By Linoy Bar-Gefen and Meron Rapoport
Because of the Ashkenazim
What do you think of what Muhammad said to Yael, Pachnik is asked a week later - that anyone who has not done anything wrong has nothing to fear? "It is a beautiful and strong and correct statement," he answers without hesitation. The meeting still beguiles him, as if it lent validity to everything he has been ruminating over and sifting through for the past 20 years. "But all of us have done something not so good, not only the settlers. When he makes that statement, he doesn't direct it only at us, but also at the Palestinians, for after all, they are also afraid, right?"
Pachnik, who lives on the settlement outpost Sde Boaz, teaches his young daughters not to pick figs from the trees that are bursting with fruit only a few meters from their home, because we should not steal Palestinian property. "So there you have an example of my being a person of contrasts," he laughs. "I am teaching them this lesson while living on an illegal outpost; the State of Israel wants to evacuate me, they've issued a demolition order for my house, but I feel that I live there because I have the right to, I don't live there as an occupier. I also feel that every Palestinian has a place here," placing emphasis on the words "has a place here."
To drive home the point, Pachnik relates an incident that occurred last Ramadan, when he was driving to the outpost. An old Palestinian signaled for him to stop. He hesitated. "One voice inside me said: 'Why should you stop?' And another voice told me: 'Stop.' I stopped. When the Palestinian walked up, it turned out that he needed help loading his donkey with the grapes he'd been picking. Pachnik helped, and for his trouble received a few clusters of grapes, and a blessing for a "kareem Ramadan." Pachnik sees the episode as an example of overcoming the fear, hatred, and alienation.
"The hatred and the alienation are not a consequence of the occupation," says Pachnik "If this state had not been founded by Ben-Gurion and the Ashkenazim, but by the Sephardim, with their mentality, after having lived in Muslim countries, there could have been a wonderful binational state here and we would be managing to live with them in peace. It is easy to say that it's all because of the occupation. That let's you off easy, places everything into nicely organized categories. But that's not what it is. It's the fear that is eating us up."
Pachnik's parents are among the founders of Kiryat Arba, what he terms "the hard core of the settlers." A mother who survived Theresienstadt, a father who still holds onto his American passport, and an impressive family tree. He is attracted to Tel Aviv "because I also have liberal genes inside me," but unflinchingly guesses that the neighborhood in which our conversation takes place in the northern part of the city is "for sure filled with gay painters."
"My parents were part of the historic movement in which there is a heavy dose of redemption and messianism," says Pachnik. "They thought they were coming back to the land of the Bible, without being aware that there were people here. The biggest sin of the first generation of settlers was not the return to Judea and Samaria; the return to the land of our forefathers is not a sin. We returned to a place to which we have a historic belonging. The story of the People of Israel has much more to do with Gush Etzion than with Tel Aviv. But the big mistake for which we are now paying the price is that we did not dare, we did not agree, we were unable to look around and say: there are other people here. You have to know how to live with them and how to accept them."
Eliaz Cohen, 37, concurs. While he was born in Petah Tikva, at age seven his family moved to Elkana, and later still to Kfar Etzion, where he married and is raising his children. Cohen is a well-known poet, and along with Shmulik Klein established "Maishiv Haruah," a periodical devoted to religious poetry. He has been talking for years about the need to live with the Palestinians, and has even put them in his poems, reflecting an unconcealed erotic attraction. "Arab boys do it for me/ Sending me back three-thousand-seven-hundred years," he wrote in one poem.
As early as the late 1990s, Cohen was involved in organizing meetings with Palestinians. He feels this is actually a return to the early days of the settlements. He even recalls how Hanan Porat, a member of his community and a neighbor, formulated a program to rehabilitate the Deheishe refugee camp. One year ago, after an inter-religious meeting with Muslims and Christians, he and his friend Klein decided that there was a need for a more formal organization. Thus Yerushalom came into being. At the same time, Cohen is a bona fide settler, serving as cultural affairs coordinator at the Gush Etzion regional council, and is a member of the Yesha Council.
"The people who joined Yerushalom are from the second generation of the settlements," Cohen explains. "There is an awakening to the fact that there is another people here, that there is a story that has been suppressed. The first generation was engaged in the business of building the infrastructure. The second generation created all of the overtures to more pragmatic worlds - less 'tower and stockade'. They didn't tell us the whole story. The Palestinians appeared in it, but only as a threatening shadow."
Amrussi: "There is an expression [appearing in Deuteronomy 7:2] 'Thou shalt not show mercy unto them,' which forbids us from giving other peoples a reason to stay. This expression was adopted by the settlers. They didn't buy from Arabs in order not to give them a reason to stay. Now we are undergoing a process. There had been this fantasy that the Palestinians would vanish. But the Palestinians are a landscape that will forever be seen from my window in Talmon. We live on the same hill, are sustained by the same water."
Pachnik: "When I lived in Beit El we would, as children, walk to the village right below us, sit at the edge of the spring and talk with them. Us with the beginnings of Arabic that we'd learned and them with the beginnings of the Hebrew they'd learned. Swimming in the spring. There was the start of a coexistence. Rabbi Levinger, who is the father of the settlement movement and still represents the hawkish faction, would at first travel only in Palestinian taxis, explaining that 'we have to live with them.' All of this ended very quickly. Because we were the occupier and they were the occupied, and because they really did not have rights, an intifada developed. At some level I completely understand it."
So why are you waking up now, and wanting to recognize them?
"Guilt always goes backward, and caring always goes forward. Emily says: 'I will embrace the Palestinian because I want the Zionist enterprise to survive,' because she is a politician. I'm not. I come from a religious place. I say that peace is a despicable, chewed-up and forced word, so it should be put to the side, and we should go to a meeting instead. There is no doubt that we've done wrong and that they've done wrong. We want to be here, in the present. We have to loosen our grip on these old paradigms of guilt, and move on to a discourse about responsibility. The discourse of the left is so full of self-accusation."
What opened your eyes?
"These are very personal things that it's not easy to go into, but if there is one thing that opened my eyes it was the deaths of my neighbors in the middle of the first intifada, Ita and Efraim Tzur. I could have taken the energies of their murder to a fanatical place, but I remember myself standing somewhere above their house, looking out at Ramallah, and telling myself: What happened here? And that is the simplest and the hardest question. Because there is room here for everyone, so why did it happen? Why are they murdering us, and we respond with helicopters over Ramallah? Suddenly it all made sense to me - there is no actual problem of finding room in the physical territory; the problem is finding room in the heart. The fear is that if I recognized the other I would give him room, and then I wouldn't have room."