By BERNIE BELLAN
Sondra Boras is an Orthodox Jew who has made it her life’s work explaining to Christian groups the importance of supporting Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria (a.k.a. the West Bank or the occupied territories).
On Tuesday, July 12, Boras was the guest speaker at an event organized by Winnipeg Friends of Israel, at the home of Yolanda and Bradley Pollock. There were over 30 people in attendance to hear Boras and, as she explained at the outset of her remarks, she usually speaks only to Christian groups, so to be addressing a mixed group of Christians and Jews was something quite unusual for her.
By way of explanation, Boras was in Winnipeg as the guest of Bridges for Peace, a worldwide organization dedicated to forging strong links between Christians and Jews in Israel. She also mentioned that Pastor Rudy Fidel of Winnipeg has been a very strong supporter of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, an organization which she helped to found in 1995 and of which she has been the director ever since.
Born in Cleveland and educated both in the United States and Israel, Boras made aliyah in 1984 with her husband Edward, a computer programmer, and two children. In 1987 the family moved to the community of Karnei Shomron in Samaria, where three more children were born.
During her hour-long talk July 12 Boras touched on many themes, including the historical connection the Jewish people have to Judea and Samaria; the tremendous strides that settlers have made in developing vibrant communities there; the difficulties in co-existing with their Arab neighbours; and the important role that Christians can play in providing support for the settler communities, both monetarily and politically.
(Ed. note: In the past I have been critical of the settler enterprise, but Boras provided a reasonable defence of Jewish settlements, and this article will report as objectively as possible what she said. For my own views about Israeli settlements, however, turn to my editorial column on page 4.)
Boras is not only an articulate defender of Jewish settlements, she is able to come up with some pithy lines that cut to the heart of an issue. For instance, she declared at one point that “the two-state solution is dead”. In the question and answer session that followed her initial remarks, I suggested to her that the corollary to her observation would be that there might be a “one-state solution”.
While she did say that recently an Israeli journalist has put forth an interesting variation on the one-state solution that would allow for some form of Palestinian autonomy within a larger state that would be home to both Israelis and Palestinians, her own opinion on the matter was that “not every problem has a solution”.
At the beginning of her talk Boras gave a chronological history of Israeli settlements, noting that the very first settlement activity actually took place almost immediately following the Six-Day War in 1967. While there were sporadic initiatives involving settlement activity, especially in Hebron and an area known as Gush Etsion, as Boras noted, the then-Labour government of Israel had “already put forward the idea of land for peace”. It wasn’t until after the Yom Kippur War of 1973, however, that Jewish settlement activity burgeoned.
Boras explained that the Yom Kippur War “produced two parallel movements: Peace Now and Gush Emunim”. Peace Now promulgated the idea that there could be “two states for two peoples”, she said, advocating withdrawal from territories captured during the Six-Day War. The problem with Peace Now, Boras later observed, was not in the word “peace”, it was with the word “now”.
Gush Emunin, in contrast, was a movement of religious Jews which held that God promised the entire land of Israel to the Jews and that Jews had a responsibility to create settlements in Judea and Samaria. The predominant area of settlement activity early on occurred in Judea, which is in the southern part of the territory. According to Boras, each time settlers attempted to establish settlements in Samaria, the Israeli government would force them to leave. The first success was in Shechem, she said, followed by 30 families moving into an abandoned army camp in a settlement known as Kadim in December 1975.
In 1975 Boras herself made her first trip to Israel. Venturing into Samaria she came across young Israeli settlers there. “What these people were doing was amazing,” she said. What they were doing “was changing Israel.” She thought to herself, “How can we dare leave this land?”
When she and her husband Edward moved to Israel in 1984, “one of the first things we did was sign a contract to build a house in Samaria” (in the aforementioned community of Karnei Shomron).
Even by that time the settler community had already become so well entrenched, Boras observed, that a “left-leaning columnist for an Israeli newspaper wrote in 1984 that the number of settlers had reached 80,000 and that the settlement movement was now irrevocable.”
In 2005 Israel ordered the evacuation of Jewish settlers from Gaza. Boras suggested that “withdrawal from territories, rather than bringing an element of peace, brought us instead, terrorism.”
The situation today, according to Boras, is that there are now more than 400,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria (not including border communities of Jerusalem that are also situated beyond the green-line that defined Israel’s pre-1967 border).
As the years have passed, moreover, there has “been a complete change in Israel” regarding the consensus about settlements, Boras claimed. “The majority of Israelis now believe that any more withdrawals would be a complete mistake.”
