Reasonable people of all faiths must take a stand against settlers’ hate crimes in the West Bank
There is nothing that can justify occupying someone else’s land and subjecting its people to the arbitrary rule and whims of another nation.
However, when a group from within the occupying nation, and one that is growing in numbers, is also resorting to hate crimes against the occupied, oppressed and helpless, with the authorities turning a blind eye if not actively supporting their actions, the situation becomes deplorable beyond words.
Therefore a recently reported sharp increase in hate crimes and violence perpetrated by Jewish extreme nationalists, many whom are residents of the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, should not only be a “source of concern” for defense officials, as was reported in the Israeli media — it calls for overwhelming condemnation and, more importantly, urgent and firm action to eradicate it.
According to the Israeli news website Ynet, Israel’s Defense Ministry recorded 507 alleged hate-crime incidents against Palestinians in 2020. These crimes ranged from vandalism and physical attacks by settlers on Palestinians to setting fire to a school in the village of Einabus, near Nablus, and torching a mosque in Al-Bireh, near Ramallah.
The lack of appropriate responses to such crimes from Israeli law enforcement agencies is encouraging this disgraceful phenomenon. The figures for the first six months of this year are even more worrying, with at least 416 hate crimes committed, which is twice as many as during the same period in 2020.
This criminal behavior is not random or some inexplicable oddity, but a result of the atmosphere and the ideology created by more than five decades of Israel’s occupation and blockade of the West Bank and Gaza. It amounts to a countless litany of daily violations of Palestinians’ human rights, which take place with almost complete impunity.
If those who commit hate crimes are doing it on behalf of any sort of an ideology, it is a most sickening ideology indeed.
Yet among all the denunciations that the occupying regime rightly deserves, hate crimes by settlers and their accomplices from within Israel, civilians and soldiers, represent one of the ugliest aspects of what is taking place in the West Bank.
In the face of these hate crimes, this should be a time of soul searching for the settlers’ movement and Israeli society as whole. For those who believe, albeit distortedly so, that there can be some kind of decent coexistence with Palestinians while maintaining the occupation, there is no other way but for them to take steps to root out the fascist and thuggish elements among them, including proactive steps to help Israeli authorities bring the culprits of hate crimes to justice.
The current situation should also serve as a wake-up call to the more thoughtful among the settlers to reconsider the entire settlement project. For the rest, it is a time of reckoning and a time to question whether the emergence of those who commit hate crimes was not inevitable when millions of people are subjected to the capricious wishes of the occupiers and are regarded as inferior beings.
The criminal thugs of the Tag Mechir (Price Tag) movement are the product of a society that either supports violence against Arabs just because they are Arabs, or which views it with utter apathy. In this instance, apathy is equally reprehensible given the vicious nature and frequency of these violent acts.
In the past, the two lines of (indefensible) defense for using excessive force against Palestinians were that they are the enemy, and the two peoples are in a state of war. Others conveniently claimed to be oblivious to what was being happening on the other side of the Green Line.
These excuses hold no water, and are even more lame when one considers it is Israel that is using its superior military force to enforce its will, not the Palestinians. Moreover, if any Israeli would like to know what is taking place in the West Bank in their name, plenty of evidence can be obtained, at the click of a mouse, of brutalities committed against innocent Palestinian civilians.
According to a meticulously documented report by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, for example, soldiers, joined by settlers, raided two villages in two separate incidents this year. There is video evidence of armed settlers throwing stones at local residents and their homes. In both villages, settlers and soldiers also opened fire with live ammunition, killing two residents and injuring 12.
B’Tselem could not verify whether a settler or a soldier was responsible for the fatal shots but it surely cannot be legal, under any circumstances, for what can only be described as a settlers’ militia to join the Israeli Defense Forces in such raids. It puts the army in cahoots with a bunch of outlaws who hold to the most extreme, religious-messianic agenda of intimidation, and whose aim is either to drive Palestinians out of their homes, or to have them totally submit to the supremacy of the settlers and the Jewish state.
What used to be isolated incidents of physical assaults and verbal abuse have become the norm, along with malicious graffiti on vehicles and walls and damage to property. The “favorite” time of year for attacks on Palestinian farms and farmers is the olive-harvest season, during which there is a marked increase in arson attacks by settlers and violence against Palestinians. Hundreds of trees are cut down and many olives are stolen. In their cowardice, these ideologically motivated vandals also target secluded homes and structures, especially those close to settlements and unauthorized outposts.
If those who commit hate crimes are doing it on behalf of any sort of an ideology, it is a most sickening ideology indeed. The fact that they can commit these acts with complete impunity is a stain on the entire Israeli society and implicates it in the despicable deeds.
If anyone should be at the forefront of efforts to oppose this violence against innocent people, whose only “crime” is that they are Palestinian, it is those Israelis who do not share this distorted version of their religion and national identity.
If the Israeli authorities will not bring the criminals to justice, and Israeli society fails to disown them, then it is for the international community to express its concern with a loud voice and a sense of purpose.
• Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media.