The rioters who left the Havat Maon and Avigayil outposts on Simhat Torah to wreak destruction in the village of Khirbat Mufkara also disrupted the idyll we’d been living in since the “government of change” took over.
Maybe a toddler with a cracked skull was too much for the country that is a “beacon in a stormy sea”; maybe it was the video footage of dozens of masked intruders smashing whatever they could; or maybe it was the lack of any sexier news items during the Jewish holiday season. Whatever the reason, the Mufkara pogrom did manage to crack the Israeli wall of denial and to elicit condemnations from politicians and public figures who normally do their best to avoid commenting on such things. Even the head of Central Command, Yehuda Fuchs, went to the trouble of traveling to the southern edge of his sector to express his dismay.
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I am pretty certain my colleagues out in the field, who document the occupation and try to increase Israelis’ collective awareness about it, shared the same old déjà vu feeling upon hearing the wave of condemnations. The facts couldn’t be clearer. Settler violence in the occupied territories occurs on a daily basis and has become totally routine. Anyone who follows the reports by human rights organizations operating in the territories is well-acquainted with the statistics.
Over the years, we at Breaking the Silence have relayed hundreds of testimonies describing the system-wide failure to address the way the military handles settler violence. Just recently, we published an entire booklet of testimonies focusing on this issue. Dozens of videos of Jewish rioters attacking Palestinians and vandalizing their property – while soldiers at best stand by and, at worst, provide security and assistance – are available for all to see; as are endless figures and reports depicting law enforcement’s feeble response against all the so-called rotten apples. When all this is so well-known already, what good will another Pavlovian round of comments do, decrying “a loony fringe group” or solemnly intoning that “this is not the Jewish way.”
Sometimes, out of frustration with the media and the politicians’ ignoring of the rampant violence, the NGOs dedicated to resisting the occupation try other ways to make the public aware of this reality in. But these attempts are also usually squashed quite effectively. The latest example is rapid capitulation by the Egged and Dan bus companies in the face of threats received from anonymous right-wing sources demanding they remove the subversive ads calling to put a stop to settler violence, featuring an equally subversive picture of three-year-old Mohammed lying in the hospital after he was injured in the pogrom. And instead of the periodic campaign of threats and its organizers being told to go to hell, again we are caught in the wearying dynamic that dictates a recycled debate about freedom of expression – for and against, or banal pondering of the question of whether the senior military commander really cares that his Palestinian subjects were hurt or if he just professes to be horrified for PR purposes.
If, instead of expressing shock at yet another pogrom, we would start to seriously address this violence, we would have noticed by now that it is an inseparable part of the occupation, and that it is very hard to separate it from the violence perpetrated by the state itself. In this sense, we’re not talking about some stray weeds that need uprooting, but a whole big garden of geraniums that has been tended and watered by successive governments.
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We would further notice that this violence endures solely thanks to the protection of the army in control, which is one of the main instruments used for seizing land and dispossessing Palestinians of their property and rights; we would wonder how big a difference there really is between the settlers who raided Mufkara with hammers and the Civil Administration people with their bulldozers, burning fields based on some bureaucratic excuse; and what is the big difference between the private land criminals in Evyatar and the soldiers whom the government sent to fire live bullets at Palestinians protesting against this theft; if we would honestly look at the reality that has arisen here, no one would dare to describe those committing these daily pogroms as a few rebellious youth just letting off steam. Instead, we would see them for what they are – the fulfillment of official Israeli policy since 1967.
The writer is deputy director and director of research for Breaking the Silence.