Gideon Levy’s Views on Dead Settlers Are Incomprehensible, Inexcusable and Unforgivable

It is clearly possible to bear vehement political hostility to the political settlement movement, but not to murdered settlers. That Levy is no longer able to do so indicates he’s lost his humanity

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Relatives of Amichai and Shira Ish-Ran attend the funeral of their baby, who died after being delivered prematurely after Shira was wounded in a drive-by shooting by a Palestinian. Mount of Olives cemetery, Jerusalem. Dec 12, 2018
Relatives of Amichai and Shira Ish-Ran attend the funeral of their baby, who died after being delivered prematurely after Shira was wounded in a drive-by shooting by a Palestinian. Dec 12, 2018.Credit: AFP
James Adler
James Adler

I often admire Gideon Levy’s columns and their forthright, outspoken courage. I can also see how his countless experiences and the countless events on which he has reported with such justified outrage, and seemed to have had no effect, have perhaps even made him bitter. And even this is actually understandable. 

But I found his recent op-ed, I Feel No Sympathy for the Settlers, humanly incomprehensible and - to the deepest possible extent - objectionable. 

There is a fundamental difference, which Levy seems to overlook, between no political sympathy for the Settlement Movement – for which I have none either, nada, zilch - and no human sympathy for most of the individual settlers.

Some settlers live in the West Bank for reasons of ideology, some for economic reasons, some didn't go there of their own accord - spouses, children, teens, young adults who were taken or born and raised there. Most have, or were raised with, political opinions that are not saturated by hate of the Palestinians; some do, of course, embrace execrable hatred.

But in most cases it is a question of settlers holding different political opinions from us. And for that they putatively deserve to be stabbed in bed in their beds at night, as were three children from the Fogel family in 2011 in Itamar?

The victims of the Itamar settlement attack, 10-year-old Yoav Fogel, Udi Fogel, 37, four-year-old Elad Fogel, three-month old Hadas Fogel and Ruth Fogel, 36.Credit: Emil Salman

Amjad and Hakim Awad were convicted of murdering Ehud and Ruth Fogel, along with three of their six young children, Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and Hadas, 3 months old (the infant was decapitated) before fleeing the scene. 

Whatever mindset was behind was unimaginably monstrous. I have zero sympathy for the political settlement movement - in fact, I bear vehement political hostility to it. But on the human level, my sympathy for innocent civilian victims and their families and loved ones is, well, infinite. Just as my human sympathy for the - many - Palestinian victims in this conflict is, well, also infinite.

Soon after the attack on the Fogel family at Itamar, Haaretz reported that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "condemned the murder of five members of a single family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar over the weekend," telling Israel Radio that it was "a despicable, immoral, and inhuman act. 'A human being is not capable of something like that. Scenes like these - the murder of infants and children and a woman slaughtered - cause any person endowed with humanity to hurt and to cry.'" 

In an op-ed, Larry Derfner wrote that the "cold-blooded murder of children cannot be mitigated by anything. It is outside of politics, outside of anything the ‘other side’ does, no matter who the other side is and what he does. When children are murdered, the blame belongs to the murderer, not to any enemy he might have had."  

Sara Hirschhorn wrote: “Today, settlers are barely viewed as human beings to many on the left…Believing that all human beings - even those with controversial ideologies - deserve equal protection doesn’t mean one subscribes to ultra-nationalist politics. You are lying to yourself if you say you are a liberal but don’t actually think all peoples are deserving of the same dispensations…

'Thou shalt not kill' isn't conditional: The fresh graves of Haya, Elad and Yossi, 3 members of the Salomon family stabbed to death in the Neve Tsuf settlement. Modiin, Israel. July 23, 2017Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

"It is sheer hypocrisy to decry the death and disenfranchisement of a [Palestinian] population under occupation on a daily basis, while turning a blind (even benevolent) eye to [Palestinian] terrorists who would do the same to their neighbors in their own homes…If we allow human rights to be applicable only to some of history's subjects, we will all have lost our humanity." 

That Levy can't even bring himself to make this simple distinction, between the political tragedy and the human tragedy, is beyond my own ability to imagine. 

Levy writes: "I have no sympathy for the settlers not even when they are hit by tragedy. A pregnant woman was wounded and her newborn baby died of its wounds - what can be worse than that? Driving on their roads is frightening, the violent opposition to their presence is growing - and I feel no sympathy for their tragedy, nor do I feel any compassion or solidarity." 

So please let me say, both with frequent disagreement but also often - at least back in the past - admiration for some of what Levy writes: This is unconditionally inexcusable and unforgivable.

James Adler holds a Master’s Degree in World Religions from Harvard Divinity School, is a religion cataloger in a university research library and lives in Cambridge, Mass.

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