Analysis |

The Privatization of Violence: Right-wing Jerusalem Thugs Are an Arm of the State

Don’t look at the rioters in Jerusalem as some eccentric Haredi nationalists, a mob unrelated to us, the civilized Israelis

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Religious Zionism party leaders Itamar Ben-Gvir, center, and Bezalel Smotrich, behind and to the right, during demonstrations at the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem's Old City, April 2021
Hard-right politicians Itamar Ben-Gvir, center, and Bezalel Smotrich, behind him, near Damascus Gate last week. The latest advocates of “disappearing” Palestinians from the public sphere.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

“When you hear the cries ‘May your village burn down,’ does that represent you?” Suleiman Masswadeh, a reporter for the Kan Public Broadcasting Corporation, asked a young woman who participated in the rioting by Lehava – a hard-right, anti-Arab organization – in downtown Jerusalem on Thursday. Sporting a “Kahane was right” sticker on her chest, she replied: “Not in that way. I don’t say that it should burn down, but that you should leave the village and we’ll go live in it.”

Now that’s an answer that sums up our history in a nutshell: It’s not necessary to burn things down, it’s enough merely to expel the Palestinians and then inhabit their homes.

The Lehava people are not alone in this battle. Almost at the outset of the holy month of Ramadan on April 12, the Israel Police created a provocation when they blocked the Damascus Gate plaza as a sitting and gathering place for Jerusalem’s young men, with the pathetic excuse of easing access for the masses of worshippers. And yet such a step wasn’t taken prior to the coronavirus period, when the number of worshippers was far greater.

How Bibi’s Jewish supremacists fanned the flames in Jerusalem. LISTEN

So why now? Whether the provocation was the result of foolishness, or a deliberate attempt to destroy the atmosphere of togetherness typical of these days of Ramadan – it should be viewed in a more general context, as Yudith Oppenheimer and Aviv Tatarsky of Ir Amim, an NGO that focuses on Israel’s policies in Jerusalem, write on the website Siha Mekomit (Local Call, the Hebrew version of the +972 website): "Those who are following what’s been happening in Jerusalem in the past two years will detect a direct line linking incessant police harassment in [the East Jerusalem neighborhood of] Isawiyah and the events of recent days at the Damascus Gate.

"What the two have in common is the targeting of an area in which there is active Palestinian life, entering it with large police forces and unrelenting attempts to cause friction during a period whose end is not in sight.”

“Why did the Israel Police declare a curfew here of all places,” ask Oppenheimer and Tatarsky, and reply: “The implied message is: You want a holiday? Fine, observe it in your own home, behind walls and doors. The holiday lights are on display above Damascus Gate as they are every year, but the city square is empty, battered and bleeding, and the municipality that put up the lights is keeping mum. The police are creating ‘evidence’ by means of ongoing friction with the Palestinian residents. In the end, if not by force then by even more force, the disturbing pictures surface, which in turn justify the additional use of force and the further displacement of Palestinian residents from their public sphere.”

Just as there is a connection between the police harassment in Isawiyah and at Damascus Gate, there’s a connection between the right-wing spectacles of hatred and high-handedness in downtown Jerusalem and the Old City – and the attacks by the settlers throughout the West Bank (another one was reported at the time this article was being written on Saturday: Israelis leaving the outpost of Havat Ma’on attacked farmers from the village of Al-Tawani who were working their land. According to initial reports, two Palestinians and two activists from the Israeli-Palestinian anti-occupation group Ta’ayush, who escorted them, were wounded.

Lehava and the impassioned young people who answer its call are among the privatized branches of the government, the Jerusalem Municipality and the police, who implement their policy of making Palestinians disappear from the public sphere – just as the hilltop hooligans are another privatized arm for implementing the government policy of cramming Palestinians into densely populated enclaves and taking over most of the area of the West Bank.

Land-grabbing right-wing NGOs with a religious and messianic patina, such as Regavim, Amana, Elad, Ateret Cohanim and Ad Kan, are other nongovernment branches, which, with their impressive financial resources, constitute a tailwind for the state’s institutions and their consistent Zionist policy. Their mother ship is the Gush Emunim movement and its incarnation as the Yesha (Judea and Samaria) Regional Council.

Individual, unbridled and messianic violence – which for decades has been met by one blind eye and one winking eye of the law enforcement authorities – is a vital component of the belligerence of the most Jewish country in the world. In its democratic way (namely, with the support of most of its Jews), this Jewish state is working on the erasure of the Palestinian past, present and future in this land.

The appetite of those rioters, the ultranationalist right-wing posses in Jerusalem and the South Hebron Hills, increases with every judicial decision that permits the takeover by a right-wing NGO of a Palestinian neighborhood such as Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, with every uninvestigated attack against a Palestinian farmer on his own land by Israelis who emerge from Havat Ma’on or Yitzhar, with every license allowing the Civil Administration to declare Palestinian land as state land, and to allocate it to a settlement or adjacent outpost.

“Disappearing” the Palestinians from the public sphere and crowding them into enclaves may turn out to be a preface to another mass expulsion of Palestinians from the country. That crime against humanity was in the past advocated by a religious Jew like Meir Kahane and a secular Jew like Rehavam Ze’evi, and is now being repeated by their successors, the Hardalim (Haredi nationalists) Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, in various guises.

Don’t look at the rioters in Jerusalem as just some eccentric Hardalim and Haredim, a rabble that is unrelated to us, the civilized Israelis who, with good taste and good manners, ostensibly uphold the rule of law. The rioters are becoming stronger and multiplying, because Israelis who consider themselves “decent” centrists (and support parties including Labor, Kahol Lavan and Yesh Atid) have lived and are living in peace with these despicable acts of Israel’s governments and their privatized and reinforced satellites.

Perhaps if this country’s friends – Europe and the United States – warn Israel about its policies and impose sanctions against it – the Israeli “center” will wake up and stop being silent, indifferent, remaining on the sidelines or actively supporting that policy.

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