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Amos Oz on Rights, Duties, Miracles and the Settlement Movement

The latest issue of the always interesting Moment magazine has a great Q&A with Israeli literary and left-wing luminary Amos Oz. The whole thing is well worth reading, but his critique of the ethos of the West Bank settlement movement is particularly perceptive:

So the settlers have a different vision of Zionism that includes the right to live in an ancestral homeland—

No. That’s not what they say. Or perhaps that’s what they say but not what they mean. They speak about rights to the ancestral homeland, but they don’t mean rights, they mean duty. Let me explain the difference. If I stand by a zebra crossing, the light is green, and a policeman gestures that I should cross the road now, I obviously have the right to cross the road. But if I see a van dashing my way at 80 miles an hour, I also have the right not to exercise my right. I see the van. The settlers ignore the van because they say they have a duty to be on that road.

They believe God will intervene and stop the van. There is a good Jewish joke about the belief in miracles. A certain rabbi is drowning in the sea; he can’t swim. A speed boat comes by and offers him to climb in and he says, “No, I’m going to be saved by a miracle, not by a boat.” Then a helicopter gestures to him to climb up and he says, “No, I am going to be saved by a miracle, not by a helicopter.” Finally, he drowns, goes to heaven, and is quick to complain to God: “A righteous man like me—how come you didn’t work a miracle for me?’ And God says, “I sent you a boat. I sent you a helicopter. What else could I do?”

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