Pinpointing the problem of settler violence

If the desired resolution comprises the demonization of violently acting-out young Jewish men and their incarceration without attention to societal and other background issues, then there will be no resolution.

Meretz parliament member Mossi Raz attends a lobby meeting in the Israeli parliament on June 22, 2021. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Meretz parliament member Mossi Raz attends a lobby meeting in the Israeli parliament on June 22, 2021. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Sheri Oz

Does a video showing a dozen-plus masked young men battering leftist activists and Arabs, and burning their cars, tell us all we need to know about settler violence? If this is all that is known about the violence near the Arab town of Burin on Jan. 21, does that justify some of the things that were said in the media and in the specially convened Knesset committee session four days later addressing this problem (Hebrew press release here)?

The special meeting was under the auspices of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee (henceforth the Law Committee). In his opening remarks, chairman Gilad Kariv of the Labour Party made it clear that the session was for the purpose of addressing problems concerning law enforcement in cases of violence committed by Jews, and that they would not be addressing the issue of Palestinian Arab violence against Jews. He warned committee members not to drag the discussion in the latter direction.

In that meeting, Meretz Party Knesset member Mossi Raz declared that we have become accustomed to “normative right-wing violence” that, until now, has enjoyed “government backing.” Calling it “institutionalized violence,” he even said that:

… [a] small minority among the settlers who commit violent acts over and over again, and I almost meant to say for their livelihood.

When asked what he meant by both these statements, Raz’s spokeswoman wrote:

The government, and especially the two ministers directly responsible for this issue, the defense minister and the minister for internal security, have not related to the phenomenon with the proper degree of gravity. There is a serious lack of law enforcement, and we see minimal arrests and indictments as opposed to the extent of the phenomenon. In addition, we almost never hear public statements from the relevant ministers.

When Raz talks about “normative right-wing violence,” does it mean that he does not notice the outrage aroused among Israelis across the board towards violent acts such as what we witnessed near Burin?

When referring to “their livelihood,” Raz’s spokeswoman said it meant that they engage in violence on a daily basis, like going to work. This is no different from the leftist propagandists flippantly saying that settlers wake up in the morning with the goal of engaging in their hobby of attacking Arabs. Both of these are ridiculous statements if one reflects on them for more than the second that they take to make a strong emotional impact.

If by “government backing” Raz means “minimal arrests and indictments” in face of the extent of the phenomenon, we can make the same claim for a wide variety of societal problems. Crime in Israeli Arab towns has not been handled well (to put it mildly) until recently. Does that mean it has government backing? Sex offenses result in minimal arrests and indictments compared with the magnitude of sexual crimes extant in society. Does this mean that sex offenders have government backing?

All of these are complex societal issues that require an abundance of resources directed at their resolution. Coping with these problems includes not only the police and justice systems, but also education, informal education frameworks, mental-health institutions and more. Furthermore, coping effectively with all of these issues requires understanding the contexts in which they take place, individual and societal contexts.

When the insistence is made that discussion of settler violence is carried out without reference to Palestinian Arab violence, then that is insisting that context be ignored. The context is the entire situation in Area C of Judea and Samaria, and by ignoring that—either willfully or naively—there will never be a true understanding of what brings young people to explode violently against Palestinian Arabs and Jewish left-wing activists.

If the desired resolution of the problem comprises the demonization of violently acting-out young Jewish men and their incarceration without attention to the background issues, then there will be no resolution.

One could, perhaps, say the same about a resolution of the problem of Arab terrorism. But a major difference is that Arab terrorism arises out of Areas A and B, which are under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Israel has no jurisdiction in these areas other than security and sometimes prevention when there is intelligence of an impending attack; this includes administrative detention, as well as the arrest and imprisonment of perpetrators. All other domains pertinent to restraining violence fall under the auspices of the P.A.

In that same meeting, Osama Saadi of the Joint Arab List told committee members that the violent settlers “are human scum” who commit violent acts in the light of day with the backing of the Israel Defense Forces. His spokesman’s office did not respond to requests for clarification.

