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Settler violence in a time of security

Right-wing violence in Israel is always provoked by something, we’ve been told. The murders of Palestinian laborers and Israeli Arab bus passengers by two settlers during the disengagement from Gaza was provoked, of course, by the disengagement from Gaza. The drive-by murders of Palestinians during the second intifada were provoked by the second intifada. The Rabin assassination and the two-year hate campaign that preceded it were provoked by the Oslo accord and Palestinian terror attacks. The Hebron massacre by Baruch Goldstein was provoked by the Oslo accord and Palestinan terror attacks. The Jewish terror underground of the early 1980s, involving shootings of Palestinian mayors and college students, as well as an attempt to bomb a Palestinian bus and a plot to blow up the Temple Mount, was provoked by the pullout from Sinai following the peace treaty with Egypt.

There’s always a reason, supposedly. Jewish blood is being spilled by terrorists, the Left is giving the country away to the enemy, the settlers and their allies are being driven to extremes, they’re being backed against the wall, so they’re lashing out in desperation.

This is a popular notion in this country. So why has settler violence been going through the roof again, most recently in Sunday night’s “price tag” torching of a mosque in the Galilee Bedouin village of Tuba Zangaria? Life for Jews in Israel and the West Bank has never been safer than it’s been for the last few years. Palestinian security forces have been working with the Shin Bet and Israeli army to shut down terror, to throw Hamasniks in jail, to even keep big protest rallies from taking place.

Meanwhile, the peace process couldn’t be deader. The Israeli government could hardly be more right-wing. The administration in Washington could hardly be more craven, while Congress has become indistinguishable from the Yesha Council.

Yet here’s Yediot Aharonot’s Palestinian affairs writer Roni Shaked (a former Shin Bet agent) summing up the situation: :

“Arab terror is under control. The intelligence network in the West Bank is yielding good results. and the Palestinian security apparatus is also helping. While there are worries over Israeli Arab terror, it does not meet the criterion of a security threat. By contrast, ‘price tag’ terror is no longer the ideology of a few ‘wild weeds.’ It is a full-blown underground, a security threat that is liable to set off a new intifada and enflame relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel.”

Here is Ha’aretz military affairs correspondent Amos Harel:

“According to the Shin Bet, the right-wing extremists no longer appear to need a ‘trigger’ to take action, while the targets of the violence are also widening – military vehicles at an IDF base near Ramallah have been vandalized, and threatening graffiti has been sprayed onto the apartment door of a left-wing activist. Attacks on Arabs and their property are carried out when the opportunity arises, the Shin Bet officials add.”

What’s going on? What’s provoking the settlers in this underground now?

Nothing. They “no longer appear to need a ‘trigger.’” It doesn’t matter what the Palestinians, the government in Jerusalem or the administration in Washington do or don’t do. Nobody’s bothering them, nobody’s threatening them; they’re just feeding off the endless, escalating provocations in their own minds.

Is this an isolated phenomenon? Is it unconnected to the national political scene? I don’t think so. It seems to me that the rise in settler violence over the last couple of years is the crude, violent expression of the trend we’ve seen in the Israeli public at large: While Palestinian terror and political radicalism have steadily diminished, Israeli politics and public opinion have continually gotten more right-wing and hostile to Arabs.

There’s never been less terror here, the Palestinian police are doing much of our dirty work, we’ve never had a Palestinian leadership remotely as moderate and peaceable as Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad – yet the feeling here is that the situation’s hopeless, there’s no one to talk to, any minute all hell’s going to break loose, our backs are to the wall. If Bibi can’t save us, maybe Lieberman can.

Israelis used to say – and I used to believe – that if the Palestinians only stopped terror, we would be only too eager to make peace with them. If that was ever true, it certainly hasn’t been for many years.  They’ve stopped terror, and not for the first time – Arafat stopped terror for the last 4-1/2 years of the 7-year Oslo process, and it had no effect on Israeli opinion then just like Abbas’s efforts have had no effect on Israeli opinion now.

To be clear, the Israeli mainstream opposes these price tag attacks, it rejects the torching of mosques and olive groves. However, the Israeli mainstream remains deeply antagonistic toward Arabs, and this feeling has only gotten stronger in recent years, regardless of how subdued the local Arabs have become. The price tag underground is a violent, fanatic, superheated outgrowth of what’s happened to the Israeli political mind. On either side of the Green Line, we need no trigger, no provocation anymore. The provocation is inside us, and we just keep feeding on it.

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    1. Great read, Larry. I love that notion that “there’s always a reason”. Someone I know used to call such thinking “idiot compassion.” It’s also like how we pander to spoiled children.

