Following the cold-blooded murder of two Israeli brothers in the Palestinian Arab village of Huwara, a group of Israelis entered the village and set cars, homes and other buildings on fire, injuring dozens and reportedly killing one Palestinian man.
Israel’s critics, including those in the mainstream media, have used this riot to reinforce the false narrative that Israelis living in Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank), are violent religious fanatics who terrorize Palestinians.
The Washington Post’s headline read, “Emboldened by Israel’s far right, Jewish settlers fan the flames of chaos.” Al Jazeera reported that “Israeli settlers destroy Palestinian homes in violent rampage.”
While the riot was unlawful and unconscionable, the perpetrators were responding to Palestinian violence equally unlawful, unconscionable and far more widespread—but which is rarely reported with such alarm by mainstream Western media.
Truth is, the vast majority of Israelis living in Judea and Samaria—whom the media and the international community call “settlers”—are neither religious zealots, nor do they perpetuate violence. In fact, most Israelis in Judea and Samaria don’t live there for ideological or religious reasons at all.
Moreover, contrary to assertions by the media and some Western politicians, Israelis living in Judea and Samaria are not obstructing peace. Palestinians opposed the State of Israel before Israeli citizens began resettling Judea and Samaria, and oppose it now. Moreover, Palestinian leaders, in an apartheid gesture, insist that the disputed land they claim as a future state be “Jew-free.” Why?
If anything, the response to the rioting in Huwara illustrates another lesson: Whereas Israelis largely condemn acts of violence by fellow Israelis against innocent Palestinians, Palestinians praise, celebrate and promote acts of violence and terrorism by their brethren against innocent Israelis.
No surprise that Israelis living in Judea and Samaria suffer 10 times more attacks by their Palestinian neighbors than the other way around.
Today’s Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria are by no means the first Jews to live there. The first Jewish communities there following the 1967 Six-Day War were actually former Jewish settlements that had been destroyed by Arabs.
Two of these Jewish communities were Kfar Etzion and Hebron. The former, located southwest of Jerusalem, was re-established by surviving members of the original community, many of whom were massacred by the Jordanians in the 1948 War of Independence.
A Jewish community was also re-established in Hebron shortly after the 1967 war. The city had a vibrant Jewish community for centuries, until its members were massacred by Palestinian Arabs in 1929.
Today, some 500,000 Israelis live in Judea and Samaria. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds—and most are not religious nationalists. In fact, only 170,000 declare themselves members of Israel’s religious Zionist community.
The remainder are secular and Haredi (ultra-orthodox) Israelis, most of whom choose to live in Judea and Samaria for economic reasons. The cost of living in Israel is extremely high, especially in major cities like Tel Aviv, which in 2021 was rated the most expensive city in the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
Housing is much cheaper in Judea and Samaria, and communities offer a comfortable quality of life. Most Israelis move there for the same reason Americans move to the suburbs—they can get larger homes for less, and live a lifestyle that is unaffordable and unattainable in large metropolitan areas.
Furthermore, far from misery and hardship, Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria have brought jobs and improved economic conditions for Palestinians. Jewish residents spend millions of Israeli shekels for goods and services in Palestinian communities.
Thousands of Palestinians are employed by Israeli enterprises in Judea and Samaria. As of 2019, Israeli businesses employed 28,300 such workers, of which 18,000 were residents of Palestinian Authority territory. A Palestinian working for an Israeli company earns more than double the wage of a Palestinian who works for a Palestinian employer.
More than 100,000 Palestinians, including family members, living in P.A.-controlled Judea and Samaria are estimated to be dependent on Israeli industry and agriculture.
Palestinians working for Israeli companies in Judea and Samaria work alongside Israelis, helping build cultural bridges between the two peoples. This was the case in a factory owned by the Israeli company SodaStream, located in an industrial zone east of Jerusalem.
Unfortunately, in 2015 SodaStream closed this factory. Although the company denied it, many believe the company closed the factory due to strong pressure from the BDS movement. Hundreds of Palestinians lost their jobs.
U.S. media, of course, rarely cover stories of Israelis in Judea and Samaria benefiting Palestinians. That picture doesn’t fit the false narrative of Israelis making Palestinians’ lives miserable.
Many media focus rather on isolated incidents of Israeli violence, such as the riot in Huwara—a riot that was widely criticized by Israeli media and politicians.
Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the riot. One observant Israeli Jew even raised $465,000 in a crowdfunding campaign to assist the Palestinian victims.
In contrast, when Palestinians commit acts of terrorism against Israeli citizens, Palestinians pass out sweets to celebrate. The terrorists are regarded as heroes, and receive lifetime salaries from the P.A., whose leaders often praise them for their murderous deeds.
No surprise, then, that a recent poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found 71% support among Palestinians for the terrorist attack that preceded the Huwara riot.
No wonder attacks by Israelis in Judea and Samaria on Palestinians pale in number and severity to terrorist attacks by Palestinians against Israelis. Each year, Palestinians experience an average of 300 attacks on their property and 100 attacks on individuals.
By comparison, Israelis experience a yearly average of 5,000 Palestinian terrorist attacks designed to kill them. And whereas the United Nations claims that attacks by Israelis in Judea and Samaria on Palestinians resulted in at least 22 fatalities between 2010 and 2019, the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian terrorists during that same period was more than 300.
What happened in Huwara was, though deplorable, also a highly isolated incident, unlike Palestinian terrorist attacks. Note, too, that the vast majority of Israelis living in Judea and Samaria are law-abiding citizens whose presence, in many cases, provides gainful employment and other economic benefits to Palestinians.
Jason Shvili is Contributing Editor at Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.