obviously, my favorite subject, and besides – he seemed to provide me with a safe anchor of sanity. I always wanted to be more like a grown-up, so when so much grown-ups around me support the Peace process while the children don’t, what side am i supposed to choose? I loved his reasoning too – i respected the historical value of Jerusalem, Samaria and all those places but understood that preventing wars and saving lives is more important than fanatically keeping historically important lands. But Itzik Levi’s reasons to keeping them made sense – making peace with a non-democratic country isn’t worth much, because a non-democratic leader can change his mind whenever he wants and people living there won’t see any improvement and will just keep hating us, so giving them land won’t prevent wars, won’t save lives and won’t gain us – or them – anything.
Some time later i joined the youth movement of Zomet party. Like Itzik Levi, Zomet seemed like the most reasonable party on the crazy Israeli political map – right-wing and anti-Oslo but not too nationalist like Moledet and not totally religious like Mafdal (NRP). By the way, although Zomet’s secularity was later compared to that of Shinui, it had, in fact, quite a lot of religious members. I acquired some new friends there – smart
kids peers from Haifa, Atlit, Hertzelia and even one from Kiryat-Arba (he was secular!) and everything was nice. I attended many meetings at which the “scout leaders” taught us why giving away territories isn’t reasonable and also why drugs are bad. I even went to two major Zomet party gatherings and experienced Rafael “Raful” Eitan’s speeches. He’s really quite charming.
Sadly, Zomet began to fall apart soon after i joined. Rabin didn’t have a majority in the Knesset to approve the implementation of Oslo agreements, so he gave Gonen Segev and two other Zomet MK’s ministerial seats in exchange for their votes. Without it, Oslo might have never materialized. Well, theoretically Rabin might have found other poor souls in the Knesset to vote for Oslo, but it doesn’t change the fact that support for Oslo was bought with an outright bribe. Gonen Segev was convicted for selling drugs a few years later and as for the other two – even i hardly remember their names, but streets in Gaza ought to be called after them, as they were the guys that allowed the establishment of the Palestinian Authority headed by dictator Arafat. By that time i already began to be quite disillusioned with Zomet and with the whole Israeli politics, but stayed a member.
The Crisis Begins
Then Rabin was murdered by a religious right-wing Israeli. That made right-wing opinions totally unfashionable for a few months. It’s been said that it even made thousands of religious people remove their kipas in shame. Everyone experienced a crisis – those who supported Oslo lost a leader, those who were opposed, including myself, were ashamed of talking about any of that. Then a few bus bombings came along. And the terrible helicopters accident, in which over 70 soldiers were killed on the way to Lebanon, another unfortunate territory. And Kiryat-Shmona was bombed non-stop. Now that i recall it, it was all very horrible, not much better than what’s happenning here since 2000. Anyway, everyone seemed to be sick with war and death, but few felt that they know what is the road to peace. Most of us right-wingers preferred to shut up, because we kept being accused of causing Rabin’s death with our reckless babbling about Rabin’s being a traitor (i never used that word myself, but it doesn’t really matter). The left wingers were quietly disappointed about Peres, who replaced Rabin as PM. And although the polls claimed that a little more then 50% of the general public still supports Oslo, Netanyahu somehow won the 1996 elections with a tiny majority. I had a small part in it – Zomet made an alliance with Likud and supported Netanyahu and the youth movement was recruited to put fliers at mailboxes in Haifa. Although i never liked Netanyahu too much, i like to think that some of those fliers actually convinced a few people and made a difference. If i recall correctly it was my last meeting with Zomet Youth.
So, Netanyahu unexpectedly became the PM. The left wingers hated him, because he was a stinking Likudnik and the complete opposite of Rabin. The right-wingers hated him, because they expected that he’d stop the Oslo process, and he didn’t. He made things even worse by acting like a total idiot and rookie and making a lot of stupid mistakes about which the media, who obviously hated him too, was very happy. It’s hard to believe now that he held his office for over three years. I didn’t notice that time passed so quickly, because i was busy getting over my teen age blues (my first try at getting a girlfriend was a bitter failure that broke my heart for many months), preparing for final exams in school and for the army.
