Opinion |

It’s Not the Settlers, It’s the State

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
A car that was vandalized by settlers in the south Hebron hills, in September.
A car that was vandalized by settlers in the south Hebron hills, in September.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Leave the “violent” settlers alone. Just as you cannot differentiate between legal and illegal settlements because they’re all illegal, you can’t differentiate between violent and non-violent settlers. They are all violent, it’s only their methods that are different.

Columnist Rogel Alpher was right when he wrote this, unlike TheMarker editor Sami Peretz who went overboard in defending the settlers and blurring reality in determining that one must distinguish between the non-violent majority of settlers and the minority, who are doing as they please in the hills of Samaria (Haaretz, December 15).

They are all doing as they please in the hills of Samaria, some with clubs and axes, others with villas on stolen land. Most of the residents of Ofra, a supposedly “moderate” and well-established settlement, stole privately owned land and settled on it. The others settled on land that was not privately owned, but no less stolen. Are they not violent? What about the founders of Evyatar, who may have never killed a fly? Because of them, nine Palestinian demonstrators have been killed because they didn’t agree to remain silent over the theft of their remaining possessions. Are they not violent?

All settlers are violent in the very act of plunder they commit, and every settlement is a despicable act of pillage, ugly and illegal. Not only is it permissible to generalize, it is a duty to do so. What is the difference between individual and institutional thuggishness? What hurts the victim more, the olive trees uprooted by a settler thug or his land that was stolen by the state? Beatings inflicted by teenagers from the outposts or those inflicted by soldiers?

But above all one should leave the settlers alone because they only resort to violence because they can. Nothing stands in their way. It even pays off. A large portion of their real estate was obtained through physical violence, for which they are even rewarded. They are the idealistic pioneers leading the rest of the nation. Other portions of land were obtained by deceit, swindling, fraud and lies we told ourselves, through inventions such as “state land” in areas where the state is not the sovereign, or through cabinet decisions to expropriate land for various strange needs such as archaeology, nature reserves and fire zones, most of these spurious reasons.

The common element to all these violent methods is that the state gave them its backing, protection and resources. Occasionally it was the initiator, in other instances it looked away. So why complain about the settlers? They grabbed what they could, and their reach remained almost limitless, including the ability to emit fake cries of distress.

When Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev complained about settler violence to the assistant U.S. Secretary of State, he set a new record for hypocrisy and fake morality. When he subsequently became a target of right-wing attacks, the whole issue became a real farce, including his supposed rebuke of the settlers (“drink some water”) as if he were standing up to them. If he didn’t want settler violence there wouldn’t be any, other than a handful of marginal incidents. When Bar-Lev, looked out over Hebron in front of the cameras, none of the police brass surrounding him told him the whole truth of what he was seeing.

They didn’t tell him what the Samaria and Judea Police District is and what happens to a Palestinian who dares complain about settler violence. They didn’t tell him that most Palestinians wouldn’t dream of filing a complaint out of fear, because they’re unwilling to be humiliated while waiting to be let in to the police station only for their complaint to be buried in some drawer. They didn’t tell him how the apartheid traffic police operate with Palestinian and Jewish drivers in the West Bank. Try being a Palestinian driving without a hazard-warning triangle in your trunk.

Maybe Bar-Lev knows all this. If he wanted to, if the police heeded him, settler violence would subside. This is a violent group of people, but a cowardly one. These aren’t the criminal gangs operating in Arab communities. The day the settlers realize it doesn’t pay to resort to violence, there won’t be any. Today this is a far-off vision, with or without Bar-Lev.

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