Yesterday some rare but significant good news emerged from Jerusalem, as dozens of Jewish families moved in to the predominantly-Arab neighborhood of Shiloach (known as Silwan in Arabic), despite violent efforts to keep them away.
The move was significant because Shiloach, situated in the capital's City of David area, was once home to a thriving Jewish community which was ethnically-cleansed during the 1936-39 Arab riots. Since then the newly Arab "Silwan" neighborhood remained Jew-free, but in recent years a growing movement of Zionist pioneers have been steadily resettling the area, purchasing houses and bravely refusing to leave despite the hostile and sometimes violent reception they receive from their Arab neighbors. Eleven new apartments might not sound like much, but for the embattled Jews of Shiloach it is a very welcome boost.
The news is particularly poignant in light of the recent Arab riots in many parts of the capital, which have become so severe (due in great part to jaw-dropping ineptness by authorities) that residents are now dubbing the violence a "silent intifada". Just a day before, Arutz Sheva published disturbing testimony from a violent ambush of Jewish worshippers which occurred during Rosh Hashanah - in none other than Silwan.
And just hours after news of the boost to Jewish life in Shiloach we received another reminder of the depraved violence faced by Jews living in another Arab-majority neighborhood, in the form of a video showing a group of Arab thugs attacking a Jewish preschool in the Mount of Olives.
Settlement is Resistance
Against such a backdrop it can be difficult for some to understand how these Jewish communities are not only standing steadfast but steadily growing. What motivates these people to stay? And what motivates others to leave more comfortable lives to move there? The same questions were posed to me and my family when we made the decision to move from London to the Shomron (Samaria) - though ironically the levels of violence in parts of Jerusalem these days are far worse than they are in these parts.
The answer is simple: resistance.
The aim of the campaign of violence against Jews in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria - just like the aim of Arab terrorism in Israel in general - is to drive the Jews out (again). It is nothing short of a phased campaign of ethnic-cleansing (a "Two-Stage Solution", if you will). It begins by creating "no-go" areas for Jews in "Arab" areas, and then expands outward: first Silwan, then French Hill; first Gaza/Gush Katif, then the "Gaza Belt", etc.
Moves like the one yesterday morning are a powerful and effective form of Jewish resistance and defiance in the face of this Arab campaign to recolonize Jewish land. Despite the best efforts of anti-Semitic thugs and terrorists to maintain the Arabized status-quo and protect the "pure", Arab-only character of "their" neighborhoods, brave Jews are defiantly moving in to reclaim their holy city.
Such an approach to dealing with Arab violence is often expressed by nationalist activists and politicians, and even sometimes by Prime Minister Netanyahu, via the slogan: "they kill and we build." The evidence can be seen throughout Judea and Samaria, where dozens of towns and villages have been established, and named, in memory of Jewish victims of terrorism - most recently in Gush Etzion, where several new communities have sprouted in memory of the three Israeli teenagers murdered in June.
There is, however, a slight problem with framing Jewish settlement as merely a form of punitive action against terrorism (or indeed as a purely strategic necessity for "the rest of Israel"): it unwittingly bolsters the false narrative which claims that "Jewish settlements are illegal" or "illegitimate", and that Israel builds them for purely political reasons. After all, if the land belongs to us, we should be building anyway - not waiting for the next slaughter of Israeli innocents to do so! What's more, surely the only truly just response to terrorist attacks is to hunt down and eliminate the terrorists; building houses is great, but it does not achieve justice for the victims. In the case of Arab violence in the capital, the most obvious "response" would be a crackdown by police to put an end to the violence.
Of course, the irony is that the only really politically-motivated aspect of building in Judea-Samaria today is the lack thereof, due to the establishment's inability to stand up to international pressure and satisfy even the most basic requirements of natural growth in these areas. Similarly, the decision to tie the hands of the police (who are fully capable of responding with an iron fist when they want to) in Jerusalem is a political decision driven at best by a pathetic fear of "the international response" to tough measures, and at worst by something altogether more sinister.
Therefore, in the absence of a proper government response, the very act of Jews purchasing, building and moving in becomes a powerful message and a symbolic middle finger to those who wish to drive us from our ancient homeland.
