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Lost in Translation: Who Me, a Settler?

11/07/2008

Stephen Kramer, a West Bank settler, wrote an article replying to Americans for Peace Now in which he supposedly derived the origin of the word "settler" for American readers.

This was not an idle linguistic exercise. Kramer's purpose was to show that all Israelis are "settlers," and that the legal status and moral implications of my home in Rehovot, for example, are identical to those of the home of a a "settler" like Noam Federman, who took possession of land without a permit and in defiance of the laws of the state of Israel and in order to sabotage the international undertakings made by the Israeli government. According to Kramer, he, and I and Federman and the BILU who settled in Gedera and the inhabitants of Tel Aviv are all in the same moral category. We are all "settlers."

Semitic languages have the wonderful propensity to spin great linguistic structures from three letter roots. Mr Kramer explains that the root applicable to the Hebrew word for "settler" is Yeshev. He must mean YSB or Yud Shin Bet, as roots have no vowels. He tells us that the word for "settler" in Hebrew that is derived from this root is "Mityashev" and the word for settlement is "Yishuv." Tel Aviv is a Yishuv, Rehovot is a Yishuv, Binyamina is a Yishuv, and Itamar and Hebron are Yishuvim and we are all equal. Mr Kramer is not alone in this view of the legal status of the Jews of Israel. His view is shared by the Izzedin al Qassam armed wing of the Hamas terror organization, whose announcements about rocket attacks claim that they have fired rockets on the "settlements" of Sderot and Ashqelon.

As I am, according to Mr. Kramer, a settler, I reply to him as a settler.

Mr. Kramer's linguistic derivation is spurious. The Hebrew word for those who settled in the West Bank and Gaza is "Mitna'halim" and the word for settlement on the far side of the Green Line is http://www.mideastweb.org/Middle-East-Encyclopedia/Hitnachlut.htm">hitna'hlut, which is also the word for a settlement in the West Bank That is the word used universally in Hebrew media and at least originally, by the "settlers" themselves. The root is not from YSB - to sit (or settle) but from NHL, to take possession, or come into an inheritance, as in the allotted lands of the twelve tribes of Israel. The words for these settlements were not invented by left wing opponents of the settler movement, but, it seems, they were invented by the settlers of the Greater Israel Movement. Reuven Alcalay's English-Hebrew dictionary, edition of 1962, doesn't list "mitna'hel" as a word for settler, and the word doesn't seem to exist at all in Eben Shushan's Hebrew dictionary of 1952.

In English, both "Mitna'hel" and "Mityashev" are translated as "settlers." The difference is lost in the translation. Thus, while Mr. Kramer's linguistic acrobatics sound good to American ears, they are inaccurate renditions of Hebrew usage. Mr Kramer's derivations are reminiscent of the comic etymologies of Shalom Aleichem's character, Tuvia the Milkman (Tevye der Milchiker) who was the basis of "Fiddler on the Roof."

In any case, quibbling over words is not a reasonable way to settle the question of whether West Bank settlements are the same as those within the Green Line. Words should not create facts, though they often do in the Middle East (See Understanding the Middle East II: What's in a Word). A rose by any other name smells the same, and a "Mitna'hel" by any other name has the same odor.

Mr Kramer also explains that settlers who live beyond the Green Line:

"aren't opposed to having peaceful relations with the Palestinians, but they disagree that their homes are an obstacle to peace. Unlike Peace Now adherents, almost all of these Israelis think peace is unattainable, so long as Arabs continue to use terror to deny Jews the right to live independently on either side of the Green Line.

The question immediately arises, "How far on the other side of the Green line do the Jews have a right to live independently?" Mr Kramer gives the alarming answer himself:

"...all believe that Jews have a right to live anywhere in what the League of Nations designated as the "national home for the Jewish people."

The Palestine Mandate of the League of Nations included all of the area that is presently Jordan. Readers can judge whether or not Mr Kramer's notions are a reasonable basis for peace.

Linguistic exegesis aside, the basis of the state of Israel from its inception is international recognition. No state can exist without that. If we try to build a state that includes Jordan or perhaps beyond and if we are unwilling to compromise with the Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank, Israel shall be denied international recognition. With no international recognition, you get no state.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000724.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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