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Turning settlers into victims

Netanyahu accuses two-state supporters of advocating ethnic cleansing. But state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing and human rights violations are what enabled the Jewish settlers to occupy Palestinian lands in the first place.

By Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon

Jewish settlers water plants in a newly established illegal settlement outpost in the West Bank, July 7, 2014. (Gerson Elinson/Flash90)

Jewish settlers water plants in a newly established illegal settlement outpost in the West Bank, July 7, 2014. (Gerson Elinson/Flash90)

Just a few weeks after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that he cares about the rights and lives of Palestinians in Gaza more than the Palestinian leadership does, he posted a new video message on his Facebook wall, arguing that any future dismantlement of Jewish settlements in the West Bank would amount to “ethnic cleansing.” He went on to intimate that insofar as the U.S. and other western countries support the uprooting of Israeli settlements as part of an agreement with the Palestinians, they were, in effect, supporting the cleansing of Jews.

“Would you accept ethnic cleansing in your state? A territory without Jews, without Hispanics, without Blacks,” he rhetorically asked, thus drawing a direct link between the settlers in the colonized Palestinian territories and racially discriminated citizens in the United States.

Netanyahu’s description of any potential evacuation of the West Bank colonies reflects the ethics of settler colonialism in which any attempt to dislocate the settlers is now equated with injustice. Unwilling to acknowledge that Palestinians were ethnically cleansed in 1948 and 1967, and that they continue to live under the constant threat of displacement as a direct result of his own government’s policies, Netanyahu depicts Israeli and thus Jewish settlers’ disengagement from the occupied West Bank, which constitutes a mere 22 percent of Mandatory Palestine, as an egregious violation of the rights of Jewish settlers. The irony is, of course, that these settlers initially colonized this land after it was captured in the 1967 war at the behest of the state.

Moreover, by invoking the phrase ethnic cleansing of Jews, Netanyahu is clearly mobilizing a concept that is deeply ingrained in Jewish collective memory and comprises a red line not only for the Israeli State but also for the international community. In fact, he is actually repeating a refrain first invoked by Israel’s well-known Foreign Minister Abba Eban, who in 1969 defined the return to the pre-1967 borders as “something of a memory of Auschwitz.”

Through the metaphor of “the memory of Auschwitz,” Abba Eban suggested that a withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967 would correspond to another genocide of the Jewish people, this time in the temporal and spatial setting of Palestine. Tragically, the invocation of the horrific violations perpetrated during the Holocaust has long served to legitimize ongoing colonization and is presented as a preventive measure against the re-materialization of Auschwitz.

Thus, Netanyahu’s mobilization of settler ethnic cleansing echoes Eban’s “Auschwitz lines,” while introducing the novel notion of settler human rights. Through his Facebook video he transforms the colonizing settler into the victim of human rights abuses and the subjected Palestinians into the perpetrators who are ostensibly supported—unjustly, according to this distorted logic—by the international community. This, to be sure, is a very strange form of human rights: it is the human rights of a dominant ethnic group whose dominance has been instituted precisely through the expulsion and subjugation of Palestinians. Furthermore, decolonization becomes a crime against humanity, and the global discourse of human rights is turned into a tool for advancing domination.

In sharp contrast to the racial discrimination against African Americans, Hispanics, and other people of color in the United States, Israeli settlers are an inordinately privileged group. They are not a minority in the Jewish state, and despite Netanyahu’s attempts to revise history, it is crucial to remember that state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing and ongoing human rights violations is what enabled the Jewish settlers to occupy the lands on which they live in the first place.

Nicola Perugini is lecturer at the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh. Follow him @PeruginiNic. Neve Gordon is a Leverhulme visiting fellow at SOAS, University of London. First published in Al Jazeera, reproduced here with the authors’ permission.

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    1. Bus189

      I am confused. Is the argument of this article that the Jewish residents of the West Bank have no human rights? I had been under the impression that all humans have, well, human rights. I would be happy to receive pointers to relevant documents describing the conditions under which people cede their human rights.

      Bibi is playing you like a violin.

