Opinion

Masked Men: The Ugly and the Beautiful

Fawzi Ibrahim bequeathed courage to his sons, against his will and theirs: The courage to oppose the continued theft of their land by the Jewish settlers in Emek Shiloh

A masked Palestinian protester hurls stones at Israeli troops near the Gaza border, July 3, 2018.
Adel Hana / אי־פי

When the masked men are Jews, like those who invaded the village of Jalud on June 5, they are ugly and despicable. When the masked men are Palestinians who demonstrate against the separation barrier in Gaza, in Kafr Kadum or in Nabi Saleh, they’re beautiful and moving. There’s no symmetry between the groups, despite the momentary external similarity that comes from concealing their faces.

The anonymous Jew knows that he will come to no harm, even if his face is revealed. The investigative file will be closed for lack of public interest. Covering one’s face is part of imposing terror. The Palestinian who covers his face is doing something self evident: He is making things difficult for the vengeful police, army and Shin Bet security service, which will try to arrest him even 10 years after he demonstrated as a teenager.

When a hilltop youth throws stones at Palestinian farmers and Palestinian cars, he is a criminal following in the footsteps of the government’s crimes. These are the crimes that built his parents’ private home in the settlement, and ensure the welfare of the outpost that will be born of the outpost where he now lives happily.

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When a Palestinian teenager throws stones at soldiers and policemen, at a reinforced military lookout post, and at Israeli cars, he is fulfilling his historical right and obligation to rise up against any enemy because he is an enemy. Even if his act is pathetic and desperate, occasionally capricious and imitative, and at the moment ineffective, because it is not part of a mass popular uprising.

Masked Israeli settlers throw stones at a Palestinian school in Jalud, West Bank, June 11, 2019.

When the masked Jews who invaded the village of Jalud set fire to a field near a school, they were demonstrating, with their typical arrogance, the knowledge that they are immune from any punishment. The police and the army are their allies. They will receive prizes in the guise of government approval of their illegal outpost, and subsidies for the olive orchards planted on land deviously stolen from its legal owners, the Palestinians.

The real and metaphorical fire that they ignite on a daily basis does not concern the Jewish community in Israel. They will buy and praise the wine and the oil produced from the grapes and olives that they grow on land that doesn’t belong to them.

When Palestinians from Gaza send incendiary balloons to the fields of the kibbutzim and moshavim on the other side of the barrier of the concentration camp in which they live, they are demonstrating despair, suffocation and the creativity of the weak. They are endangering their lives. The fire that they start ignites the orchestrated sense of misfortune of the Israelis, who stubbornly ignore the reasons.

The masked settlers are situated on the same racist-pathological spectrum as was the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. The Klan also worked to strengthen, reinforce and encourage the official mechanisms of oppression and dispossession. The hoods/masks and the violence on this spectrum are designed to increase the material benefit derived from the perpetrators’ status as a superior race.

The masked Palestinians are situated on the historical continuum of freedom fighters, whether they operated secretly or openly. The partisans in Yugoslavia, the writers of samizdat in the Soviet empire, the organizers of strikes for an eight-hour workday and against the hiring of contract workers, the suffragettes.

For every masked Palestinian demonstrator there are hundreds of thousands who have fought so that the government and its branches in the Civil Administration and the settlements would not steal the piece of land they inherited from their grandparents and their grandparents’ grandparents. They are true heroes.

Such a hero is Fawzi Ibrahim Haj Mohammed of Jalud, who died two years ago. He suffered from heart disease, but was done in by the pain over his land, which the settlers coveted and covet, stole and steal. His heart was killed off by the fact that to “prevent friction” with the violent settlers, the army forbade him to enter his plots and cultivate them from 2000 to 2007, and then allowed him to enter them only twice a year, for a total of five (!) days a year. Against his will, and theirs, he bequeathed his courage to his children.

Mahmod Haj Mohammed in his family's burnt olive grove, June 6, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

“In the Shiloh bloc they described Ibrahim as a ‘provocateur’ and as someone who helped the leftist organizations in their many attempts to harass the residents of the Jewish settlements in the region,” wrote Hakol Hayehudi (the Jewish Voice), one of the websites belonging to the robbed Cossacks, upon his death. That’s because he didn’t stop trying, sometimes successfully, to have his land returned (with the faithful assistance of attorney Quamar Mashriqi Assad).

On Srugim, another Cossack website, it was claimed on June 6 that “Arab terrorists ignited two fires near the settlement of Achiya.” That most of the damage was caused to Palestinian orchards, and that the fire broke out when masked men invaded the school in Jalud, is not mentioned.

The report on Srugim discloses why the anonymous source common to their website and other media outlets hastened to disseminate the distorted information. In a report published on the website, they wrote that “in the settlement of Achiya they are saying that the arson was made possible ‘thanks to the arsonists’ familiarity with the area.’ According to community residents, ‘Only a month ago, the Arabs of Jalud, guarded by the security forces, entered to plow their fields very near to the site of the arson, and today it turns out once again that every such entry has a price.”

Very simple. It pains the residents of the outpost of Achiya that the pauper still has five days of cultivation a year. They demand that the army entirely bar the children of Fawzi Ibrahim in particular and the Palestinians in general from cultivating the land that has been in their families for generations. In that way they will no longer be familiar with their land, and the settlers will grab it too.