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

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...

Is Israel a Democracy?

Ending the occupation and discrimination against Arab citizens within its borders will alter our perception of whether Israel began as an imperfect democracy or a false one.

A Palestinian woman during a demonstration marking Land Day in the West Bank village of Halhoul, near Hebron, Saturday, April 4, 2009. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Infant mortality among Arab citizens of Israel is two and a half times higher than it is among Jewish citizens. One out of two Israeli Arab college graduates is out of work. Arabs make up 6 percent of the civil service, though they are over 15 percent of the country's citizens. National testing shows Arab fifth- and eighth-graders trailing Jewish pupils in math, science, and English, and the gap is widening. That's not surprising, since Arabs suffer much more poverty, and the national education system spends considerably more per Jewish child than per Arab child. This a just a selection from the last few weeks' news reports on the ethnic gap in Israel -- not that inequality is big news. The most clichéd phrase in Israeli political discourse is that the country is a "Jewish and democratic state." The phrase is overused precisely because of the tension between the two adjectives, because of the majority's insecurity over whether both can be achieved at the same time. (The minority...

The New Politics of Conscientious Objection in Israel

For years, it was the left that argued about selective disobedience -- but the right is now picking up the charge.

(AP Photo/Israeli Defense Forces)
Driving through the West Bank recently, I picked up two hitchhikers. Both wore the long, thick sidelocks and extra-large skullcaps that have become the mark of young men on the religious right, especially among settlers. Since they were what Israelis call army age (what Americans would call college age), the conversation turned to military service. Despite Israel's universal draft, the hitchhiker in the back seat said he didn't intend to serve. The Israel Defense Forces, he argued, hurts Jews -- a point he presumed was obvious from the "uprooting" of settlements in Gaza four years ago and the occasional dismantling of tiny, illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank more recently. Besides that, he said, the IDF "doesn't want to kill Arabs because it wants to look nice in the world." He didn't want to die because commanders were too concerned with Arabs' lives. As a student at a yeshivah -- a religious seminary -- he had a deferment, and he intended to keep it till he was past draft...