However, "the settlement movement" constitutes a form of nonviolent resistance far more fundamental than a reaction to individual acts of terror - whether in Jerusalem, Judea-Samaria, the Negev or anywhere else. In fact, if world leaders were even half as concerned about the plight of non-Arab and non-Muslim minorities in this region as they say they are (as opposed to their own cynical interests) they would embrace, rather than oppose, this historic movement.
Indeed, as the world stands transfixed at the bloody slaughter inflicted against "un-Islamic" minorities by the Islamic State terror group, it should be noted that this ultra-violent movement is really nothing new. As Netanyahu himself put it: it's just another branch of the same "poisonous tree" we have been battling over here for a long time.
In fact, far longer than the advent of "modern" political Islam.
As someone with only a basic knowledge of Islamic texts I am not qualified to weigh-in on the academic question of "does ISIS represent Islam?" from a theological point of view (but then again, neither is Obama); historically, however, ISIS's actions are basically identical to those carried out by the armies of the founder of Islam, Mohammed. The Islamic conquests of the 7th century and beyond saw precisely the same tactics of beheadings, crucifixions, enslavement (sexual or otherwise) of women and children, and cultural and physical ethnic-cleansing of all "un-Islamic" peoples.
Yes, Arabization. Because despite the fact that racially, the armies of early Islam - like ISIS's - also contained non-Arabs, one of the hallmarks of aggressive, expansionist political Islam is its use of religious pretexts to enforce a "pure" Arab culture on non-Arab peoples. Hence in "emulating the ways of the Prophet" in terms of dress, language and culture, Islamist movements - from ISIS and Al Qaeda to Hamas and Hezbollah - seek to subsume non-Arab communities (including Muslim ones) into their version of a wider, notably Arabic Islamic "Umma", or nation. (Just ask the non-Arab Sufi Muslims of Pakistan and Somalia.)
The Muslim empire of Islam's early years succeeded to a great degree in Arabizing the Middle East via a systematic campaign of conquest, occupation and colonization - from the genocide of the Jewish Banu Qurayza and Banu Qaynuka tribes of Arabia, to the Kurds and Assyrians, all the way to the African continent. Yet some communities stubbornly remained - though relegated to the humiliating status of "minorities" in their own homelands and subjected to the dangerous fluctuations of their new Arab/Islamic environment, which alternated between patronizing tolerance and all-out hostility.
Today's wave of Islamic imperialism, embodied by Islamist groups from ISIS to Hamas, merely seeks to finish the job that was started hundreds of years ago. In the field of propaganda, they have fine-tuned the art of inverting the narrative, placing them as the "resistors" of western imperialism - yet this claim is laid bare when one notes that their most common targets lie not in the West, but here in the East.
Which brings us back to Israel, and Shiloach.
In a region being steadily - and now not so steadily - emptied of its non-Arab, non-Muslim communities there is one notable exception to the march of Arabization and Islamization: Israel.
The "settler movement" is simply an extension of the Zionist mission to roll-back the forced Arabization of our corner of this once-diverse region through peaceful, yet stubborn, defiance of the post-Islamic-conquest "status-quo". It is true, of course, that in the face of hostility, terrorism and invasion we have proven capable and willing to defend ourselves - once it was pan-Arab nationalism, backed by good old-fashioned European imperialism; today it is Islamism, egged-on by useful idiots on the European left. But those wars would have been for naught had we not simultaneously invested our energy, spirit and resources in a long-term, determined program to physically undo repeated attempts to tear us from this land.
As other non-Arab, indigenous "minorities" in this region are bravely facing down a very similar threat in their homelands - most notably the Kurdish and Assyrian communities in Syria and Iraq - the message resonating from Shiloach, Hevron, Shiloh and Samaria is this: to achieve the self-determination they rightfully desire, when the battle ends the struggle must not cease. There is a way to break this Arab/Islamic hegemony - but it also requires grit and determination of a different sort to those demonstrated on the field of battle. As our own Jewish experience here in Israel has demonstrated, winning the conventional wars is just the beginning.
In that sense, far from being some kind of "obstacle to peace", the "Jewish (re)settlers" hold the key to the emancipation of indigenous peoples throughout the Middle East