Why We Must Raise the Alarm About Settler Violence

It may be depressing to read yet more reports of price tag attacks, but the costs of ignorance - and of abandoning the Palestinians under attack - are far worse.

Emily L. Hauser
Emily L. Hauser
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Emily L. Hauser
Emily L. Hauser

It’s easy to know nothing about events that disturb us. We talk a lot about how technology allows the siloing of information, but it’s always been easy to skip bad news. How hard is it to turn off the radio?

I would even argue that to a certain degree, our capacity for ignorance is a gift, because immersing ourselves in the news is often to immerse oneself in despair – and despair can be debilitating.

But much as ignorance can be a gift, we must also be honest about its costs. Ignorance that has calcified, that serves as a wall rather than an occasional reprieve, is treacherous, particularly if we value democracy. When the disturbing events touch what we hold dear, ignorance takes from our hands the ability to respond usefully and play an active role in protecting democracy’s future.

In Israel and among those who care deeply about the Jewish state, one of the most endemic forms of political ignorance concerns the settlements and their residents. Whether hilltop outpost or mini-city, the settlements are such an unquestioned fact of life by now that they are functionally invisible to many. I’m a Jew (goes the largely subconscious thought process); I like my people; I understand that some Jews do things that I might not like, but they’re my people, and to be honest, I’m made more uncomfortable by the Palestinians among whom they live. So I think I’ll skip that Amira Hass piece, or that Gideon Levy one. I’d much rather read about start-ups.

Yet if we do care about Israel, one of the biggest problems with this kind of thinking is that it cedes to a very narrow group of people the right to influence some truly bedrock decisions regarding the country’s future.

Most Israelis are not settlers, of course. A growing number have come to question the enormity of the budgets directed toward settlement support, as well as the efficacy of settlements in boosting Israeli security. But when they turn a blind eye to the growing phenomenon of settler violence, and the almost iron-clad pass it gets from state authorities, those same Israelis are letting violent settlers shape the foreign policy discourse and create facts on the ground that are both isolating Israel from the global community (including the U.S., its staunchest ally), and making the possibility of a secure peace with the Arab world increasingly impossible to achieve.

Because you know who is not ignorant of settler violence? The people with whom Israel must negotiate an end to this endless war: The Palestinians.

Israelis and Palestinians are naturally wary of and distrustful toward each other – as any two warring peoples would be – but only one side lives with routine, nearly daily attacks on their homes, their property, and their livelihood. Only one side has to regularly, routinely watch armed security forces arrive, not to protect them or their children, but to protect their attackers.

And for all that, we need only look at Israel’s own experiences with Palestinian violence to understand what the constant drip of fear does to people. Palestinians are no less human than Israelis; it’s just that in this war, they are less protected.

From my perspective – that of a lifelong advocate for a just and durable two-state peace – there are a whole host of reasons to oppose the settlement project and raise the alarm about those settlers who make life a living hell for Palestinians.

But if we take nothing else from the recent upsurge in attacks on Palestinian villages and holy places, torching of Palestinians cars, and destruction of olive groves – if we take nothing else from the recent story out of Kusra, in which a group of settlers was caught in the act and alternatively beaten and protected by the people they had intended to hurt – we should take this: Whatever we might not know about these facts, the Palestinians (and the rest of the world) does.

If there is ever going to be a chance of ending this conflict – forget loving each other, forget even liking each other – if there is ever going to be a chance of simply ending the bloodshed, the political space in Israel will have be reclaimed from those who would use violence to make Israel’s future in their image.

Of course just the other day, another holy place was abused in what was also termed a "price tag" attack – but this time in was a Reform synagogue in Raanana. Maybe that’ll finally get people’s attention.

Ignorance is a choice. It’s time to choose knowledge.

Emily L. Hauser is an American-Israeli writer currently living in Chicago. She has studied and reported on the contemporary Middle East since the early 1990s for a variety of outlets, including The Chicago Tribune and The Daily Beast. She can be followed on Twitter: @emilylhauser

A price tag attack in Beit Hanina, northeast Jerusalem. June 24, 2013.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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