      Reply to Comment
    2. i_like_ike52

      We have to clarify things here.
      Jews living in the West Bank is not “settler colonialism” because Jews have lived in the area now referred to the “West Bank” for thousands of years. If you are going to insist that it is, then Neve Gordon is also an illegal settler since he or his parents or grandparents came to the country without the permission of the Arab residents.
      If Jews living on the West Bank is “settler colonialism”, then the Beduins taking over more and more land in the Negev that they never had a claim to is also “settler colonialism”.
      There was no “ethnic cleansing” Arabs in 1948. If there was, then there would be no Israeli Arabs, citizens of Israel, and since there are over 1 million, there could not have been ethnic cleansing. IF there was such a thing in 1948 or before, it was the Jews who were living in Hevron, Gaza, Shechem, Beit Ha’arava, Gush Etzion, who were expelled by the Arabs to the last one. The Arabs proclaimed a genocidal jihad before the proclamation of the state of Israel, and knowing what they intended to do to the Jews in the even that they had won the war, seeing that they had lost, hundreds of thousands of them, fearing that the Jews would do to them what they had said they would do to the Jews.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      It’s such a very difficult subject is it? Really now? Ok, I am happy to supply you a pointer to a relevant and very simple document describing the plain conditions under which people here are not ceding their human rights:


      “Netanyahu knows, of course, that the Palestinian refusal to allow enclaves of Israelis – not “Jews” – in their sovereign state is neither ethnic nor cleansing. As a member of Ariel Sharon’s government, Netanyahu supported the “cleansing” of the Gaza Strip of its settlers, and the Likud movement he heads evacuated settlers from Sinai in return for a peace treaty with Egypt.”

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      Now for a slightly more sophisticated explanation for you to ease into please see:

      Netanyahu’s claim of ‘ethnic cleansing’ sets a Guinness record for chutzpah
      After years of fighting the loaded term, the prime minister is pushing it through the front door. If evacuating Jewish settlements for peace is a crime against humanity, then Begin and Sharon were perpetrators and U.S. presidents are all inciters

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      And to point you to a relevant document describing the conditions under which people did not “cede” but were forcibly deprived of their human rights, see this please:

      Yes, Netanyahu, let’s talk about ethnic cleansing
      Turning Israeli settlers into victims is the prime minister’s most staggering act of chutzpah yet. The only mass ethnic cleansing that took place here was in 1948, when some 700,000 Arabs were forced to leave their lands.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben

      ‘If Jews living on the West Bank is “settler colonialism”….’

      Sorry, you stated this inaccurately. “Jews living on the West Bank” does not capture this. Jews illegally taking by force of a belligerent military occupation other people’s lands and their very livelihoods is settler colonialism. Arrogating the right to commit these crimes simply on the basis of a racial identity is “settler colonialism” in spades. Theft of others’ land because you deem their property rights of a lesser order because they are of a certain race is apartheid.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ben

      “Palestinian leaders have made clear that Jews can be citizens of a future Palestinian state, but that they will not accept the presence of enclaves of Israeli settlers peppered throughout that state (as, of course, no state would)…. In addition to cynically invoking memories of the Jewish people’s past oppression and expulsion (which could clearly be considered a form of incitement), Netanyahu’s use of “ethnic cleansing” is particularly offensive given that Israeli policies of home demolition, land confiscation, and expulsion — which the U.S. and its partners have criticized with increasing alarm — are far more deserving of it.”

      Reply to Comment
    8. AJew

      Ben at his usual best, misrepresenting things.

      Jews who live in the West Bank did not take other people’s lands illegally. Jews either recovered lands which belonged to Jews before 1948 which was taken from Jews illegally by Arabs. Or settled on lands where Jews had as much right to live as Arabs in 1948 since both Jews and Arabs were citizens of Palestine.

      Examples are the Jewish quarter of East Jerusalem. Get it? The Jewish quarter which was inhabited by Jews for thousands of years.

      Another example is Gush Etzion which was captured by Arabs in 1948.

      Ben who is a fanatical supporter of the Arab cause deliberately misrepresents the above facts.

      Reply to Comment
    9. AJew

      Jordan illegally occupied East Jerusalem in 1948.

      The Jordanian commander is reported to have told his superiors: “For the first time in 1,000 years not a single Jew remains in the Jewish Quarter. Not a single building remains intact. This makes the Jews’ return here impossible.”[14][15] The Hurva Synagogue, originally built in 1701, was blown up by the Jordanian Arab Legion. During the nineteen years of Jordanian rule, a third of the Jewish Quarter’s buildings were demolished.[16] According to a complaint Israel made to the United Nations, all but one of the thirty-five Jewish houses of worship in the Old City were destroyed. The synagogues were razed or pillaged and stripped and their interiors used as hen-houses or stables.[13]

      In 1967, after Jordan again attacked Israel ostensibly to support their Egyptian allies, Israel ended up in control of the entire West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

      According to Ben, Israel had no right to repopulate places like the Jewish quarter and reverse what the Jordanians did.

