The Dehumanization of the Settlers

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently raised eyebrows with his assertion that the recent protest by the Obama Administration against Jews moving into the Silwan neighborhood in Jerusalem was ‘un-American.’

He is one hundred percent right.

The case of Silwan (which was also home to a community of Yemenite Jews until the Arab Revolt of 1936 forced them to relocate for their own safety) is different from the other times America has expressed displeasure at Israeli settlement activity. This was not a case of land appropriation or of new building announcements, which the American government has long regarded as counterproductive government actions. This was simply the purchasing of already existing houses by a private organization, the Elad Foundation, and then renting out to Jews who want to move into that neighborhood.

By protesting the mere purchasing of property by Jews, the American government is endorsing the position that Jews, irrespective of what the Israeli government does, have no rights to even buy property or live in any place the Palestinians claim for their future state. This position is indeed un-American, If a similar protest was made against Jews, or any other ethnic group, buying property for housing anywhere in America or outside of the Middle East the individuals protesting the buying of the property would rightly be labeled as bigots. Those who protested against the plans to build an Islamic Center near the site of Ground Zero were called ‘un-American’ by the then-Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg. But when it comes to Israel the normal rules regarding what constitutes bigotry and what constitues gross violations of civil rights do not apply.

This denial by America, of all places, of the right of Jews to not only build but even to buy and live in areas of Jerusalem and Judea is a product of one of the greatest PR successes of the Palestinian National Movement, the delegitimization and dehumanization of all Jews who live beyond the 1949 Green Line.

Approximately half a million Jewish civilians live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, some in areas that were Jewish before Jordan ethnically cleansed all the territory it conquered of Jews in 1948. Some of them are motivated to live there by nationalist or political reasons, some are not. A third generation of ‘settlers’ is currently being born, whose parents and soon even grandparents were also born in these settlements.

But according to the radical narrative that all Jewish settlement in areas Jordan illegally controlled in 1949 is itself illegal, the fact that someone of Jewish descent is born in an area that is not approved of is enough to brand that person a criminal from the moment of his/her birth. In America being born in America gets you citizenship-but in ‘Palestine’ it makes you a criminal. But there’s nothing ‘un-American about that, is there?

This narrative that all settlers are criminals and thieves, regardless of any other circumstance other than the location of their apartments, is toxic. It leads, ultimately, to the justification of violence against them, even against small children. Many respected news outlets wrongly referred to all three of the Jewish teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered this summer as ‘settlers,’ implying that such a description makes their murders understandable, if not justifiable. The UN Human Rights Council decided to begin its investigation into the bloody events of this summer with Israel’s response to the kidnappings and murders. As ‘settlers’ these three boys have no human rights according to this organization of dictators and mass murderers. During the recent conflict with Hamas an American ‘scholar’ made headlines by writing that he wished that all settlers would ‘go missing’ the way the three teenagers did. He wished death on half a milion innocent men, women, and children, just because he did not like where they lived.

By buying into the bigoted, anti-Semitic narrative that individual Jews have no rights to buy property and live where they may not be wanted, the US is not only lending creibility to an anti-Semitic politcal position. It is further justifying the murder of innocent civilians for the crime of being born like the murder of the Fogel family.

If that is not un-American, I don’t know what is.

About the Author
Gary Willig is a researcher at the Center for Near East Policy Research and a student of communications at Bar Ilan University