The IDF is a precise organization, fond of data and figures, especially those that can indicate intentions, which in turn become “trends,” which then allow conclusions to be drawn and action to be taken. Such is the case with numbers provided by the Israel Defense Forces regarding assaults by settlers on members of the security forces. In 2020 there were 370 violent acts by Israelis in the West Bank, 42 of then directed at police officers or soldiers, compared to 29 cases in 2019 (Haaretz, January 10).
All of a sudden, a trend of escalation is identified, along with serious concerns regarding the “level of daring” exhibited by right-wing activists and the silence that’s taken hold of political echelons in view of the rising violence committed by Jews. But what constitutes an assault, and when is an assault deemed a terror attack?
When it comes to a Palestinian, suffice it for him to get out of his car to help a friend who’s been hurt by shots fired by soldiers to label him a terrorist. An Arab girl walking with scissors in her hands is also a terrorist. Throwing stones has even warranted a special law, which stipulates that no intention to harm needs to be established for the act to be deemed a terror attack. Clean and simple. But with Jews the story gets complicated, especially when it come to settlers assaulting soldiers or policemen.
Is spitting an assault or merely rain? When is a stone thrown at a soldier by a Jew considered a terror act according to clause 275A, which determines that “anyone throwing or launching a stone or other projectile at a policeman or police car with the purpose of interfering with or obstructing a policeman carrying out his duties faces a sentence of five years in prison?”
And what if it’s someone striking a lieutenant-colonel? Obviously, if he’s an Arab he won’t stand trial – very promptly he won’t be standing at all. But a Jew? Will he be arrested for causing bodily harm or will his action be considered a tussle among friends? The more fascinating question concerns the definition of “daring.” What scale does the army use in defining the daring of settlers, and when does this assessment begin?
The settlers – even before their classification into sub-categories of hilltop youth, people living in “illegal settlements,” young settlers vs. veteran land robbers – began assaulting, destroying, spitting, throwing stones or soiled diapers right after the laying of the cornerstone for the “settlement enterprise.” Who still remembers the “historic” slap in the face an army officer received at the hands of settler leader Rabbi Levinger’s wife? Or the blows in the settlement of Kedumim? Or the violent clashes in Amona? Or the vandalizing of army vehicles in Yitzhar? All these were treated with understanding and a measure of mercy.
“Daring” was not part of the lexicon then. “Trends” or escalation definitely weren’t. All of these incidents were localized, contained events, which grew on a fertile and rotten ground that legitimized assaults by Jews against IDF soldiers in the early years of the occupation.
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The IDF and Israel’s governments gladly embraced the settler lexicon, consenting to differentiate between settlers and “hilltop youth,” between rabbinical leaders and thugs on the ground. If a soldier was assaulted, this was considered an “exception,” even when it was followed by dozens of other assaults. Such clashes took hold in the collective consciousness as an organic part of the coexistence between the army and the settlers, collateral damage incurred as part of the mission.
No one thought of an “escalation in daring.” Even now, it doesn’t appear that the army intends to change the rules, agreeing to take on the role of the assaulted Palestinian, whose very presence is a sufficient cause for assaulting him.
The working assumption which distinguishes between assaults by settlers against the IDF or against Palestinians is mendacious and deceptive. It encourages the assumption that settlers distinguish between “price tag” attacks and the uprooting of olive trees on one hand, and the assaulting and stoning of soldiers on the other.
Experience shows that anyone or anything that stands in the way of the settlers, in all their different configurations, from executing their plans, is a legitimate target. It’s not the daring of the settlers the army needs to assess, it’s its own feebleness when confronting them. This is a dangerous system that will continue to eat away at and ultimately destroy the IDF’s ability to fulfill its missions.