A film director caused some controversy during a panel discussion following the screening of his movie “The Settlers” when he criticized the State of Israel at the University of Nebraska Omaha on Thursday.
Shimon Dotan’s movie highlighted the history of the settlement movement in the West Bank. This is an area of land located in Eastern Israel on the Western bank of the Jordan River and provides a constant source of conflict between Israeli settlers and Palestinians.
Rabbi Ari Dembitzer, the rabbi of Omaha’s Beth Israel Synagogue, did not think the film represented the settlers fairly.
“It only represented the extreme movement, and I believe that there were others that were not presented very well,” Dembitzer said. “It didn’t present a lot of mainstream settlers which would love to have peaceful relationships with their neighbors.”
According to the film, following the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel captured the West Bank and other areas, after which Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook organized a movement that was the beginning of the first settlements in the West Bank because Kook and his followers believed in the ideology that settling this area would hasten the messianic redemption.
Since its inception in 1967, the settler movement’s population in the West Bank has increased to 400,000 Israeli settlers, according to the film. The West Bank is also currently home to 2.7 million Palestinians.
Dotan said that 20 percent of settlers are ideologically and religiously driven to live in the West Bank. This ideological drive stems from the inception of the aforementioned settler movement that Kook founded. Dotan also said that 80 percent of settlers are there for economic reasons, such as affordable housing.
Some settlers are also extremists, which is a reason why people criticize the settlements. For example, Yigal Amir, an extremist Jew, assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin because Amir was against the Oslo Peace Accords, which involved land concessions of Israeli settlements, according to the film.
However, Dembitzer said that Rabbi Menachem Froman, for instance, created a settlement group called Tag Meir, and its purpose is to right the wrongs of extremist settler groups like the Tag Mechir group
The Tag Mechir group is predominantly composed of the Hilltop Youth. These are young adults who retaliate against Palestinian terrorists who attack Israel, according to Dembitzer.
Dotan said the film does not accurately portray the settlers who are peaceful because he had to cut the film down in order to broadcast it. He had to choose what to focus on because he could only fit so much into 1 hour and 47 minutes.
It was apparent, however, that Dotan focused on the situation of the Palestinians.
“We have a disparity of income that is one to 20 [of Israeli settlers compared to Palestinians],” Dotan said. “And I feel that the political reality of the settlement, and the grip that Israel is imposing on the West Bank, is catastrophic to the State of Israel.”
Dotan said there should be a solution to the settlement problem someday.
“I would like to find a way to resolve it,” Dotan said. “And if we do not do that, it will blow up in our face sooner or later.”
Alice Weiss, a member of Omaha’s Beth El Synagogue, agreed that the extremists have the potential to cause great harm.
“The filmmaker’s contention is even though these outspoken settlers are in the minority, they have potential to put the security of Israel at risk with their dogmatism, self-righteousness and unwillingness to compromise,” Weiss said.
Rabbi Shlomo Abramovich, a visiting Israeli scholar at Beth Israel Synagogue, was also a discussion panelist, as was Bill Blizek, a UNO professor of theology and religion. Rather than the settlements starting after the Six-Day War in 1967, Abramovich argued that most Palestinians think the settlements began in 1948 with the creation of the State of Israel.
“They believe this is their land,” Abramovich said. “I believe this is my land. So now we have an argument.” Abramovich believes that Israelis and Palestinians have to negotiate what to do now.
When asked about a solution to this conflict, Creighton history professor John Calvert said that he sees two options for Israel.
“I think the option of a two-state solution is dead,” Calvert said. “So I think that puts Israel in a difficult situation because either Israel continues to occupy all these many hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs or it annexes the West Bank.”