Ari Z. Zivotofsky

False narratives – don’t promulgate, rather repudiate

Israel is at war and as a nation, we have joined together to defeat vicious enemies. This is a multi-front war and in addition to Hamas and Hezbollah, we have to be concerned about other fronts joining. In addition, we are under constant assault from much of the world’s media, and what they say and write can and does influence policy-makers abroad. Thus, when a negative refrain, an attack on our government or people, is false but is repeated time and again, we need to join forces and refute it rather than parroting it. It should be a national priority to uphold our national reputation.

Such is the case regarding what is taking place in Judea and Samaria. The State of Israel and our local media need to explain clearly to the world that what has been frequent and constant in Judea and Samaria before and since Oct 7 is ARAB TERROR. Our legal system, security apparatus, and education system all work to ensure a non-violent Jewish presence. Yet the blood libel against ½ million Israeli citizens about systemic violence and even murder continues unabated.

On November 20, the Jerusalem Post reported ( ) that the US seeks to prevent “Jewish extremists” who attack Palestinians from entering the United States. The article quotes the United Nations as claiming that recently eight Palestinians, including one child, have been killed by settlers in the West Bank and another 74 were injured, one third from live ammo. This UN statistic was also quoted the previous week in a Jerusalem Post editorial (November 12, “The third front” – ). That editorial correctly pointed out that “things in the West Bank…have only gotten more intense….”, and pointed out that “Palestinian attacks continue on a daily basis”. Unfortunately, it also stated that “Jewish terror” and “settler violence” are significant phenomena, perpetuating a narrative that the data does not support. This story and the claim that “In the nearly two months since the October 7 …  extremist Jewish attacks on Palestinians have increased in the West Bank, with civilians repeatedly assaulted and harassed” continues to circulate, most recently in the TOI ( )

The talk about “settler violence” has become an almost daily mantra in the foreign news. In seeking to demonstrate just how bad “settler violence” has gotten, the Jerusalem Post editorial says “a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said last week that at least 132 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since October 7, mostly in clashes with Israeli security forces…. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), eight of the 132 were killed by Israeli settlers.” The editorial continues with “Let us not forget that this is nine months after the rampage in Huwara, and five after Turmus Ayya.”

Of note is that remembering those two incidents is actually a reminder of the incessant Arab terror. The (non-deadly) Huwara “rampage” was on the heels of multiple fatal unprovoked terrorist attacks against Jewish civilians driving on the main road which passes through Huwara. And in the Turmus Ayya incident, Arabs attacked Jews and seriously wounded them. The Jews defended themselves, were arrested, and then eventually released when the courts agreed that it was self-defense.

The accusations made by OCHA of 8 Palestinians killed by settlers sounds serious, yet upon investigation appears to be false. There have been only three instances of what may be termed non-army personnel killing Arabs since October 7, and all were in self-defense. About a week after the Simchat Torah massacre of October 7, a terror cell on motorcycles from the Arab village of Kutzra (which has a long history as a hotbed of terror) in the Shomron approached a Jewish town and opened fire. The local civilian patrol responded and an exchange of fire ensued, followed by Kutzra residents rioting and threatening the nearby Jewish town. The security patrol eventually succeeded in eliminating some (4) of the terrorists; the rest escaped. In a second incident, near Maon in the southern Hebron Hills, a terrorist threw stones at and tried to grab the weapon from a security patrol which then killed him. And in a third incident, a soldier from Rechalim in the Shomron was on leave and with his family on shabbat in their own agricultural patch when they were attacked by Arabs throwing stones; he did as trained and eliminated the terrorist.

In the first two incidents, self-defense was so clear that no arrests were made. In the third case the soldier was arrested, interrogated, and held for a few days until the court accepted his claim of self-defense and released him.

For the Jerusalem Post (or any other Israeli media outlet) to base an article on the OHCHR and OCHA reports is astounding and unconscionable. Where is OCHA getting its data from? Presumably, it is based on (false) Arab reports, a la the now infamous claim that Israel bombed Al-Ahli Hospital killing 471 people. There is not one actual recent case of a Jewish resident of Judea and Samaria killing an Arab except in self-defense. There are countless examples of recent Arab violence ranging from vandalism to deadly shootings and stabbings.

Not only were there no Arabs murdered by Jewish civilians, but the total reported Jewish violent incidents are down. This entire false accusation was exposed with a stunning report the police commissioner was presented with on November 8 which states that in October 2023 there was an almost 50% reduction in “settler violence” compared to October 2022 (97 vs 184). A similar report by law enforcement reported 20 incidents of “violent clashes” between October 7 and November 7 compared to 53 in the same period last year, and 10 cases of “property destruction” as compared to 19 last year. While this is not zero, one certainly cannot claim an increase nor a wide-spread phenomenon.

On November 2, Minister Benny Gantz told reporters: “I want to correct the concept of settler violence. The absolute majority of the residents of Judea and Samaria, 99.9 percent, are normal citizens who want to live in their towns and want to travel safely on roads. Today we had another case of [Arab] terrorism in Judea and Samaria.”

There are over 550,000 Israeli citizens living in Judea and Samaria. They are an extremely heterogenous population by any standard. There is no establishment agenda of terror towards the non-Israelis in nearby towns. This is as opposed to the educate-to-hate and pay-to-slay of the non-Israeli authorities. To speak of “settler violence” is to incriminate this huge peaceful, law-abiding, group of citizens. And yes, in every society of over half a million people there will be people who sometimes commit violent acts, and as a society, we try to educate and enforce the law against that.

Charges of settler violence can be found in most of the global media, and these accusations are not new and have nothing to do with the current war, – e.g. on July 10 the Washington Post had a headline: “Palestinians report surge in Israeli assaults on West Bank.” These statements are lies promulgated by our enemies.

The constant before and after October 7 is ARAB TERROR and the IDF has been responding. In a few instances the local security teams responded and did the job they were set up to do. But for some reason, when Jews defend themselves against violent attacks, it gets falsely and hypocritically reported as “Jewish terror”.

If there is a rise in killed Arab terrorists, it is due in part to increased Arab terrorism, not to an increase in “settler violence”. That is the truth and that is the message that should be publicized. This unfounded narrative of “settler violence” is anti-Israel propaganda is used against the State of Israel and has even been adopted by the US administration. It needs to be refuted and debunked. We expect the Israeli media to weigh their words, and rather than promulgate accusations from the enemy, particularly in this time of war, to investigate the veracity of a claim and, when false, to refute it.

About the Author
Ari Zivotofsky is a professor of neuroscience at Bar Ilan University. Also trained as a rabbi and shochet, he has a masters degree in Jewish history. He has written extensively on topics of Jewish history, culture, and traditions, in particular in Mishpacha magazine and in his regular column (now running 20+ years) in the OU magazine Jewish Action.
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