It’s hard to understand the onslaught by rightists, both within the government and outside it, on Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, who told U.S. Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland that Israel takes settler violence in the West Bank very seriously.
What exactly is outrageous about that statement? Do nonviolent residents of the settlements not take a similarly dim view of violence by Jewish lawbreakers, who sometimes also target Israel Defense Forces soldiers? Bar-Lev didn’t say that all settlers or even most of them are violent; he was referring only to certain people in the settlements, who know who they are.
This pattern of attacking anyone who criticizes the violent extremists among the settlers isn’t new. When Yair Golan, then the army’s deputy chief of staff, spoke of “frightening processes,” he was referring, among other things, to an attack in which Amiram Ben-Uliel murdered a Palestinian couple and their 1-year-old son by throwing a Molotov cocktail at their home in the village of Duma. Golan, now a member of Knesset, has been one of the people most hated by the right ever since, simply because he held up a mirror that reflected these dangerous, violent individuals.
Former President Reuven Rivlin was also harshly criticized for daring to say after the Duma attack that “members of my people have chosen terror and lost their humanity.” He then added, “Their way isn’t mine.” But instead of siding with that statement, people on the right opted to assail him and catalog him as a leftist.
One would think people who seek to build and develop the settlement enterprise would be the first to condemn and criticize these violent actors. Anyone who wants to settle in the hearts of Israelis has to denounce these perpetrators, take action against them and want to see them punished.
When MK Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism), Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) and Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana (Yamina) choose instead to unite against Bar-Lev’s remarks, they send a message that downplays settler violence. Rather than drawing the necessary distinction between the majority of settlers, who aren’t violent, and the minority that does as it pleases on the hilltops of Samaria, they are lumping them all together.
This is an own goal, and it raises an obvious question: Is it possible that they don’t really object to such violence? Do they actually consider it unimportant, or see it as part of the rules of the game in the territories, where Jews have long suffered terror attacks, stabbings at checkpoints, Molotov cocktails, and deaths and injuries on their own side? As a kind of balance of deterrence in which sometimes the settlers are the ones paying the price, and other times they’re the ones exacting it?
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If that is their view, that’s an especially serious problem. Effectively, they’re accepting a situation in which the West Bank is a no man’s land where everyone can take the law into their own hands.
There’s a large, powerful army that is stationed in the territories and controls them. It has thousands of soldiers and weapons as well as intelligence, and it doesn’t need any help from lawbreakers, who only exacerbate tensions and create additional friction and security threats.
Settler violence doesn’t only harm Arabs. It also undermines some soldiers’ motivation, as well as their empathy for the settlers, and perhaps even for the settlement enterprise as a whole. The people’s army sends its soldiers and officers to the West Bank to protect the settlers and keep the peace there.
When right-wing politicians shut their eyes or ignore violence by settlers against Palestinians, their property and even IDF soldiers, they undermine the soldiers, and also Israel’s ability to protect the settlement enterprise, justify it and fight boycotts against it.
Politicians, and especially those sitting in the cabinet, cannot wink at their political base (to the extent that Yamina has one) at the expense of saying clearly that they don’t accept settler violence in any way, shape or form and don’t intend to defend it. Yet ministers Shaked and Kahana are doing just the opposite.