Israel Must Not Surrender to Settler Bullying and Violence

Before the Gaza disengagement, settler violence was precluded by the heavy presence of police and army – which is what Israel should use today against Yitzhar’s cowardly pogromchiks.

David Landau
David Landau
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Masked right-wing activists in the West Bank
Masked right-wing activists in the West BankCredit: AP
David Landau
David Landau

"Is it permissible to kill an IDF soldier?" This, according to the main headline story in Yedioth Ahronoth on Wednesday, is one of the issues that has come up in an email "debate" being conducted by the people of Yitzhar.

In letters black on yellow, the newspaper advised its front page readers that the argument in Yitzhar was "worrying." It added, "In some of the emails, some of the residents of Yitzhar justify killing an IDF soldier during a forcible evacuation." In others, the threat to kill was condemned, by some Yitzhar people and leaders of the settlement movement.

What is seriously "worrying," however, is not the Yitzhar "debate" but the clear and ominous harbinger of another round of connivance between the popular press and the bullying loudmouths from the settler community.

The country was in a state of foreboding for months before the 2005 disengagement from Gaza because of similar threats emanating from the settler community, which held out the prospect of civil war. It must not happen again.

Whatever one's view of the Gaza disengagement, one central aspect of it cannot be denied. It proved, and provided a precedent, that settlers can quickly and smoothly be evacuated – provided enough police and soldiers, properly trained, are deployed in the area.

In that respect, the essentially nonviolent, nontraumatic episode of August 2005 should be correctly recorded in Israel's annals (settler-spinners and rightist politicians have tried, with notable success, to etch it on the national memory as traumatic, which it was only to the people actually "uprooted'; most other Israelis continued with their preplanned summer schedules.)

"You worry too much," Ariel Sharon replied when I asked him before the disengagement whether he'd go down to Gaza and command the forces himself. Probably he meant that as a general he could see in his mind's eye the paralyzing effect on would-be resisters of the deep, serried ranks of armed men that he intended to deploy around the Gaza settlements.

And that is how violence was precluded. Only the naïve and tendentious attribute it to a purported change of lilt in the settler leaders' rhetoric.

As for Yitzhar, the cowardice of its pogromchiks (no hate attacks on Arabs by day, only late at night) indicates the likely resonance of the settlement's "debate." Yitzhar is a prime example, moreover, of parents and others of the older generation covering for the nocturnal activists. The police and the Shin Bet security service are thwarted by this misplaced solidarity in their efforts to make arrests. That is much more "worrying" than the Yitzhar emails.

Perhaps the "debate" will leak some leads. The ongoing failure of the law-enforcement authorities to stop the so-called "price tag" attacks and to prosecute young settlers for attacking Christian and Muslim houses of worship is raising the specter that these actions, shameful to the Jewish people, are leading to a war of religions that could quickly spread.

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