“Settlers” are People

18 Mar

The unspeakable slaughter of Rabbi Udi and Ruth Fogel and three of their children last Friday night in the settlement of Itamar leaves us numb and filled with conflicting emotions.  We feel anger and we feel sorrow.  We seek vengeance, but despair in the knowledge that no measure of justice, no decision to build 500 or even 1000 new homes in Judah and Samaria will bring back to life these gentle people.

The Fogels were among those evacuated from their homes in Gaza in 2005.  Faithful believers in the rights of every Jew to live in every part of Biblical Israel, they relocated to Ariel, and then just two years ago to their home in Itamar, where they found a warm and welcoming new community to call home.

We want to reach out and hug the remaining three Fogel children, to tell them we care, to tell them they are not alone.  And yet, we remind ourselves that just two days ago we had never heard of the Fogels from Itamar, some of us had never before heard of Itamar.

Because until just a few days ago, for many, the Fogels were just a family of nameless “settlers.”  They were just members of a movement of Israelis who are either loved as heroes or loathed as extremists.

And either way you look at it, they are nameless. They are the “settlers.”

And now ,through their brutal murder,  they have become real people – parents, brothers, and sisters. What is it that changed when their blood  was spilled on the floor of their modest home in Itamar this past Shabbat?

CNN and the BBC would like us to believe that the Fogels brought this upon themselves.  They want us to believe that bloodbaths by “alleged terrorists” are to be expected if you insist on maintaining settlements.

I suppose it was the same for Achashverosh, back in Shushan, who was persuaded to believe that the Jewish nation was one amorphous  nation of strangers: without faces, the Jews were expendable.

And Haman said to king Ahashverosh, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; and their laws are different from those of every other people; and they do not keep the king’s laws; therefore it is not for the king’s profit to tolerate them.”….And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it to Haman the son of Hammedata the Agagite, the Jews’ enemy. And the king said to Haman, The silver is given to you, the people also, to do with them as it seems good to you.(Esther 3:8-11)

Without names or faces, the king had no difficulty leaving their fate in the hands of Haman, to do as he saw fit.

And the king said again to Esther on the second day at the banquet of wine, What is your petition, queen Esther? and it shall be granted you; and what is your request? and it shall be fulfilled, even to the half of the kingdom. Then Esther the queen answered and said, If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request; For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to be annihilated.(Esther 7:2-4)

The king changes his perspective.

Then the king Achashverosh said to Esther the queen and to Mordechai the Jew, Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and him they have hanged upon the gallows, because he would lay his hand upon the Jews. (8:7)

What changed for the king?  What led him to experience this profound paradigm shift?

Haman had crafted a story about the Jews that cast them as an annoying impediment to Achashverosh’s objective of unifying his 127 providences.  I would suggest that the Jews’ different customs and their unwillingness to conform to the ways of the Persians, coupled with their perceived anonymity made it easy to persuade the king to toss them aside.

This “certain people” was a collection of intolerable nobodies standing in the way of his greater vision.  This is what the king was lead to believe via the information presented to him by his advisor – Haman – the champion spin-doctor of his time.  As long as the Jewish people were a faceless amalgamation of people who potentially stood in the way of the king’s vision, Haman knew that  they would be perceived by the king as expendable for the sake of the greater good, and the king would be agreeable to expelling, dispossessing, or even destroying them as was deemed necessary – all for the sake of the greater good.

Haman was absolutely right  For once this “certain people” had a name and face – once they became the nation of Esther – the nation of his beloved Hadassah – then everything changed, and they became a people worthy of the king’s care, concern and protection.

This week, Udi, Ruth, Yoav, Elad and Hadas Fogel – the “settlers” of Judea and the Shomron – were given names and faces.  The world was reminded that “settlers” are parents and they are children, they are brothers, sisters, husbands and wives – that their blood is as red as anyone else’s. “Settlers” are not by definition  militants, they are not fanatics, they are not belligerent nor are they suicidal.  They are a people with a different vision for what will actually bring peace and security to the Jewish People.

The residents of Judea and Samaria have dedicated themselves to this vision, with the conviction that peacefully building their homes and families on the land of their forefathers is the key to security, to  protecting  the Jewish people from our enemies.  Their refusal to conform is not aimed at destroying all hope for peace in the region, but rather, as they see it, they are the guarantors of this elusive vision.

The building of settlements will continue,  and a large part of the world will go on believing that these “settlements” are the “most serious” obstacle to peace; however, perhaps for some the tragic massacre of the Fogels will at least remind the world that “settlers” are first and foremost people – individuals – mothers, fathers, children – with names and faces – whose lives are no less valuable or expendable than any others, no matter what one’s political stand.

When people  forget that, let them remember the words of Motti Fogel, Udi’s younger brother, whose quiet words at the funeral this week struck chords deeper than any others:

“All the slogans about Torah and settlement, the Land of Israel and the people of Israel are attempts to forget the simple and pain-torn fact: you are dead. You are dead, and no slogan will bring you back.”

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