Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

Was this pogrom downgraded into a rampage?

Huwara, Feb, 2023. Credit: Osama Eid, via Wikimedia Commons
Huwara, Feb, 2023. Credit: Osama Eid, via Wikimedia Commons

The last time we saw settlers burning down homes in Palestinian towns we called it a “pogrom.” Specifically, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, who oversees the West Bank, used the word repeatedly. A headline from the same day says the “army was unprepared for settler ‘pogrom’ in Huwara.”

That was in February. This week, the news reports were more moderate. After all, four Israelis were killed, a reaction was to be expected. The word “rampage,” was used to describe the wholesale burning of homes, vehicles and fields of Palestinians in Turmus Ayya.

The headline was: “IDF: ‘We failed’ to stop settler rampage through Palestinian town.”

A pogrom has instigators, a cadre of extreme racist fanatics and intent to harm. A rampage – it’s not nice either, but its connotation is closer to something out of control, like a stampede. The word pogrom evokes a visceral reaction in any Jew whose parents or grandparents came from Europe. The word rampage suggests collective temporary insanity. We should be able to prevent a rampage.

And yet, we didn’t, despite the fact that it was foretold.

A lesson in irony

Four Israelis were detained. If past events are anything to go by, they’ll spend a week in jail, never be sentenced. If the Americans and EU hadn’t taken notice – the settlers happened upon a village where a majority hold foreign passports – even those arrests might never have taken place. And the rampaging continued into Saturday, in Umm Safa, including by young men wearing kippot. Again, the army denounced the action, even calling it “terror,” but eyewitnesses said soldiers were present and did nothing. In breathtaking irony, Ben-Gvir denounced the army’s “collective punishment” in preventing members of the settlement Ateret from leaving, and Smotrich, rather than denouncing the attacks, denounced the army’s use of the word “terror.”

I believe those “rampages” involved organizing and instigation

Will we be ready for the next one? Army sources complained that preventing settler violence was taking them away from their normal missions, that their forces were spread too thin. And while Ben-Gvir was barred from the security cabinet meeting to discuss the details of reprisal and/or prevention, he was out with his constituency in the West Bank telling them to “run for the hilltops.” As a result, least seven new illegal outposts were erected. That is, seven new matches were placed atop the pile of kindling we call the “territories.” Next time will be worse. In an unprecedented move, leaders of the armed forces publicly condemned not only the actions of these settlers, but members of the coalition who encourage them. In other words, our “Minister of Internal Security” has become our Minister of Insecurity.

Are we so gullible as to believe the country’s “security” services have no information on those Jewish “terrorists” who plan extreme reprisals? Because I believe those “rampages” involved organizing and instigation. Just from the visuals of the scorched homes and cars, I would say some had, at the very least, been stockpiling flammable liquids. If the army is to stop these attacks, it must use the same sort of intel it applies to young Palestinian men in Jenin, making arrests when the potential attack is in the planning stages. Otherwise, those headlines bemoaning the army’s failure to prevent the settlers’ attacks on Palestinian villages will repeat themselves again and again.

I  refuse to justify the dehumanization – the terrible racism – that allows Jews to set fire to the homes of the nearest Palestinians, simply because they are Arab

Pogrom, terror or rampage. For the Palestinians whose homes went up in flames during the night, the effect was the same, the difference not even semantic. What they experienced was terror. But I believe the argument over the wording is important because it affects the way we Jewish Israelis are meant to think about the events. It affects the way the army and police deal with the perpetrators. Planning, extremists, hatred and intent to harm other human beings; or just a wild, runaway reaction? I don’t, in any way, condone the terrorist attack that took the lives of four people and wounded others. But I also refuse to justify the dehumanization – the terrible racism – that allows Jews to set fire to the homes of the nearest Palestinians, simply because they are Arab.

The United Nations human rights chief, Volker Turk, warned that “the violence, along with the inflammatory rhetoric, serve only to drive Israelis and Palestinians deeper into an abyss.” Abyss is a word I think we can all understand; even if we disagree on the depths to which we’ve descended. It’s a deep, dark place, distant from the hilltops — one he hints we’ll be sharing. If we want to come into the light, it’s time we started figuring out how to help one another climb upwards.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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