Every summer, we see conflict. It has become an expected pattern. We know people get more violent and irritable as temperatures rise. This summer, we are watching as the energy from the protests against the government are being turned against settlers, as the personification of the government’s sins.
Settlers exist at the intersection of multiple issues that are on the agenda: religion and state (with women’s rights as an extension of such), security issues following the high number of reservists halting their volunteering, and racism as a government policy. Right wing, religious, living in areas that require much manpower to protect. As such, the settlement project has drawn the attention of the angry mobs looking to direct their frustration to specific people and cases. This is not to say that the attention is undeserved. MKs such as Smotrich, Ben Gvir, and Son Har-Melech represent these constituents, and encourage the behaviors that realize their racist, sexist, lawless policies.
Unlike previous years, the conflict that has arisen is not on the southern front, the Gaza Strip, but rather within Judea and Samaria, the West Bank. A “confrontation” in the Palestinian village Burka ended with a dead 19 year old Palestinian, and an injured Jewish man. The incident is not especially unique in its characterization, a group of Jewish settlers went to a nearby Palestinian village on a Friday evening, allegedly to tend to their herd. A confrontation ended with injuries, death, and the army arrived fashionably late, maintaining plausible deniability to the chain of events. Per usual, it is unclear who “started it” and whether it was a case of self defense, or malicious attack. But that is not the point.
What is unique about this case is the spotlight that has been cast on the legal proceedings of the stakeholders. Many Israelis are noticing at once the differences in the due process of Palestinians charged with a security offense, versus Jewish Israelis involved in the same incident. As has been reported widely, the Palestinian suspected of violence has been detained and is undergoing trial in a military court. The Jewish suspect is tried in a civilian court, with the option of house arrest. Many supporters of Elisha Yered, one of the Jewish suspects in the investigation, were horrified by the speedy and blunt legal proceedings in the case of someone with a Shin Bet case file, charged with security offenses. Some people say the judge had decided the verdict before even hearing both sides. Others remind that this is what most Palestinians face when their fate is decided in a matter of minutes.
Previous upticks in settler violence, such as in 2021, were met with wide coverage by the international media. This time, it seems that the interest in this case is local. A journalist from Haaretz called the suspect the day after the incident, pretending to be the other suspect and asking for advice. Despite the fact that it was later revealed the the journalist had spoken to someone else, and not the suspect himself (as he was hospitalized with serious injuries), the impersonation trick revealed two major revelations: first, that the suspect had given his phone to someone else as to avoid the police seizing and searching it. Second, that the so-called religious figures that had been arrested were willing to break the rules of Shabbat in order to give legal advice to someone they thought could get them in legal trouble. Additionally, this shed light on some of the interrogation tactics that most settlers in custody employ – refusing to cooperate and remaining silent, preventing contact with other suspects as to not give away who else might be involved, etc. These tactics were already pretty well known, and in Roy Sharon’s book Ve’Inakma on recent Jewish terrorism they were explicitly detailed. However, this goes to show the organized and prepared nature of the suspects, which is, well, suspicious.
As we battle some of the most extraneous weather we have had in millennia, the same hotheads that rage against the government have turned their sights internally, on the people. While it is important to examine the long term issues that strain our security resources and espouse racism and violence, we must realize that the settlers and the conflicts that arise are not the fault of a core few that live in the area and face constant violence themselves – it is a long standing Israeli policy, and as such will only change with a shift in priorities in the halls of the offices in Jerusalem. To create change, it has to stick.