I must admit that when Netanyahu was the PM, it felt like there were really somewhat less terror (i don’t remember the exact numbers and it’s not really important). However he went on with the Oslo process, gave Hebron to the Palestinians and allowed Arafat to arrive in Gaza with his cronies, most of whom were well known international terrorists. The government was slowly crumbling and falling apart. So were all the right-wing parties. The serious right-wingers in Likud – all three of them, lead by Benny Begin, Menachem’s son, split and re-created the Herut party. Zomet broke its alliance with Likud and later internal disputes pronounced its end. Mafdal broke up into two fractions. Few people remember now that Tkuma, that split from Mafdal, was created by none other than Chanan Porat, one of the greatest leaders of the religious settlers movement, Gush-Emunim. As i think of it now, he was one of the most consistent, honest, idealistic and dignified politicians in Israel.
By that time our multiparty democracy clearly had too much parties (and notice that the same destructive process is happening now). I looked at all that with great sadness. I somehow sympathized with Netanyahu, because the media was getting down at him way too harshly, but couldn’t really disagree with the simple fact that he was a failure. I still voted for him at the 1999 elections, however, because Ehud Barak’s election motto was “Money for education – Not for settlements” and i couldn’t stand this cynical hate towards the settlers, whom i never stopped loving and admiring. And i voted for Shinui party, although it quietly supported giving “some” territories away. They played the anti-charedim card well and Tommy Lapid was a good gimmick. They made a nice promise – to make every effort to prevent Shas from entering the government, and like every normal person i was disgusted to see the corrupted Shas ministers wreaking havoc everywhere they went and giving all religious people a bad name. Basically i hoped that Netanyahu would save the settlements and Shinui would save the government from Shas. In fact i even became somewhat less caring about the settlements – if Rabin didn’t evacuate them, i figured, who will? And if someone will, it will probably be done as part of a fair deal that will make peace. This was unbelievably naïve, of course, but there’s no point denying it. I was also very stupid to think that the miracle of 1996 could repeat itself and that Netanyahu could win, as the polls promised him a sure defeat.
I should have voted for Benny Begin’s and Chanan Porat’s National Union, but they seemed old fashioned. I wasn’t alone in that thought – they got only three seats in the Knesset and the disappointed Begin and Porat resigned from politics. Later Rechavam “Gandhi” Zeevi was murdered. Zomet collapsed and Raful was out of political life too. He died in a ridiculous accident a few months ago. Thus all the great leaders of Israel’s national and settlement movement went away. The new leaders were either inexperienced and too religious such as Benny Elon and Zvi Handel (nice name) or too extremist, like Michael Kleiner. The crisis in “The National Camp” deepened and we, the settlers’ supporters, were left in the void. Netanyahu resigned from the Knesset after the defeat and Ariel Sharon took his place as the Likud leader. I never had much sympathy towards Sharon; ironically enough, he looked too conservative and nationalist to me. And i always hated the corrupted Likud party, so i didn’t care too much about what will happen there. At those very weird elections Likud slipped down from 32 seats to 19 and Shas soared up to 17. At least i was happy to see that Shinui is the first ever Israeli party that keeps its promise and refuses to enter the government together with Shas. But except that my own political involvement was totally nullified as i was already in the Army and decided to actually follow the rule that doesn’t allow soldiers to take part in political activities. It wasn’t too hard – i was sick of politics and thought that nothing much can change, although Barak seemed even a greater fool than Netanyahu and even the newspapers which were supposed to support him kept criticizing him instead. They also lost the optimism, which was abundant in Rabin’s days and kept writing that a violent clash with the Palestinians is imminent, but i thought that it was bollocks and that the Palestinians shouldn’t be interested in that. Was i wrong.
