'Subhuman' Is Harsh, but How Else Would You Call Settlers' Crimes?

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Settlers and Palestinian protesters clashing in the West Bank Village of Asira al-Qibliya, in September.
Settlers and Palestinian protesters clashing in the West Bank Village of Asira al-Qibliya, in September.Credit: Majdi Mohammed/AP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

They’re the scum of the earth. Anyone who snatches a Palestinian teen, abuses him for hours, beats him and kicks him, ties him up under the car’s hood and then finally hangs him from a tree and burns the soles of his feet with a lighter is subhuman. How is it possible to say otherwise?

Anyone who expels the legal owners of the land he stole by threatening to shoot them, destroys their gravestones, tramples their harvests into the dust, vandalizes their cars and torches their fields is subhuman. What else?

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Anyone who attacks elderly shepherds with sticks and stones is subhuman. Anyone who cuts down thousands of olive trees every year is subhuman. The Nazis used that term? Well, they also called tomatoes “tomatoes,” yet we’re still allowed to use that word.

“Subhuman” is a harsh word, but it’s not uncommon. Just seven years ago, Haaretz columnist Yossi Verter used it to describe supporters of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. About them, incidentally, it’s permissible to say anything.

But the outcry by the settlers and their abettors over Yair Golan’s use of the term also has a deliberate subtext that shouldn’t be overlooked. If “subhuman” is a Nazi expression that was used against Jews during the Holocaust, then when someone uses it against settlers, they instantly become involuntary victims of another Holocaust. And if they’re victims, then of course they’re allowed to do anything – to abuse, steal and torch.

Yair Golan speaking at the Knesset, last year.Credit: Noam Moskowitz/Knesset

Once again, the victimizers have become the victims, this time because a deputy minister said something nasty about them. This is another step forward in enhancing their image. First, they were pioneers; now, they are also victims. It’s heart-rending how sensitive they are to what others say about them.

What was no less heart-rending was the way members of the center-left bloc distanced themselves from Golan’s statement as if they were fleeing a fire. It’s not nice to talk that way, Yair. The bloc that was silent in the face of rampages by the Jews who squatted in the evacuated settlement of Homesh stirred to life only when one of its own members got as angry as the entire bloc should have gotten and publicly called them what they deserve to be called.

The hypocritical teacher from the Labor Party, MK Efrat Rayten, demanded that Golan apologize. “Such comments are out of line,” she declared pedagogically. Why are they out of line? Actually, they’re entirely justified, and then some.

The culture minister said, incredibly, that the Homesh squatters are “Israelis with a different view” – just like organized crime kingpin Yitzhak Abergil is an “Israeli with a different view.” The defense minister said they are “moral people who love the land and the state.”

So the Homesh settlers have already become moral, or at least citizens with different views. Who needs the right when we have a center-left like that? The settlers can rely on this left, even more than the right, to refrain from hurting them and always whitewash their actions.

No less appalling is the political culture that has taken root in Israel, in which a comment by a single individual is food for scandal, with the result that scandal follows scandal, each lasting roughly the lifespan of a butterfly – a day or two – and then dying down as quickly as it erupted until a new one takes its place.

These scandals generally revolve around someone who said something. Or more accurately, someone unimportant who said something unimportant. And they are meant not just to inflame the public, but also to divert its attention.

When Israel is in an uproar over a single word said by a deputy minister, it’s evading the main issue. Golan said “subhuman,” and a minute later, there was a consensus about Homesh. Instead of talking about its residents’ crimes, people are talking about Golan.

Talking about the crimes would be divisive, whereas denouncing Golan is unifying. And what do we crave more than unifying words that bring us together and whitewash everything?

The bottom line is depressing. An angry but accurate description of the settlers is a crime that will spark a public storm. In contrast, the settlers’ daily crimes are at most a performance by Israelis with a slightly different view.

From now on, they’ll be saying “Homesh, now and forever,” and the same goes for the Evyatar outpost. After all, they’re just communities of Israelis with slightly different views. And perhaps not even that.

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