Last month Amira Hass brought more evidence of historic significance regarding events in the occupied territories (“The Duma murder is an exception to the already violent rule,” January 13), by describing how Amiram Ben Uliel used Yishuv Hada’at, one of many illegal outposts near the Palestinian village of Qaryut, as an observation post to allegedly plan the murder of the Dawabsheh family.
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The land on which the outpost is situated belonged to the Musa family, which made its living by working the land and raising sheep and goats. Under the auspices of the Israel Defense Forces, which did nothing to stop the settlers’ repeated attacks on the family, the Musas were forced to leave their land in 2001. The dispossessors seized their property; the dispossessed were forced to be laborers for the Jews. This was the soil on which Ben Uliel was raised and nurtured. There are many others like him in the land of settlement and dispossession.
In Israel the knife-wielding Arab youths sacrificing their lives are regarded as dangerous terrorists. This approach is, of course, the most comfortable one for the regime, which embraces the dispossessors and gives key positions in the military, police and the legal system to those who identify with them and their opinions. The Shin Bet security service makes sure to convey the well-known message – the youth who brutally murdered Dafna Meir in Otniel was incited by Palestinian television. The 13-year-old girl who was shot to death by a policeman in Anatot set out to stab someone because she’d fought with her parents, as if it’s common for a child who fights with his parents to grab a knife from the kitchen and aim for a guard armed with an automatic weapon. Who even noticed the leaky tent, planted between piles of mud and garbage, in which she lived, facing the settlers’ red-roofed villas?
Who in this racist and violent government even thinks about these kids? The Israelis’ hardened hearts don’t let them understand that they are responding to the despair and purposelessness that characterizes their lives. Perhaps they cannot explain it as such, but they are making a pretty hopeless attempt to prevent Israel from reaching the last stage of implementing its policy of colonialism, dispossession and apartheid in the territories.
In Israel, as in other places that developed through colonialist settlement and dispossession (North America, Australia, South Africa, Namibia), this colonialism did not begin with aspirations of sovereignty. The early Jewish settlers came here for economic reasons, to escape anti-Semitic persecution, or out of some romantic fantasy of building a new society.
But their descendents, as well as other groups that arrived over the years, saw the place as their homeland and wanted to be sovereign there. This Jewish demand received support and recognition after the Holocaust. Today no international body, including the Palestinian leadership, denies the legality and historic legitimacy of this sovereignty within the pre-1967 borders.
But since that year there has developed a colonialist project of dispossession in the occupied territories; it is still unfinished because it has not yet used the most extreme tools of colonialist dispossession, namely ethnic cleansing or genocide. It has, however, reached some very advanced stages that characterized similar efforts in the past – uncontrolled land seizures, economic, political, and cultural strangulation of the local population, terror and violence to which state officials turn a blind eye, ethnic separation and in particular, the conveying of an unequivocal message that this colonial presence is not temporary but permanent.
The local population gets the message and is waging a desperate struggle to reclaim what it senses it is about to lose forever. It resists, rebels and uses terror. In Namibia, North America and Australia, the response to this resistance was genocide.
There is a complex relationship between the settlers and the state. The loyalty of the settlers to the sovereign is conditional on its desire and ability to continue to preserve their privileges. When it seems as if the government isn’t doing exactly what they think it should be doing, they do it themselves, believing the state that supports them will eventually use its powers to finish what they started. That’s what the French settlers did in Algeria when they conducted a terror campaign against the Muslims, and that’s what the German settlers did in Namibia to the Herero people in the early 20th century. That’s what the Jewish settlers are doing in the territories; they are dragging Israel to the stage at which it will have to realize their messianic aspirations. The latest dispute over the two buildings in Hebron is just one example of many.
Settler messianism, which they arrogantly present as the continuation of historic Zionism, sees the Bible as its deed to the Promised Land. This gives settlement in the territories an especially murderous potential. The German, French or British colonialist saw himself as belonging to a group that deserved to inherit the land because of its racial and cultural superiority; because they belonged to a preferred, elevated civilization than that of the natives. By contrast, the Israeli settler doesn’t merely see himself as moral, cultural, religiously (and sometimes even racially) superior; he sees himself as the historic native, the sole owner who was temporarily exiled from his homeland.
Colonial dispossessors always expected the natives to play the game, i.e. to agree to the seizure of their lands and possessions, to loyally serve the settlers as manual laborers, and so on. As long as they behaved, their existence was tolerated. But the Jewish settler cannot, over the long term, tolerate the existence of the Palestinian “native,” not just because the latter refuses to play by the rules and responds with violence, but because his physical existence is a constant challenge to the main question: Who is the true native of this land?
As a result, the final objective of the settler ideology in the territories is not the Palestinians’ obedient submission to Israeli brutality, but their total disappearance. In instances of colonialism where there were fewer components of identity and messianic faith involved, it still ended in expulsion or genocide. The reality in the territories is sliding toward this danger. There are enough West Bank settlers working to make that moment happen.
The writer is a historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.