Settlers’ cause is a welcome victim of violence

The disgraceful mobs in Hebron vividly show why all Israeli settlers are misguided

By Josh Freedman Berthoud, December 23, 2008

The events surrounding the eviction of Hebron’s “House of Contention” last month marked a new low in Israeli settler violence. Angry mobs ran riot throughout the city, enacting a “price-tag” policy of retribution on local Palestinians. Three men were shot at close range, cars and olive groves set alight and, in one reported incident, a group of settlers torched a home in which a large family cowered, as private security guards looked on. Of course, such nationalistic attacks would not be complete without the destruction of the enemies’ most sacred sites. Hence, Stars of David appeared on Muslim headstones, while “Mohammed is a pig” was blazoned across the wall of a local Mosque.

While pernicious, these attacks were not unusual in type. The recent distribution of video cameras by Israeli human rights group B’tselem to Palestinian residents of the West Bank has produced graphic evidence of what the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators described on Monday as “the growing threat of settler extremism”. In one particularly brutal video, a gang of four masked youths calmly beat an elderly shepherd and his wife with baseball bats. A quick YouTube search demonstrated that this was far from an isolated case.

What was less common, however, was the manner in which, when evicted, protestors in Hebron treated their compatriots in the Israeli Forces. Despite having been taken by surprise (which prevented them from employing the arsenal of homemade weapons that was discovered on the premises), settlers succeeded in assaulting officers, pelting them with stones and treating one unfortunate soldier to a face-full of acid.

Israeli officials were quick to condemn. An unnamed senior officer of the IDF’s Central Command was reported as saying that the Hebron riots “shame and disgrace us as Jews”. The Prime Minister labelled the attacks, “a pogrom”. Far from galvanising support for their cause, the settlers’ churlish tantrums resulted in ignominy.

Eager to limit the damage, settler leadership council Yesha played the good cop to the bad villains of the headlines. Yesha chairman Danny Dayan berated former Kedumim mayor Daniella Weiss for inciting the rioting youth, angling for her removal from Hebron, while ferocious firebrand Nadia Matar was another whose confrontational tactics incensed the leadership. Both veteran settlers, Matar and Weiss are role models among the new wave of angry settler youth, disenchanted with Yesha following the disengagement from Gaza.

Attempting to reassert its authority, an ostensibly outraged Yesha is now branding the rebels a rabble of extremists, far removed from the settlement movement at large. Such representations are understandable — but they are also untrue. The new wave of settler violence is not limited to a handful of extremists, nor to one or two hotspots and no one can claim to be surprised by its eruption. The youths who stone soldiers and beat Israeli policemen are direct ideological descendents of the Gush Emunim settlers who defied the army at Sebastia in 1975. The people who torch Palestinian property, beat shepherds and sabotage their agriculture are no bastard children, but the legitimate offspring of a pervasive, ultra-nationalistic ideology that pits Jews against Palestinians in an all out battle for holy land.

That the majority of settlers do not engage in violence is beside the point, as is the Yesha leadership’s eschewal of confrontation for negotiation. The new generation of settler youth, piloted by certain spitfires of the old, is the inevitable consequence of the maverick and rampantly nationalistic settlement enterprise, for which mainstream settler leaders are just as responsible as a Matar or a Weiss. No amount of posturing on the part of the Yesha leadership can hide that fact.

Dayan is right about one thing, though: the new wave of radical youth is doing untold damage to settlers’ support among the Israeli public. For proponents of a two-state solution, that’s a silver sliver in an otherwise cloudy sky.

Josh Freedman Berthoud is co-author of “Forty Years In The Wilderness: A Tour of Israeli Settlements in Occupied Land”, to be published by Five Leaves in February 2010

    Last updated: 11:28am, December 23 2008



    Wed, 12/31/2008 - 08:48

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    Its easy to deal with stereotypes as in this op-ed & to present media images as facts. It makes everything very black and white: nasty violent settlers and poor downtrodden arabs. That way thoughts of ethnic cleansing [ie not a single Jew living in Hevron or the West Bank] becomes palitable; we can ignore the fact that there are around 400 Jews in Hevron, who's presence it unbearable to the tens of thousands of arab residents. Why is that by the way?
    Yes, some settlers are violent zealots & they must be condemned at every opportunity, but the vast majority are not like that. They are people who are passionate about the land of Israel at a time when many secular Israelis see it as just another place & often leave, returning to exile. Their emunah [beliefs] are so strong and real that they choose to live in parts of our ancient land where most of us would be afraid to even visit.
    The 'settlers' want to live in the oldest Jewish city in the world, where the fathers & mothers of our people are buried in a cave bought 3000 years ago & why not? King David chose Hevron as his capitol before Jerusalem, and in fact it is one of the few parts of Israel that had a continuous Jewish comminuty throughout the 2000 year exile [until they were massacred in the 1920s].
    So why shouldn't Jews live in Hevron? Why is this even a question? What is wrong with 400 Jews sharing space with arabs? The answer is Simple: it upsets Islamofacists and Palestinians!! These people want us out...out of Hevron, out of Jerusalem and out of Tel Aviv & for some reason appeasers such as Josh Freedman Berthoud think this is something that should be supported!

    Let us say that we did evacuate all the 'settlers' from Hevron. Would that change a thing? Of course not..we'd be moving the front line to Jerusalem, Haifa, Jaffa etc. People like Josh Freedman Berthoud never get it: They don't want us ANYWHERE in Israel. Appeasing Hitler was a disaster in the 1930s and it will be the end of israel if we do it now. Jews belong in Hevron as much if not more than they belong in Tel Aviv. Yes, condemn any violence [which is as prevelant on the left as the right in Israel], but don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. Jews belong in Hevron. We've been there for 3000+ years, our fathers and mothers are buried there, we are part of the very soil of Hevron & Gd forbid we should ever forget that.


    Wed, 12/31/2008 - 12:40

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    It is not just the "islamofacists and Palestinians" who want the settlers out of the West Bank. The international leadership also condemns their presence in the occupied territories including of course Gordon Brown who as I read on the JC has advised Britons not to buy property there and has questioned the choice to label products produced in West Bank as from Israel.

    It is also not simply a presence of settlers (approx one twelfth of the Israeli population live in West Bank) which causes conflict. For example, the Postal service, water supplies, airports etc are all controlled by Israel. Discrimination through distribution of resources is seen as acceptable, for example, the settlers pay a quarter of the price palestinians pay for water despite 30% of the population being refugees. The 'security fence' is built approximately twice the length of the border between the Israel and West Bank. It restricts movement of Palestinians, separating families, farmers from their land, students from the schools etc. This cannot be overlooked when considering why settlers are unwelcome especially when the are accompanied by a large military presence to protect them. Refugees in Hebron have to walk 2 hours in order to take food from their kitchen to the refugee camps. This walk used to take 10 minutes but the Israeli forces only allow them to pass through 2 entrances into the old city of Hebron. There used to be more than 30 entrances. However the settlers can pass through on their Israeli only roads.
    I cannot see how a road designated for a specific group of people is tolerated by the World or by Jews who surely know better.
    I have been told that as a Jew I am supposedly 'A light unto the Nations'. I guess this excludes Palestine.