      In other words, people like Ben approve the conquest of lands by Arabs and he wants to reward their aggression by preventing Jews from reclaiming lands where they lived. That is called rewarding the aggressors in anyone’s language. Ben is a fanatic and there is no point in arguing with him.

      Reply to Comment
    10. johneill

      A small note: settlers are a minority in ‘israel’, as most – jewish – israelis live within the green line. This is not to say they’re discriminated against; they are the most privileged minority in any country – despite not living in israel.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ben

      Methinks you would be trying to pull here, with respect to me, the same trick Trump’s trying to pull on Clinton (which in turn mirrors what Netanyahu is trying to pull on the Palestinians):

      Trump would be proud of Netanyahu’s anti-Palestinian ethnic cleansing canard.
      Even if you ignore history, the prime minister’s suggestion that contemporary Israelis would never dream of expelling Palestinians is painfully false.
      Peter Beinart
      “In recent weeks, Donald Trump has adopted an odd strategy. He’s begun accusing Hillary Clinton of possessing the very deficiencies that he displays himself. So Trump, who proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States, calls Clinton a “bigot.” Trump, who has repeatedly mused about using nuclear weapons, calls Clinton “trigger-happy.” Trump, who accused Ted Cruz’s father of involvement in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, calls Clinton “unstable.” …”

      Reply to Comment
    12. AJew

      Notice Ben’s sleight of hand. He avoids addressing the facts which I mentioned in my previous two posts. The best he can do is to crow about who agrees with him. But those folk also studiously avoid addressing those facts.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Yeah, Right

      Ike, you need to look at the person’s CITIZENSHIP – not their religion, nor their ethnicity – if you want to know if they are a colonist or not.

      A Jew living in Israel is…. an Israeli Jew.
      He/she is a “citizen of Israel”, and therefore can not be a colonist, nor can you describe them as living in a colony.

      An Arab living in Israel is…. an Israeli Arab.
      He/she is a “citizen of Israel”, and therefore is not a colonist even if you begrudge them being there

      A Palestinian living in the West Bank is….. a Palestinian living in what they want to become “Palestine”.
      That person is therefore (or, at least, wishes to be) “a citizen of Palestine”, and therefore you can not claim that they are “colonizing” this territory.

      By way of very marked contrast: a “Jewish settler” in the West Bank is…. an Israeli citizen who has elbowed himself/herself uninvited into a territory that does not belong to the state of Israel.

      That is “colonialism”.
      That settler is an “Israeli colonist”.
      That settlement is an “Israeli colony”.

      Stop pretending that you don’t understand what the STATE is doing here: it is colonizing this territory with its own citizens, and is doing so **because** it wants to then argue that it can not possibly give up that territory so CEDE IT TO ME. CEDE IT TO ME. LET ME HAVE THIS TERRITORY. I WON’T LET YOU BE FREE OF ME UNTIL YOU AGREE THAT THIS IS ALL MINE! MINE! MINE.!

      Reply to Comment
    14. Yeah, Right

      Israeli colonists have human rights. Those rights were violated when the state of Israel decided to use its own citizens as human shields to entrench its control over this territory.

      When Israel finally does have to end this endless occupation it will be required to take out its trash when it leaves, and that will include the trailer-trash inhabiting those Israeli colonies that have been illegally established inside this Israeli-occupied territory.

      At that point, yes, I agree, those “settlers” will have a case to make that their human rights have been abused.

      The abusers will, of course, be the very state of Israel that sent them into harm’s way in the first place, and so the rightful compensation will have to be provided by…. the state of Israel.

      After all, it is Israel that has created this mess, and so it is Israel that is required to make things right for *all* concerned, including its own citizens.

      Reply to Comment
    15. AJew

      So, by that logic, the much vaunted so called right of return demand by Abbas is hog wash then?

      Reply to Comment
    16. Yeah, Right

      “So, by that logic, the much vaunted so called right of return demand by Abbas is hog wash then?”

