How Settlers’ Call for Force Masks the Occupation

Last week, Israel Harel argued that Israeli leadership is treating the waves of Palestinian terror against Israelis as if they are unavoidable, natural phenomena, and that this approach is wrong. I couldn’t agree more: Terror is not a natural phenomenon, but is rather a political one. It is easy to forget this simple truth when our politicians talk about the current wave of violence or about previous incidents.

The problem is that aside from this claim, it is hard to find any genuine reference in Harel’s article to the reality in which we live here. According to his argument, the IDF does not seek to prevent terror, and suffices instead with coping with waves of terror when they arise by quelling the situation retroactively. This is a strange argument. Anyone familiar with IDF operations in the territories (and I assume Harel is quite familiar) knows that a significant portion of them are carried out under the rubric of “prevention of terror,” which essentially serves to justify any operation.

The difficulty in reconciling Harel’s position with reality arises when you go back to the field and examine what exactly constitutes “prevention of terror,” which is one of the IDF’s central missions. The answer that emerges from hundreds of testimonies given by soldiers that served in the territories since the Second Intifada: Prevention is a general label that the IDF gives to a broad range of offensive operations whose objective is to punish, deter and deepen control over the Palestinian population. Examination of these acts reveals that they are not directed strictly toward concrete threats on civilians or Israeli soldiers, but are conducted systematically against the entire Palestinian population.

“Prevention” of such acts are numerous and diverse; among them you may find procedures to “make our presence felt,” that are conducted by IDF soldiers on a routine basis in the West Bank. As someone who served extensively in Hebron, the current flashpoint of violence, I can tell you about “prevention” operations that we carried out on a daily basis. The perpetual patrols that we conducted in Hebron, which include random entry into homes, and random inspection of individuals and vehicles, are a good example of this kind of procedure. The patrols, like many other routine IDF operations, are part of the mechanism of Israel’s military control in the West Bank.

The mechanism of control that operates under the veil of “prevention,” is not only intended to prevent violent attacks on Israelis, but also, and primarily, to impede any attempts by Palestinians to try to advance their community’s common goals. The denial of freedom for Palestinians, who are subject at all times to the whims of Israeli authorities that they did not elect and have no say regarding, is the reality that Harel’s arguments conceal. It is no wonder, then, that the term “prevention of terror,” and Harel’s call to defeat terror, are meant to serve as a smokescreen to obscure their intentions.

In the same way that “prevention of terror” often serves as a cover for offensive operations designed to deepen Israeli control over Palestinian territories, Harel’s demand to fight terror totally serves as a veil for he and his settler friends’ true motives: Ongoing entrenchment of the occupation and Israel’s control over the lives of millions of Palestinians denied of their basic rights. The escalation in violence is considered a promising time to deepen their hold over Palestinian people and land, and to expand the entire occupation enterprise.

This occupation enterprise is also the reason why the force we inflict will never be able to thwart all the violent threats posed to Israeli civilians and soldiers. In his article Harel asks Israeli leadership to “let the IDF win.” Victory, for him, is a total defeat of terror; in other words, preventing it from now on and for all eternity. But this kind of victory is impossible. Not because the Palestinians are naturally programmed to want to hurt Israelis, but simply because rule by force — regardless of how broad and effective that force is — will always be accompanied by resistance on behalf of those who are controlled. This lesson can be learned from our history and from other nations’ histories.

So how can we nevertheless categorically prevent Palestinian terror? It is fair to assume that if all Palestinians die, or are put on buses and taken far away, that the threat of terror will be significantly reduced. I don’t believe that Harel wants Israel, God forbid, to carry out such acts. As such, I am forced to read his article as a kind of decoy designed to divert the debate from the real question: How much are we willing to sacrifice in order to continue this project of domination and settlement in the territories? It is, in fact, Harel’s attempt to pluck the occupation out of the equation of violence, which turns terror into a natural, predestined phenomenon in the face of which we are helpless.

Back to the basics: There is no justification for murder or for harming innocent people. But if terror is not a natural phenomenon, we should also ask which conditions may encourage the development of terror, and whether we are prepared to do something to change those conditions. Hasn’t the time come to admit that as long as we rule over another nation, we will never be able to live quietly and without fear of uprising or harm?

About the Author
Nadav Bigelman served as an infantry combat soldier in the Nahal Brigade and now works as a researcher for Breaking the Silence. Despite growing up in Jerusalem on Bethlehem Road, a road that can be followed to Bethlehem itself, he was only exposed to Palestinian culture and the reality of occupation when he ended up serving in the West Bank.
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