The One Thing Israel's Public Security Minister Got Wrong on Settler Violence

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Masked settlers near the village of Khirbat al-Mufkara, in the West Bank, in September.
Masked settlers near the village of Khirbat al-Mufkara, in the West Bank, in September.
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

Only in a country that lives in denial of reality – that is, of the occupation and the military control of another people it has perpetuated for over half a century – does a banal remark like that made by Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev provoke such disgust and stir up so much controversy. What did he say that was so shocking?

Bar-Lev met Monday with U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, who told him the State Department was monitoring settler violence. He told her that Israel “takes a severe view” of settler violence and noted that he was acting with the Defense Ministry to end the phenomenon.

The only untruth in Bar-Lev’s statement was that Israel “takes a severe view” of settler violence. 

Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev.Credit: Alex Kolomoisky

Up to now, successive Israeli governments have made light of violence by settlers against Palestinians and allowed them to plunder their property and steal their land. But that was not what aroused the ire of the settlers’ representatives in the government, including its leader.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked was the first to recognize the opportunity for a political campaign at Bar-Lev’s expense. She attacked on Twitter: “You’re confused, the settlers are the salt of the earth, the successors to the [early Zionist] pioneers. The violence that should be shocking is the dozens of incidents of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Jews that happen daily – solely because they are Jews.”

Shaked is lying through her teeth. The settlers are not the successors to the pioneers, and the violence against them in the territories is not “solely because they are Jews.” The attempt to depict the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as part of antisemitism – while ignoring the occupation, the settlements, the military control and the rising violence – is manipulative historical revisionism.

Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana also misrepresented the truth. “It’s sad to see a person with such a rich, long security background accept such a false and distorted narrative,” he tweeted, and asked Bar-Lev to change his mind. Change his mind about what, exactly; about the truth? But why complain about an ordinary cabinet member when the prime minister himself, Naftali Bennett, demonstrates loyalty to the settlement enterprise rather than the truth: “There are marginal events in every community, but we must not generalize about an entire community,” he said.

But this denial of the truth will not make it disappear: In 2021 there were 135 recorded incidents of stones thrown at Palestinians, up from 90 in 2019, and 250 additional violent incidents, compared to 100 in 2019. Violence against Israeli security forces also rose, to 60 incidents this year from 50 in 2019  (Hagar Shezaf, Haaretz, Dec. 14). This phenomenon must be addressed with the utmost severity, without forgetting the bigger picture: The settlement enterprise has been illegal from the beginning, and its only accomplishments have been in breaking the law, stealing land and attempting to drive out the Palestinian population, by any and all means.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel

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