In terms of the amount of coverage it has received in the media, the most important event in the Middle East in the last week was a riot carried out by Jews that took place in the town of Huwara following a terrorist attack committed by Palestinian Arabs that took the lives of two young Jewish men.
That this is so is, in a sense, understandable. Terror attacks against Jews are commonplace events. In the last five weeks alone, 13 Jews were slain by Palestinian terrorists. But while the notion that the Jewish “settlers” living in Judea and Samaria are engaged in a constant campaign of violence against their Arab neighbors remains a consistent theme of critics of Israel, examples of Jews attempting to exact some sort of revenge for terrorism are actually rare. Certainly, events on the scale of the riot in Huwara are almost unknown.
For Jews to behave in this fashion is not normative. That’s true even for “settlers” who are often falsely portrayed by both their left-wing Israeli political antagonists and foreign opponents of the Jewish state as wild-eyed religious fanatics boiling over with hate for Arabs. Incidents of “settler violence” amount to a fraction of the number of attacks of all sorts on Jews in Judea and Samaria. Even so, such actions are the work of a tiny fraction of the several hundred thousand Jews living across the “Green Line.”
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Huwara, near the city of Nablus, sits athwart Route 60, a major north-south arterial road that traverses the region. It’s a spot where Jewish travelers are frequently subjected to stone-throwing and other violent assaults. And it was the site of a terrorist shooting attack on Feb. 26 in which two Jewish brothers—Hillel and Yagel Yaniv, ages 21 and 19—were murdered by Palestinian terrorists. Following the attack, Jews who lived in the territories responded with rage, rampaging through the town, setting fire to vehicles and buildings, and engaging in violent clashes with local Arabs. Though the Palestinians claimed that one person was killed by the rioters, according to the Israel Defense Forces, that death occurred as a result of Palestinian attacks on the army.
Frustration and anger about terrorist murders, coming as they did after so many other recent attacks on Jews by Palestinians, may be understandable. Still, indiscriminate violence against everyone living in that town is not. Nor is it likely to deter future attacks on Jews by an Arab population that is simmering in hatred for Jews and Israel that continues to be fueled by incitement published in the Palestinian Authority media, as well as by what is taught in their schools.
As such, it was both illegal and deeply wrong, and merited the harsh condemnation it received from a broad cross-section of Israeli society, including top leaders like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog.
The riot led the news about Israel, overshadowing mentions of the murder of the Yaniv brothers or the subsequent murder a day later of an American-born Israeli, 27-year-old Elan Ganeles, who was shot on a highway between Jericho and the Dead Sea. In that same way, the statement in support of the riot by one member of Netanyahu’s coalition, Otzma Yehudit Knesset member Zivka Fogel, who is the chairman of the Knesset National Security Committee, was treated as more important than the condemnations.
According to Fogel, “yesterday, a terrorist came from Huwara. A closed, burnt Huwara—that’s what I want to see. That’s the only way to achieve deterrence. After a murder like yesterday’s, we need burning villages when the IDF doesn’t act.”
Coming from a victim of terror, such a crude expression of anger might be fathomable after a spate of killings of Jews that were largely supported by the Palestinian population, some of whom regularly take to the streets to celebrate murders of Jews. Nevertheless, it was irresponsible for a member of the Knesset to endorse revenge as a response to terrorism, let alone this sort of blatantly illegal action.
The Israeli left is already engaged in an all-out effort to delegitimize and topple the government led by Netanyahu because of the coalition’s drive to reform the court system. Along with the Biden administration and liberal American Jewish groups, the left would clearly like to place responsibility for the Huwara riot on the prime minister and his allies.
Like the rioters, Fogel deserves a drubbing for speaking in a fashion that, while appealing to Israelis who are fed up with terrorist violence, gives ammunition to his country’s enemies. However, this incident also demonstrates not so much what’s wrong with Netanyahu’s government as it does the Palestinian political culture that perpetuates anti-Jewish terrorism and makes peace impossible.
Fogel and his party are influential voices in the government. The Religious Zionist alliance that provided the margin of victory for Netanyahu gained seats in the last election. Their demands for tougher action against terrorism resonated with voters sick and tired of the previous government’s failure to act decisively, whether because of the paralysis demanded by its left-wing members or the fear of American displeasure on the part of its leaders.
But their rise—like Netanyahu’s frequent electoral victories in the last three decades—is a function of Palestinian actions more than it is representative of any intrinsic sympathy for the Israeli right. If the once-dominant parties of the Zionist left are now shadows of themselves, it’s because they were discredited by a mistaken belief that Israeli territorial surrenders and other concessions would buy peace with the Palestinians.
On the contrary, the post-Oslo Accords era has made clear that the Palestinians have no more interest today in ending their century-old war on Zionism now than they had in the past, when they rejected repeated Israeli attempts to forge a compromise based on the now-discredited “land for peace” formula that would have created an independent Palestinian state.
Yet as much as the left is determined to establish a moral equivalence between the Palestinians and the Netanyahu government and its supporters in the territories, this is a false narrative.
Even at the worst of times, support for violence against Arabs is limited to a tiny segment of Israeli opinion. It is not merely condemned by a broad sector of the public and the Knesset; those who engage in it are subject to prosecution. Belief in the “purity of arms” and a policy of restraint that seeks to avoid civilian casualties even when fighting terrorism is baked deep into the political DNA of Israel and its culture.
On the other side, terrorism against Jews and Israelis is not only widely supported by Palestinian Arabs but embraced by their political parties. This includes the supposedly moderate Fatah Party that runs the Palestinian Authority, as well as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, whose public support is rooted in their record of violence rather than state-building or bettering the lives of their constituents. Financial support for those who kill and wound Jews is official P.A. policy; terrorist murderers and their families benefit from their crimes.
Just as bad, the support that the P.A. retains in the international community and the willingness of the Biden administration to resume aid to it—regardless of its legal obligations to cut it off because of the 2017 Taylor Force Act that ties assistance to the Palestinians to their ending this “pay to slay” policy—demonstrates the world’s indifference to anti-Jewish terror. The United States has never demanded that the Palestinian factions pay reparations to the families of those Israelis or even Americans like Ganeles, that they murder.
That doesn’t justify lawless actions by Jews. But it does help ensure that this conflict will continue until a sea change in Palestinian thought and politics occurs. Until that happens, Jews should condemn extralegal violence and/or acts of revenge that will do nothing but aid the cause of their enemies. But as long as terrorism is cheered by Palestinians, don’t blame the Israeli right for the continuation of the conflict or the Israeli people for feeling frustrated by the free pass the murderers get from those who dare to lecture terror victims about morality.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.