Jacob B. Ukeles
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Jewish extremist violence against Arabs: End the denial and act!

So what if 'only' a minority of settlers commit acts of violence. Where are the voices of condemnation from Israeli leaders in the territories?
Masked men, allegedly Israeli settlers, wield clubs during what eyewitnesses and police called an attack on Palestinians seeking to harvest olives near Surif, on November 12, 2021. (Credit: Shai Kendler)
Masked men, allegedly Israeli settlers, wield clubs during what eyewitnesses and police called an attack on Palestinians seeking to harvest olives near Surif, on November 12, 2021. (Credit: Shai Kendler)

Yesterday’s Times of Israel headline, “Settler attacks on Palestinians are on the rise, but justice remains elusive” is deeply disheartening especially in light of the previous day’s news: “Bennett scolds police minister for discussing settler violence with US official.”

The Facts

As reported in The Times of Israel, “In 2020 the Shin Bet registered 272 violent incidents in the disputed territories; so far in 2021, the domestic security agency has recorded 397, with two weeks to go before year’s end.” Nearly 300 such incidents was nothing to be proud of — 400 incidents is truly horrific. While the police data shows a decrease in such incidents, there can be no doubt that the discrepancy between these data are a function of well-known underreporting to the police.

The Denial of These Facts Is Pathetic

  • “The violence that one needs to be shocked by is the dozens of cases of the throwing of rocks and Molotov cocktails at Jews that occur every day”(Minister Ayelet Shaked in The Times of Israel, 12.14.2021)
  • “Settlers in Judea and Samaria have suffered violence and terror, daily, for decades.” (Prime Minister Naftali Bennet in The Times of Israel, 12.14.2021)

Even if true (and no evidence for this is presented), so what? Since when does one set of crimes justify another? Were we taught to establish courts of law to deal with wrongdoing or to throw rocks at children? When my great-nephew’s sheep were stolen, allegedly by Arabs, he did not stab sheep owned by Arabs – as did some of the perpetrators of extremist violence reported on in the Times of Israel article.

The other defense in the light of this shocking situation is equally unhelpful:

  • “The vast majority of this community [settlers] does not act violently and they understand the reasoning for co-existence and for maintaining calm.” (un-named police official in TOI, 12.15.2021)
  • “Settler leader Oded Revivi, who heads the Efrat Regional Council emphasized that violence was done by a marginal few and was far outstripped by Palestinian terror attacks against Jews” (TOI, 12.15.2021)

So what if these acts of violence were committed by a minority of settlers! Does that make them less of a trauma for the victims, less shameful for Israel, or less of a desecration of God’s name?

What these comments don’t say is that the majority is in fact not innocent because it is silent and therefore complicit. Where are the voices of outrage and condemnation from the leadership of Yesha? Why aren’t we hearing from the heads of the yeshivot in the territories, whose students and alumni may (or may not) be involved in these despicable acts? Why aren’t other thought leaders in the territories speaking out against violence?

 Some Relevant History

In 1948, when confronted with evidence of Jewish atrocities against Arab civilians, the leader of religious Zionism in Israel, Haim Moshe Shapira said in a cabinet meeting that all of Israel’s moral underpinnings had been undermined. Contrast that with the amoral response of MK Bezalel Smotrich, the head of the Religious Zionist Party in 2021 to Jewish violence against Arabs – “a false and antisemitic campaign that slanders them.” [the settlers] (TOI,12.14.2021)

It is time for the leaders of Israel and its people to end the denial: extremist violence against Arabs in the territories is extensive and growing. It needs to be contained and eventually eliminated.

An Effective Response

There are three dimensions to an effective response:

First, the police and army need to do a better job. There are too many documented instances of the army and/or the police standing idly by and not taking action. To change this requires not only better coordination but several levels of re-education. The army and police see as their task as protecting the Jewish state and it is easy to see how this slides over into protecting Jews, even when Jews are perpetrators.

This needs to change: police and soldiers need to be trained to see that the best way to protect the Jewish state is to treat everyone the same regardless of ethnicity, religion or citizenship.

At a more fundamental level, it is no secret that widespread racism in Israeli society obscures the understanding of, and commitment to, that most basic of Jewish values – Tzelem Elohim – all humans are created in the image of God, including Arabs. Our police and soldiers are just as affected by this as everyone else. The Army and police need to be re-educated in the critical importance of Tzelem Elohim.

Second, it is in the interest of Jewish leadership in the territories to take responsibility for this issue – the existence of Jewish violence hurts the image of the settlement movement. The law-abiding majority needs to identify and control extremist elements. The heads of yeshivot should be speaking out on this issue, calling on their own students and alumni to refuse to participate in violence.

And third, the political leadership of the country needs to support a serious effort to contain Jewish extremist violence against Arabs in the territories, not make excuses for it. It is forbidden to give our enemies ammunition against us. Everyone agrees that this pattern hurts Israel’s image in the world. It is not a sin to expose this issue, the sin is in trying to hide it.

The time has come: end the denial and act!

About the Author
Jack Ukeles is the president of Ukeles Associates Inc., a planning, policy research, and management firm for Jewish communities and organizations in the US, Israel, and world-wide.
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