OpinionIsrael at War

The false moral equivalence of ‘settler violence’

There is no culture of Jewish violence in Judea and Samaria.

Givat Eitam near Efrat, September 2007. Photo by Michal Fattal/Flash90.
Givat Eitam near Efrat, September 2007. Photo by Michal Fattal/Flash90.
Douglas Altabef
Douglas Altabef
Douglas Altabef is chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at: dougaltabef@gmail.com.    

At a time when Israel is reeling from the monstrous Oct. 7 Hamas massacre, it is distressing and more than a bit surreal to see a newfound effort by some to create a moral counterweight to Hamas in the form of “settler violence.”

This obsession has mesmerized many sanctimonious finger pointers, from U.S. President Joe Biden and his Secretary of State Antony Blinken to a conga line of commentators desperate to claim: Yes, Hamas is bad, but let’s face it, they’re Palestinians, so what do you expect? But, they say, the Jews, who are trampling the rights and usurping peace-loving Palestinians, are not only morally reprehensible but pose a grave threat to the entire region.

Let’s look at this a bit less hysterically. There are half a million Jews living in Area C of Judea and Samaria. Per the Oslo Accords, Areas A and B are judenrein. No Jews are even allowed to set foot on them. Area C is controlled by Israel and reserved for Jewish residence, although preexisting Palestinian Arab communities live freely there as well.

Contrary to widespread misunderstandings, Judea and Samaria were never Palestinian lands. Not just because there was never a “Palestine,” but also because there were no “Palestinians”—other than the Jews of Mandatory Palestine, who were called “Palestinians” by the British—until the PLO was formed in 1964. Prior to that, the Palestinian Arabs were simply the Arabs of Greater Syria.

According to international law, Judea and Samaria are disputed territories, having last been under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate. So, while viewing the Jews’ presence there as illegal land usurpation might seem like feel-good wishful thinking to some, it is completely inaccurate both legally and historically.

The Jews living in Judea and Samaria are largely non-ideological. They see the area as a great real estate arbitrage, with many vibrant communities within commuting distance of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Many Palestinian Arabs have worked across the Green Line in pre-1967 Israel.

In recent years, there has been a huge effort to create Palestinian Arab “facts on the ground” through illegal construction of tiny communities, many of which are funded by European governments or NGOs connected with them. The purpose of this activity has been to thwart the contiguity of Jewish communities and create a critical mass of Palestinian Arabs in these areas.

This is no great secret, as illegal construction has been widely documented by groups such as Regavim and reported to the Israeli government. In some cases, action has been taken against it, while in a great many others, it is tolerated in order to avoid international tension.

There have been constant waves of terror attacks directed at Jewish residents of Area C. According to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the first four months of this year alone, seven people were killed and 18 were injured in such attacks. There has also been a spike in terror activity in large Palestinian cities such as Jenin.

It is no secret that Hamas, having displaced the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, views Areas A and B as fertile ground for challenging the authority of P.A. chief Mahmoud Abbas. At the same time, the security structure that the P.A. developed has collapsed.

Is there Jewish violence in Judea and Samaria? Yes. Most of it is in response to Palestinian violence against Jewish communities. But is there a culture of Jewish violence in these communities? No.

The wave of sympathy for Israel in the wake of the Hamas massacre was breathtakingly brief. Within a matter of days, much of the world, especially the international media, returned to the tried-and-true tropes of “disproportionate” Israeli “oppression,” which in other international contexts is regarded as normal self-defense.

Part of this effort to limit empathy for Israel and excuse Hamas atrocities has been to point to the straw man of “settler violence.” Biden in particular has seized upon the issue as a way of maintaining his bona fides with his progressive, anti-Israel supporters. A few weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu felt compelled to make a brief, obligatory condemnation of settler violence as a sop to the president.

Israelis understand this. If we were not so immersed in the existential struggle to uproot Hamas, we might consider the settler obsession silly. But we are under attack now, and we have little appetite for the absurd.

So, we would ask our friends around the world to stop trying to make mountains out of molehills or searching for dirt under our fingernails that they can point to and equate with the blood dripping from the hands of Hamas. The canard of settler violence is a distraction from the great task at hand: destroying a monstrous, genocidal terrorist organization.

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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