      No. Every single Arab who wishes to return to the home from which they were rejected is willing to do so as an “Israeli Arab”.

      Abbas is not attempting to use those refugees in an attempt to gain that territory for his state.

      Compare and contrast: every single Israeli Jew who has elbowed his way onto a “settlement” is doing so AS AN ISRAELI, and has no intention of ever ceasing to be AN ISRAELI.

      Indeed, that is the very purpose of this settler enterprise: to seed this Israeli-occupied territory WITH ISRAELIS, so that ISRAEL can insist that this territory must be ceded to ISRAEL.

      Reply to Comment
    17. AJew

      “Compare and contrast: every single Israeli Jew who has elbowed his way onto a “settlement” is doing so AS AN ISRAELI, and has no intention of ever ceasing to be AN ISRAELI.”

      How do you know that? How do you know it isn’t just their preferred option but that if all else fails, they would be willing to be citizens of a Palestinian state in order to remain?

      Oh but I forgot, you spoke to every single one of them about what they are willing and not willing to do?

      Reply to Comment
    18. Yeah, Right

      “How do you know that? How do you know it isn’t just their preferred option but that if all else fails, they would be willing to be citizens of a Palestinian state in order to remain?”

      You haven’t been paying much attention, have you?

      It isn’t a matter of what the SETTLERS want or doesn’t want, it is a matter of what the ISRAELI GOVERNMENT expects to get out of that act of colonizing this territory.

      I’ll give you a hint: it ain’t “peace”.

      As in: the ISRAELI GOVERNMENT established those colonies for the singular purpose of creating facts on the ground so that it could acquire that territory for itself, and what the ISRAELI GOVERNMENT expects (indeed, insists) on getting out of all this is the ceding of that territory to Israel.

      Your talk of “if all else fails” is therefore hypothetic mumbo-jumbo, precisely because there will never be another “fall-back offer” from any Israeli government.

      Not this Israeli government, just as there never has been from any Israeli government that came before it, nor will there ever be any Israeli Government Yet To Come.

      The “offer” is never going to change: there are ISRAELIS living there, they are never, ever going to leave, ergo, YOU MUST CEDE THIS TERRITORY TO ME!

      Honestly, you haven’t listened to that video?

      Reply to Comment
    19. AJew

      The only mumbo jumbo is coming out of your mouth. Netanyahu’s video makes it clear that he is willing to at least entertain the idea.

      Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has backed the idea, which could make implementation of a two-state solution more feasible.

      As for the settlers, read the following:

      But unlike most settlers on such outposts, who insist on Israeli sovereignty and Israeli security, Mr. Pachenik hopes that one day his home will be protected by Palestinian police as a Jewish citizen of a state of Palestine. He says he’s ready to live alongside Palestinian neighbors, obey Palestinian speed limits, and pay Palestinian taxes. And there are many others like him.

      The only reason this IS hypothetical is because of Abbas who said:

      “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands,” Abbas said following a meeting with interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour in Cairo.

      Yet Abbas insists on the right of return for Arabs. How is that for double standards?

      Reply to Comment
    20. Yeah, Right

      “Netanyahu’s video makes it clear that he is willing to at least entertain the idea.”

      Please. You know as well as I do that Netanyahu has not the slightest intention of “entertaining” that notice. You *know* that, so why insult both our intelligence.

      That said, let’s now compare this:
      “Mr. Pachenik hopes that one day his home will be protected by Palestinian police as a Jewish citizen of a state of Palestine.”
      with this:
      “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands,”

      Quite apart from the obvious observation that Netanyahu doesn’t give a rat’s arse for the opinion of either Mr. Pachenik nor Mr Abbas, there is the little matter that there is z.e.r.o. contradiction between those two quotes i.e. Pachenik is talking about becoming a Palestinian Citizen, which is a status that Abbas has Not The Slightest Problem With.

      Reply to Comment
    21. AJew

      “there is the little matter that there is z.e.r.o. contradiction between those two quotes i.e. Pachenik is talking about becoming a Palestinian Citizen, which is a status that Abbas has Not The Slightest Problem With.”

      Now who is insulting whose intelligence?

      But let’s just test this assertion:

      If true (snigger) then presumably Abbas would have no problems in welcoming several million diaspora Jews fleeing from places like France and other places in Europe who would want to settle in Palestine as Palestinian citizens?

      Reply to Comment
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