Opinion |

There Is No Ideology Whatsoever Behind Settler Violence

Yair Assulin
Yair Assulin
Masked settlers clash with Palestinians in the West Bank village of Assira al-Kibliya, 2011.
Masked settlers clash with Palestinians in the West Bank village of Assira al-Kibliya, 2011.Credit: AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh
Yair Assulin
Yair Assulin

The big problem with the discourse about the increasingly extreme violence being committed by a small proportion of the settlers is the insistence on framing it as ideological violence, and inserting into the discussion about these shocking – there is no other word for it – acts of violence highly loaded terms that have nothing to do with it, terms such as messianism, Judaism and nationalism. The violence of these Jewish rioters contains no trace of messianism or nationalism, let alone Judaism. This is not what motivates this violence, this is not where it draws its inspiration from.

What is it about? A lust for control and land and money and power, which is being acted upon largely out of an instinctive understanding that at this time, in these areas, pretty much anything goes and the strongest reign. This may sound less exciting and romantic, but it is the real way to judge what is going on there, and the way to talk about it. The discussion about the violence of the Jewish rioters mustn’t take on even a tinge of an ethical or intellectual or ideological discussion, or occur within such a prism. If it did, it would be baseless and even harmful, mainly because it would be detached from reality.

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One of the clearest examples of the national and ideological disintegration we are seeing throughout the country – manifested in the endless murders in the Arab community, car bombs being set off in major cities, and plummeting public trust in the system – is the unbridled violence of these Jewish rioters. There may be no more apt illustration of “anti-Jewish” actions, and of the heavy price that Judaism has paid and is paying for its connection with the state, than this violence, which exploits the distorted link between religion and state for the sake of the personal desires of the people employing this violence.

I have previously recommended Nissim Mossek’s 2013 documentary “Wild West Hebron,” and it’s worth recommending again here, for insight into how the story in these places has long been one of a Wild West of greed and control, with any connection to ideology, ideas, values or religion being purely coincidental.

Those who have lately insisted on framing this violence within the old categories – such as Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, who this week talked about settler violence as a “strategic threat,” – are only serving the rioters themselves, who are hiding behind those categories – Judaism, settlers, ideology – and using it as a pickaxe with which to dig, while their greed grows, and they continue to develop their businesses and their expansive farms.

As tempting as it may be to use these events for political ends, to make them the representation of an idea or outlook, it should be taken into account that this use prevents many Israelis from seeing and denouncing these incidents as they truly are, in all their criminality and cruelty. Remember: Not every guy with ritual fringes and sidecurls embodies “Judaism,” not all who live over the Green Line are “the settlers,” and not everyone who is appalled by this kind of violence or aids Palestinians is necessarily “leftist.” Just as not every terrorist is a “liberator of Palestine” and as just about the last thing that genuinely represents the Palestinians’ interest is “the Palestinian Authority.”

One of the greatest challenges today, as the ideological rug is being pulled out from beneath our feet and the old categories are crumbling, is to fight against that familiar, seemingly obvious language, against that automatic terminology that is only growing ever more distant from the reality it purports to represent.

This is true in every sphere of our lives, and all the more so for anyone who wishes to take a good look at the corrupting occupation in the territories and to fight it. Without relevant and exact language that fits and derives from the reality, we will continue to wallow in the same mire, with the same manipulations. And the violent disturbances in an area where everyone is free to do as he sees fit will only intensify.

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