Amnesty and Amnesia

Gershom Gorenberg

From my column in the American Prospect on the amnesty for disengagement protesters as a means for warping Israel’s memory of its past and its policies in the future:

The amnesty law is impressive in its brevity, in its focus, and most of all in its terrible audacity. Passed by Israel’s Parliament this week, it is barely two pages long. It wipes clean the criminal records of one very specific group of political protesters: those arrested while trying to block Ariel Sharon’s unilateral evacuation of Israel’s Gaza Strip settlements in the summer of 2005. The legal system will forgive and forget the young ultra-nationalists who insisted that the divine imperative to settle the Whole Land of Israel trumped other law, and who in some places turned the pullout into a mob confrontation with Israeli police and soldiers, televised globally.

The amnesty, I need to note, does not cover those convicted of the most serious offenses, such as aggravated assault, or those sentenced to actual jail time. Nonetheless, it reportedly applies to 400 of 482 people charged for their role in the anti-pullback turmoil. It does, for instance, cover those who entered the Gaza Strip illegally as well as those who rioted after being ordered to disperse — two of the standard charges reported at the time. At just one settlement, Kfar Darom, 245 people were arrested after barricading themselves in the synagogue and hurling everything from light bulbs to toxic acid at police who came to evacuate them. Some, it seems likely, faced watered-down charges and received light sentences that will now be erased from their records.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, author of the legislation, spoke of national reconciliation. The amnesty will “repair the rift and heal the deep wound in Israeli society caused by the disengagement,” he said. Rivlin was quoted at greatest length by the West Bank settlers’ Arutz Sheva news Web site, under a headline that referred to the withdrawal as “the Uprooting.”

That fits a wider story line. Since the pullout, the settlers and their political backers have been engaged in rewriting what happened, in creating something roughly parallel to the American South’s pernicious “lost cause” narrative the Civil War. In the Israeli version, the only people hurt by settlement in Gaza were the settlers, whose ideal communities have been lost forever. Those who fought the withdrawal demonstrated their patriotism, so the story goes, and should be lauded. This story, of course, isn’t just about the past. It’s a direct effort to determine Israel’s policy toward the future of the West Bank.

Read the full article here, and come back to South Jerusalem to comment.

1 thought on “Amnesty and Amnesia”

  1. Stop with the segregation and just say ‘no’ to Zionism. It is stunning how this insidious ideology has destroyed our values. It is only a matter of time before we turn on each other now that we’ve proven how easy it is to turn on others. That, Gershom, is your wider ‘wider story’. From right to left you are all worshipping the Golden Calf.

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