Opinion |

Israeli Settlers’ Grim Offer to Ukraine's Jewish Refugees

Israel’s settler council is preying on vulnerable refugees from Ukraine, offering help and homes in West Bank settlements. Beneath the smiles, there's a toxic message: Flee occupation, become occupiers

Arkadi Mazin
Arkadi Mazin
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Protest in solidarity with Ukraine in Tel Aviv this month.
Protest in solidarity with Ukraine in Tel Aviv this month.Credit: Hadas Parush
Arkadi Mazin
Arkadi Mazin

I am looking at a leaflet in Russian distributed by the Judea and Samaria Council, the representative body for Israel’s West Bank settlements.

It reads: "Dear friends arriving in Israel from Ukraine and the former Soviet Union! We are ready to host you in the towns and settlements of Judea and Samaria. We will help you to choose a destination, settle in, choose an ulpan [Hebrew language course] for yourself and a school for your kids, and navigate the bureaucracy."

Not bad, but it lacks a creative spark. As a former copywriter, let me fix this for them. How about "Fleeing occupation? Let us help you become the occupier!" Now we nailed it!

"Dear friends arriving in Israel from Ukraine and the former Soviet Union! We are ready to host you in the settlements of Judea and Samaria!" A leaflet in Russian distributed by the settlers' councilCredit: Facebook

The Council even launched a mission to the Ukraine-Romania border to scoop up the Jews and send them straight to settlements that included the militant, ultranationalist settlement of Yitzhar.

First, these are not exactly the secure and peaceful sanctuaries the newcomers probably hoped for. Second, I seriously doubt they are being told the whole truth, so let me fill in the gap.

Dear Ukrainian Jews! The ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel is illegal and immoral. It is not justified by Israel’s security needs, and it inflicts immense suffering on millions of people. There is a growing understanding in the world that what Israel has built on the occupied lands amounts to apartheid. At the very least, it is a military dictatorship.

You have been offered to become a peg in this system of oppression. I beg you to decline.

When you are told vile, toxic lies by your recruiters, see if you can spot the similarities between their narrative and the Russian propaganda that has embittered your lives.

They will tell you that Judea and Samaria are "historically our land." That’s what Putin says about Ukraine.

They will try to convince you that "there’s no such thing as the Palestinian people." That’s what you’ve been hearing about the Ukrainian people.

They will portray Palestinians as bloodthirsty Jew-hating wild beasts you cannot reason with. That would be just as true as "There’s a Nazi regime in Kyiv.”

They will insist that Israel is fighting for its very existence against the vast Muslim world, just like Russia supposedly wages war not against a smaller Ukraine but against the whole NATO bloc that wants to dismantle it.

Judea and Samaria Settlement Council celebrates the arrival of "repatriate" Ukrainian refugees to West Bank settlementsCredit: Facebook

Finally, your settler hosts might admit, with a sigh, that the whole world is at odds with Israel when it comes the occupation, but only because the whole world is deeply antisemitic. Compare that to "all the world is against Russia because they're deeply Russophobic." Trust me, nationalists and supremacists who want to conquer, dominate, and oppress use the same old but effective playbook every damn time.

When the world is shocked by the images of death and destruction from besieged Mariupol and Kharkiv, I implore you to look at the pictures of Gaza devastated by Israeli bombing raids. Yes, our situation is more complex. There is terrorism, there are rocket attacks, and Israel has the right to defend itself. But this endless cycle of violence is fueled first and foremost by occupation, dispossession, and dehumanization. It becomes clear as day when you take a closer look.

Today, many are wondering how tens of millions of Russians allowed state propaganda to invade their brains and totally zombify them. Is there something about Russians that makes them vulnerable to manipulation? Is this because they have never lived in a truly free country?

The Judea and Samaria Settlement Council's Facebook page in RussianCredit: Facebook

Unfortunately, this could easily happen to any people. Just look at Trump’s Big Lie about the "stolen election" that is believed by about a third of the U.S. population – no proof needed, no questions asked.

The Israeli Right runs a mighty propaganda machine peddling a finely tuned narrative that is so easy and tempting to embrace, especially when your hosts are caring and warm-hearted. I know that firsthand because this happened to me three decades ago when I arrived in Israel.

So, beware. Protect yourself. The good news is that Israel is still a democracy with mostly unrestricted access to information. This will allow you to form your own opinion once you arrive. To quote the famous sign brandished by the brave Marina Ovsyannikova on Russian TV, "Don’t believe the propaganda, they’re lying to you here."

I am not telling you not to come to Israel. Please, come, it’s great that you can find a safe haven here. Just don’t become occupiers and oppressors. If anything, after what you’ve gone through, maybe you’d want to join the peace camp. Hopefully, we will meet there.

Arkadi Mazin is a contributor to Re:Levant Israeli website (in Russian) and a staff science journalist at Lifespan.io, and currently based in Seattle. He was previously a journalist at Vesti, Israel’s leading Russian-language publication, and a freelancer for Yedioth Aharonoth, Haaretz, and YNET. Twitter: @ArkadyMazin

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