If by IDF backing he means that the soldiers just stand by as Jews attack Arabs—in the case of Burin, for example, residents of nearby Givat Ronen notified the army that Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) had planned a tree-planting event and to be there to prevent problems. But the army arrived only after the Jewish young men had already caused physical injury and burned cars, and were running away.

The manager of a cattle ranch at a different outpost in Samaria told me that in his experience, complaints by Arabs are handled more seriously than complaints by Jews.

According to the film “Five Days in Lod,” repeated calls by frightened Jews went unanswered and the police only began to calm the streets after an Arab man was shot and killed by a Jew claiming self-defense.

Suggestions of differential responses to Jewish violence versus Arab violence need to be investigated seriously and corrected because there is no excuse for this if found to be true.

The only conclusion one can reach on the basis of statements such as those by Raz and Saadi is that the speaker (or writer or news announcer who uses similar language) does not know many settlers personally.

The great majority of residents of Judea and Samaria, in both the recognized and unrecognized settlements, want to go about their lives quietly and without disturbing their Arab neighbors. They are no less upset by the physical injuries and property damage inflicted by unruly young men than are Jews in the rest of Israel.

Israeli leftist organizations that claim to be promoting peace with Palestinians make a lot of noise about needing to get to know one another in order to break through the hate and mistrust. They do not take into account that many settlers have long-standing relationships with Palestinian Arabs without their help.

There are residents of Judea and Samaria who have friendly relations with their Arab neighbors in both legal towns and illegal outposts. For example, a number of members of Avigayil, a community that was in the news last September because of a violent incident at the illegal outpost of el-Mufaqara, maintain friendships with Arabs living in that outpost. And a group of Jews from Modi’in Ilit attended the wedding celebrations for the son of Radi Nasser, the mayor of nearby Deir Qaddis. There are more such examples.

The residents of Burin and Givat Ronen, however, do not sit together over tea and biscuits. Perhaps that may be related to the fact that Burin commemorates and honors murderers of Jews, such as Hamdan Elnajar, on one hand, and the Burin PLO Facebook page calls openly for continued armed resistance to the “occupation” on the other hand.

Perhaps what is needed more than meetings between Arabs in the P.A. and Jews living in pre-1967 Israel are meetings between our country’s leaders and the Jews living in Judea and Samaria.

After the incident at el-Mufaqara, the IDF spokesperson’s office remarked in a WhatsApp message to me that:

… it should be noted that the Commander of the Central Command, Major General Yehuda Fox, visited the village in which the incident occurred, and said “We are committed to ensuring the safety of all residents of the area.”

Why did he not visit the communities of Avigayil and Havat Maon, and hear what they think and feel about the violence and challenges they face?

Yaakov Sela, spokesman for the Young Communities of Judea and Samaria, said that opposition MKs Smotrich and Struk (Religious Zionism) were the only elected representatives who came to see what was going on in Givat Ronen. On the other hand, the police have been showing up daily—not as part of their investigation of what happened on that particularly violent Friday morning but making the residents feel under siege, especially when they come with bulldozers.

Perhaps getting to know the settlers in Judea and Samaria is not even the point. Even if people get to know, respect and have positive feelings toward them, the point is the so-called occupation.

This becomes clear in the comment by Rabbis for Human Rights CEO Avi Dabush that comprised the closing remark of the Law Committee press release. He said that “Givat Ronen is known as a place that harasses Palestinians.” Dabush promised to return the next Friday, and an ad on social media promises they will return again on Friday of this week. Who is harassing whom?

The only thing left to understand is that according to the residents of Burin and other similar villages in the P.A., and according to their Jewish left-wing partners, the true violence in Judea and Samaria is, simply, the presence of Jews. Just living there, apparently, is an act of violence.

Sheri Oz is a retired family and trauma therapist living in Israel for more than 45 years.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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