Gershom Gorenberg

Gershom Gorenberg is a senior correspondent for The Prospect. He is the author of The Unmaking of Israel, of The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 and of The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount. He blogs at South Jerusalem. Follow @GershomG.

Recent Articles

Imagined Israel

A new book makes sense of why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeats his errors.

An Israeli man carries his daughter on his shoulders on their way to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a shrine holy to Jews and Muslims, in the West Bank city of Hebron. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
By all accounts, Benjamin Netanyahu devoted very little thought to the two final sites added to a list of designated heritage sites set to benefit from a large government restoration budget. Never mind that the Tomb of the Patriarchs, known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, is located in the West Bank town of Hebron. Likewise, Rachel's Tomb is in Bethlehem -- also occupied territory. Just before Sunday's Cabinet meeting, rightist ministers noticed that the two shrines, regarded as the burial places of the biblical ancestors of the Jewish people, were missing from the list. They leaned a bit on Netanyahu, he added the tombs, and the Cabinet unanimously approved the plan. From there, the reaction followed as if part of the playbill. Palestinian protests in Hebron turned into confrontations between demonstrators and troops that have grown larger each day. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat described the heritage designation as a "unilateral decision to make Palestinian sites in Hebron...

Free Speech and Funding in Israel

Attacks against a major left Israeli philanthropic organization are symptomatic of the complex role foreign money plays in political debates.

Jewish right-wing activists dressed as Arabs demonstrate against the New Israel Fund (NIF). "Thank you Naomi Chazan, the New Foundation, Friends from Gaza." (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
Ronen Shoval caught me off-guard. I'd phoned the newly prominent rightist to listen to him repeat his allegations that the New Israel Fund, the major philanthropic backer of Israeli human-rights groups, was "aiding Hamas." But I wasn't expecting him to say that the NIF was "serving communist interests." He's not actually an Israeli neo-McCarthyist, I realized. He's an authentic, original McCarthyist -- cut loose in both time and space, in free fall, looking desperately for his mother ship. For a few seconds I felt sorry for him. My moment of lost-kitten pity didn't last. Anachronistic as he sounds, Shoval is quite dangerous. With politicians and major media figures helping to arouse hysteria, his Im Tirtzu movement has enjoyed very quick success in its campaign against the NIF. At the end of January, Im Tirtzu ("If You Will It") issued a study portraying the NIF as the hidden force responsible for war-crimes allegations in the Goldstone Report on the fighting between Israel and Hamas...

Willed Amnesia

Israel's new amnesty law only perpetuates the narrative that the only people hurt by settlement in Gaza were the settlers, whose ideal communities have been lost forever.

Israeli security forces attempt to reach the rooftop of the Kfar Darom synagogue, where settlers barricaded themselves to resist forced evacuation on Aug. 18, 2005. (AP Photo/Yossi Zamir, GPO)
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...

To the Victor Go the Street Names

The real legacy of regional conflict can be found in the smallest details -- street names, curriculum choices -- that painfully enshrine some of the worst violence.

Akko, Israel.(Flickr/Chris Yunker)
Walking along the beachfront street in Akko recently with a social activist from the town's Arab community, I looked up at a sign and saw I was at the corner of Shlomo Ben-Yosef Street . Then I looked again just to make sure. Really, I'm embarrassed I was surprised. Naming the street after Ben-Yosef showed an entirely predictable blend of bad taste and flagrant educational incompetence. Akko, on the northern Israeli coast, is an ethnically mixed city: Arab citizens of Israel make up a little more than a quarter of the town's 53,000 residents. The rest are Jews. Today's relations between the two communities are just short of explosive, but I'll leave that story for another time. Akko was entirely Arab until May 1948, when the Haganah -- the proto-army of Israel -- conquered it. Afterward, those Arabs who stayed in the town lived in the walled Old City, later spreading to nearby neighborhoods. The beachfront thoroughfare, which runs into the Old City, is named after the Haganah. This...

The Settlement Freeze That Isn't

If there were any doubt of Benjamin Netanyahu's commitment to the settlement enterprise, he dispelled it this week.

Israeli right-wing activists rally outside the prime minister's residence against the government's decision to freeze construction in West Bank Jewish settlements, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
"No Entrance To Bibi's Freeze Inspectors," reads the long, professionally printed banner hanging at the eastern entrance to Ariel. Ariel has a reputation of being a relatively moderate settlement. Its residents are mostly secular suburbanites; its eternally re-elected mayor belongs to Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's mainstream right-wing Likud. The Ariel finger -- the heavily settled strip of land joining Ariel to Israel -- is one of those blocs that centrist Israeli politicians insist will stay in Israeli hands under a peace agreement. But the suburbanites, like the hard-core ideologues of the religious right, are furious at Netanyahu's declared freeze on building in the settlements. When police and building inspectors showed up this week at Tzofim, a smaller settlement closer to central Israel, to seize a bulldozer being used for illegal construction, an angry crowd blocked their way. One policewoman was hospitalized, apparently with internal injuries, after protesters pummeled her...

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