Last weekend we were presented with two very different images of Jews in the West Bank. The first, of Rabbi Arik Ascherman, with blood pouring down his face as a result of a violent settler attack. The second, of an unnamed settler – throwing rocks at Palestinians and activists as they harvested olives. The man in the second settler is dressed in tallitot. He is undeniably dressed in a way that makes him visibly Jewish.
Needless to say, regardless of what they were wearing, a violent settler does not represent Jews, or Israelis. But the juxtaposition of the two images from the weekend is difficult to ignore.
Who is it that we, as Jews, would rather be represented by?
I’m certain that the vast majority of us would see a stone throwing settler and cringe at the idea that people would associate him with our community, or with Israel.
Friday. A settler throws stones at Palestinians and activists while they harvest olives. Not much left to say other than the fact that these are the emissaries of the state, not "a few bad apples"
Photo by Shay Kendler pic.twitter.com/QhbmbZ0fhW
— Dror Sadot (@dror_sadot) November 14, 2021
מזועזעים מתקיפת חברנו ומנכ״ל הארגון לשעבר, הרב אריק אשרמן @RavArik ומתנדבת נוספת שפונתה עם דימום כבד לטיפול רפואי, היום במסיק בכפר צוריף על ידי מתנחלים מבת עין. המדינה ורשויות האכיפה שלה נכשלות פעם אחר פעם בלהבטיח את שלום החקלאים והפעילים במסיק, והדם שנשפך היום הוא גם על ידיהן. pic.twitter.com/mHuq6jXEz4
— רבנים לזכויות אדם (@RHRIS) November 12, 2021
But as we cringe, many are still quick to defend before they condemn. Some even dismissed this picture as fake, getting into an analysis of whether or not the settler really was Jewish – or really was a settler.
The pictures are symbolic, though they shouldn’t distract us – they are but two moments in time.
The issue at hand is settler violence. Ultimately, settler violence is a symptom of a broken system.
We can continue to share and condemn every incident of settler violence but ultimately, we need to recognise the system that upholds the cycle. Israelis aren’t inherently violent, needless to say. Most settlers aren’t violent, either. But that’s irrelevant.
Palestinians are living under occupation. They are not equal to Israelis – they do not have the same rights and privileges that Israelis do – and are subject to an entirely different legal system. Though the IDF does have a duty to protect an occupied population, it’s clear that Palestinians are often left unprotected from settlers while soldiers become nothing but by-standers. The system of occupation gives solidiers no mandate to control the Israeli civilian population (i.e. the settlers) in the West Bank.
Despite the new Israeli government, often labelled as the ‘change government’, settler violence has become worse this past year. The problem itself is not new, of course. It’s just particularly disappointing to see a government which promised to deliver change, a government with diverse representation – fail to deliver any protection for Palestinians from this plague of attacks.
Time and time again, we have seen Jewish settlers attack Palestinian civilians – often families in their homes. They also destroy property, land, trees and have hurt animals. The images and videos of these attacks over recent months feel like a reel which has been playing on repeat: Settlers attack, Palestinians and Israeli activists are injured, IDF soldiers stand by and do nothing. Again and again.
Still, so many of the supposed supporters of Israel are quick to jump up and make excuses. They’ll say – but what about violent Palestinians? They claim that the evidence against settlers is insufficient. On the one hand they will claim that Israel is a vibrant democracy and that these incidents of violence are trivial in comparison to the undemocratic nature of Israel’s neighbours, whilst on the other seek to undermine the legitimacy of Israeli human rights organisations who are highlighting the violence. These are the very same civil society organisations they claim are proof of Israel’s democratic character. The instinct to defend Israel is so deep rooted for some that they are willing to defend Israel’s worst.
We shouldn’t defend the racist thugs that throw rocks at Palestinians. We ought to reject everything they stand for, reject the notion that they are acting in the name of Israel, or in the name of Jews.
But we can speak for ourselves, and we can decide to speak out against those who act in our name. Violent settlers don’t deserve to be defended, and their actions don’t deserve to be explained away.