As far as Palestinian opinion is concerned, Boras suggested that both Jews and Palestinians have come to the conclusion that “like it or not, we are both here”.
Further, as far as forcing Palestinians to leave their land goes, Boras said that “when we came in, we came in with the full intention of not throwing any Arabs off their land…We wanted to live in peace with the Arabs but we were greatly disappointed,” she added.
Still, when violent attacks against Israeli Jews began taking place beginning around September of last year, Boras noted that “most of the terrorist attacks were not in Judea and Samaria – they were in Jerusalem.”
The reason for that, she suggested, is that “the Arab population was asking itself: ‘Who was most harmed by the second intifadeh?” (the violent outburst of attacks by Palestinians on Jews living both in Judea and Samaria and the other side of the green line as well, which occurred between 2000-2005).
“The last few years the Arab economy (within the Palestinian territory) has been soaring,” Boras claimed. “There have been very few roadblocks” impeding motor transport – unlike the situation during and immediately following the second intifadeh. “There have been many new (Arab) homes built, many new businesses,” she added.
As a result, “the average Arab says, ‘I don’t want to go backward,’ “ Boras suggested. Arabs have also come to the realization that “the Jews aren’t going anywhere”.
At the same time, Jews living in Judea and Samaria “look around at the Arabs and wonder, ‘Can we have friendship with the Arabs?’ “, Boras said. In truth, she admitted, for the longest time, “Jews living in Judea and Samaria didn’t notice the Arabs – but that’s changing. Now they say to themselves: ‘They’re not going anywhere, we’re not going anywhere.’ ”
Further, according to Boras, in private conversations with Arabs they will tell you, “We want the Jews to stay. We don’t want to be governed by the present (Palestinian Authority) leadership.”
In addition, by promoting the BDS movement as it has, the Palestinian Authority has hurt its own population more than it has hurt Jews. Jewish businesses can pick up and move elsewhere, if need be (as with the case with Sodastream, which moved from Ma’ale Adumin to an area near Beer Sheba. The real losers in that case were the Arab employees of Sodastream in Ma’ale Adumin, all of whom lost their jobs when the plant moved as a result of Sodastream’s being targeted by the BDS movement.)
During the question and answer session, Boras was asked whether it was true that the settlers are “all Ashkenazie Jews”?
Boras said that it’s a commonly held – and quite mistaken stereotype, that the majority of settlers “come from Brooklyn”, as she put it – and which is how media typically depict the situation. “Middle Eastern Jews are rooted in the settlement enterprise,” she insisted.
The reason that media generalize about settlers, Boras explained, is that when reporters go looking for settlers to interview, they naturally seek out English-speaking settlers because the “journalists don’t speak Hebrew”.
Further, “not all the settlers are religious,” Boras noted. “At least half the settlers are not religious.”
Asked what would lead someone who isn’t religious to want to live in Judea and Samaria, Boras explained that part of the problem in explaining the settler enterprise is the mindset promulgated by “the state of Tel Aviv” – a very liberal mindset typified by Haaretz newspaper, but which is not at all typical of the mindset held by most Israelis. As proof, Boras pointed to predictions prior to the last Israeli election that Netanayhau would go down to defeat at the hands of Labour. Further, Boras claimed, “most Israelis believe in God” – contrary to the kind of leftish attitude popular in Tel Aviv – and Tel Aviv alone.
Boras went on to say that “we’ve built a wonderful place to live” (in Judea and Samaria), yet another reason Israelis want to move there. “We have community life, you know your neighbours, there’s a sense of community.”
Pointing to the mass upheavals that have enveloped most of the Arab world since the Arab Spring, Boras suggested that many Arabs themselves are less concerned with Jewish settlements than they are the threat of the chaos that would ensue should Israelis withdraw from those settlements. “Israel is an island of stability within the Arab world,” she said.
“Any territory we withdraw from will revert to Hamas first, then to ISIS,” Boras warned. The truth is that the “Palestinian Authority is dying for Israel not to withdraw” from Judea and Samaria.
Turning to the Christians who were in attendance, Boras said “what I’d like to see is the international community coming to Israel and saying, ‘What can we do to strengthen you?’ ”
Finally, Boras was asked how she would compare Arab-Jewish relations in Judea and Samaria with Arab-Jewish relations in Israel?
Her answer was: “Very different – Arabs in Judea and Samaria are under the civilian authority of the Palestinian Authority. It’s a crime for an Arab to sell land to a Jew. There are still good relations between Arabs and Jews when they meet in the workplace, but it is illegal for a Jew to into an Arab community.”