The New War
The violence broke out in September 2000, around the Jewish New Year. Many say that it was triggered by Ariel Sharon’s visit to Temple Mount, but at best it was a good excuse. I, like most right-wingers, believe that the real reason to that outbreak was Barak’s cowardly retreat from Lebanon. Ending the bloody Lebanese war was a great thing, but the way Barak did it – too fast and without any serious planning, because of the great media pressure he was under – was a total disgrace and gave the Arabs a feeling that they can achieve anything through violence. Notice, also, that it was the first war in which Israel didn’t win. It’s been said that victory is not important when a timely retreat saves lives. Well, lives of soldiers that were saved by the retreat were later lost in Jenin and Gaza, augmented by hundreds of civilians killed in bus bombings all over Israel. Barak was out of the game by the end of the year.
It is the first time that i admit that i actually voted for him in 2000. I am not ashamed, because Barak was bound to lose, and now i can at least proudly say that i never voted for the great deceiver Sharon. I didn’t want to vote for either one of them, but a day before the elections i received an email from a friend – it cited an article that said that if Sharon will be elected, he will be manipulated by Shas. It was that article that convinced me to vote for Barak, even though Shas manipulated him no less.
The Sharon Slump
Sharon’s first government sucked no less than Barak’s, but at least he cut contact with Arafat, which was seemed like a rational and even honorable move. Needless to say i didn’t enjoy the violence, but while most Israelis were afraid more than ever to die in a suicide bombing, i didn’t really think that the situation changed that much. I hoped that Arafat’s isolation will bring the peace closer, but Sharon didn’t do much except that.
By that time there was a strange change in the Israeli media – it started to use the word “occupation” when describing what Israel does at the West Bank and Gaza Strip. I hardly believed it; it didn’t seem right. Occupation? But why do you show those lands as part of Israel at the weather forecast? Even Sharon got caught to that and started using that word. That’s when i understood that’s something really wrong with him. Still, he kept saying that Jerusalem will stay united forever and that Netzarim is not less important than Tel-Aviv (because it allows IDF to watch over the Gaza Port, he explained), so there was still hope. Besides, by 2002 i had Hadar, a thing that made me extremely optimistic and took up most of my thoughts.
A New Hope
January 2003 – the elections about which i felt better than ever. The National Union was augmented by Avigdor Lieberman’s mostly “Russian” party “Israel Beytenu” and he essentially became the right-wingers leader. It looked quite ironic that us, secular Russians, are taking over the Israeli National movement, which is mostly religious, but it promised more Knesset seats, so the religious didn’t care too much. I thought that finally they are getting the meaning of “United we stand, divided we fall”. For a long time i wavered between Shinui and Lieberman and when the day came, i voted for Shinui again. This is also the first time that i ever tell it to anyone. I couldn’t believe that Sharon, the founder of the Samaria settlement project will just give lands away any time soon, and i really wanted to see Shas finally thrown out of the government. And initially the government came out just as i wanted and predicted – Shinui, Mafdal and Lieberman were all inside, Shas and Labor were outside. Netanyahu was made a Finance Minister, another one of my optimistic predictions that turned out to be true, even though all my friends and the newspapers said that it is unlikely. I though that the stage is set for a sane government that will make serious progress. And for a few months it really looked like that. But then, to make a long story short, Sharon decided to dis-engage.
The Disengagement and the Disillusionment
Oh how i cursed myself. I still do. I feel so ashamed that i voted Shinui. Yet again they kept all their promises – they promised to throw the charedim away from the government and they did; they promised to do their best at promoting separation of religion and state and i really believe that they did their best; and they promised to promote a peace plan in which some settlements will be dismantled, starting with Netzarim and Gush-Katif. I stupidly ignored a simple fact that i knew – that Shinui are good at keeping promises. It was Sharon that lied. So effectively i voted for dis-engagement. I just can’t forgive myself.
I’m not in the Army for quite a lot of time now but it took me way too long to speak my mind openly. But here i am, at last. I am going to demonstrations and rallies. I seriously consider joining a political party, most likely – Moledet. I try to convince my friends or at least make them think. I will succeed. We must succeed, if we care about this country.
This is my own story. As always, it is too long and wholly subjective. But now that i think of it and proof-read it, i get interesting insights about my country and myself. Those insights will go into a separate article, in the coming few days, i hope.
To be continued …