There is a story of seven blind men who were asked to describe an elephant. One was placed by the trunk, another by a tusk, another by the tail, and so on. Each blind man described the elephant differently, and each was convinced that only his description was correct.
by Yona Seif
Many, if not most, people like to accept their very narrow experience of the world around them as an exact description of how it is. When it comes to people, they usually like to characterize them according to the labels to which they have become accustomed. These labels are usually very limiting, and very rarely succeed in describing the whole elephant.
I mention this because I can be given the label „settler“. I am given this label because I live in a community that is considered by many to be a settlement, based on its geographic location. Once I am such characterized, I am put into a little box full of assumptions. These assumptions are based on the limited perspective afforded by the placement of the „viewer“ around the elephant.
Assumptions very often lead to conclusions and decisions. For many, once these conclusions have been reached, the matter is closed, like in the famous quote, „I have made up my mind, don’t bother me with the facts.“ In today’s complex society, most people are on information overload. They really aren’t able to look into the actual facts in situations that don’t directly affect them. They then rely on various „reports“ that they assume are true.
Once I have been placed in the „settler box“ full of those assumptions, that are very many people in this world who will be sure that I fit a certain very limited profile. This paper is an attempt to break out of the little box into which many are attempting to place me.
Many of the assumptions that crowd this very narrow (minded) space are couched as catch phrases such as „racist“, „fascist“, „supporter of apartheid“, „occupier“, „opposed to human rights“, etc. Once I have been designated a „settler“ on the basis of my address, the other labels „naturally“ follow. As I said before, many people don’t have the time and/or the inclination to be bothered by the facts.
To really learn the facts, and not just take my word for them, one would have to meet me and my Palestinian Arab neighbors. Anyone who would like to do this is invited to see for themselves the existing relationships that negate all the above labels. This invitation is real and sincere, even though It is impractical for most of those who would be interested.
What I have seen a number of times in the past when visitors were referred to me to examine what actually exists here, is that almost all were looking for confirmation of just what they had already taken for granted. When they realized that the „facts“ did not support the conclusions that they already had, they disappeared, and I did not hear from them again.
I am a 74 year old male; I was born and educated in the US and for much of my life, I considered myself to be a liberal. I emigrated to Israel in 1966 to a kibbutz, which is a completely socialistic society. Even though we left the kibbutz in 1971, the kibbutz has never left me, and I am a strong believer in social justice. Even though my life developed to make me a „capitalistic entrepreneur“, aside from being a „settler“, my beliefs and practices have remained the same.
Among the assumptions in the box that many believe I fit in to, are that we „settlers“, or at least most of us, hate and oppress our Arab neighbors. On the other side, the belief is that most of the Arabs around us feel oppressed by us, and hate us as a result. I realize that I cannot make generalizations from my personal experience (just as I believe that others should not make generalizations based on limited exposure to the whole picture – the blind men and the elephant effect). My personal experience, based on over 30 years of intensive personal contact with our Arab neighbors, is that for the most part, just the opposite is true.
Although I am male, most of my good friends are female (my wife knows and accepts this). My best male friend is an Arab neighbor who has been my good friend for some 30 years. He claims that the majority of his fellow Arabs, including those in the refugee camp where he was born and raised, would rather live side by side with us here in peace than to have us leave – to wherever.
This is why I resist the attempts made to categorize me based on the labels given me determined by where I chose to make my home.
Please don’t attempt to put me in any box of any type. I just don’t fit. The truth is that nobody fits any preconceived box. Am I an exception to the preconceived characteristics? My experience, although limited as is everyone’s, has taught me that there are many others like me, just as I know that there are also those who fit the preconceived stereotypes, and even they are not homogenous.
I believe that peace can be achieved here on a much larger scale than the de-facto peace that exists here for 50 years. I also believe that the reason we have not achieved an „official“ peace is that most people are looking for solutions in the wrong place.
Yona Seif lives in Efrat in the Gush Etzyon region, south of Jerusalem. Together with his wife Anita, they have 5 children, 13 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren. Yona Seif and his wife Anita are one of the founders of the municipality, which today has over 10,000 inhabitants.