      Unfortunately, this government (and those Israelis who identify with it) are drunk on power (with most US politicians as enablers) – makes them unaccountable, devoid of limits or a sense of responsibility.

      How will it end? What will mark the back swing of the pendulum? Or will the steel ball just crash through the window, continuing on going and going and going…..

      Reply to Comment
    2. ToivoS

      Linking this increase in settler violence to a general feeling inside the Israeli public makes sense. I would characterize that feeling to fear. And it is not an irrational fear. Israel is more isolated today than it has ever been. The BDS movement is growing internationally. Israelis accurately perceive they are more disliked today than ever. Feeling isolated and alone in the world is a very fearful place to be. It is only natural to seek external enemies for this current plight. In the primitive mind of the settler the nearest enemy is of course the native Palestinian.

      Progressive Zionist have been warning for years against the BDS movement because they correctly saw that it would provoke this kind of reaction. Unfortunately for the Palestinians this is the only tactic they have, short of self destructive violence, to sway events. Not clear to this outside observer how this is going to turn out.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Well, there is one parallel. Whenever Palestinians have made peace, have made and kept a truce (Gaza recently, PLO before 1982), the Israeli government (terrorists, if you like, but THE GOVERNMENT) have started wars. PEACE WAS THE THREAT. The Palestinians had to be tortured, maybe just for the fun of it, or maybe until they reacted violently — in which case Israel could say, as it has often said, “See? They are terrorists (after all)”. PEACE IS A THREAT.

      Reply to Comment
    4. pelsar

      @toivos…your making something out of nothing. The BDS movement is in essence nothing more than a “feel good” attack israel movement. With one of its leaders actually studying at Tel Aviv University, credibility is not one of its strong points.

      but more to the point, the settlers aren’t running “scared” like any extremist movement they have to create the extreme environment to push the centrist in to their camp. If there are no attacks from the Palestinians as an excuse, then they will just attack anyway.

      @larry, the solution is not through our govt, the coalition system with its power to the minorities (a major part of the problem). The solution, perhaps as in all solutions is economic-stop feeding the beast, the settlers, that we’ve created- the pre military yishivot, the fanatical rabbis, etc

      Reply to Comment
    5. Kernod

      Anyone of sound mind knows that territorial annexation of the West Bank without expulsion of its population is not possible. This is the elephant in the room.

      Settler violence, Israeli state violence, and pre-state Zionist underground violence were never defensive or retaliatory. They were to expel the population and secure the land for the Zionist project. I believe that is still the case. This is both at the heart of the settlers’ agenda and the Israeli state’s agenda, hence the absence of serious action of Israel against settler terrorism. They are aligned, perhaps even officially, behind this strategy.

      If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck – guess what, it is a duck.

      Reply to Comment
    6. pelsar

      @KERNOD sorry kerned…the “elephant’ in the room is history….the 20% of the israeli population is of arab descent?. Seems like a pretty poor “expulsion” on the part of the zionists. Nor are the west bank arabs going anywhere, no arab radio broadcast is going to scare them in to packing up. No IDF invasion as in 67 is going to make them leave…and a few pathetic attempts of the settlers to destroy some olive trees and take a few more hilltops is going to make the Palestinians run away. (you seem to have a pretty low opinion of the Palestenians….)

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    7. John Yorke

      ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

      Fear tends to immobilise the higher functions of the mind; reactions on an instinctive level take over and the result is often the mindless type of violence described by Larry.
      Confronting fear has traditionally relied on instilling a greater fear in the consciousness of oneself and others. Fear of dying in combat is suppressed by fear of being thought a coward, fear of what the enemy might do is overridden by fear of inaction and its consequences. Mankind is subject to many fears, some real, some imaginary. In the end, it is the more dominant of these that usually wins out, that motivates the decisions reached and the courses taken.

      As regards the Israeli/Palestinian situation, can any single fear succeed in opposing the host of others that fuel this conflict? If it does exist, it will have to be one of the last fears of all and will probably be as scary as Hell itself.

      Something like this, perhaps?


      Reply to Comment
    8. Kernod

      @PELSAR: I did not say they would succeed — only that that was the agenda.

      In terms of historical success, 750K out of about 900K in 1948 inside the green line, 200K+ in 1967, 140K since 1967 using administrative means, 250K out of <300K in the Golan in 1967, plus the current attempts to make sure all the Gazans go back to Gaza, I would say they are fairly successful.

      Do not presume to tell me what my opinion of the Palestinians is or make any other personal comments not directly related to what I said. Your statement is out of scope and out of order. I only talked about the Zionists.

      Reply to Comment
    9. pelsar

      @kernod:……you have obviously confused the different periods: as your wrote:

      Settler violence, Israeli state violence, and pre-state Zionist underground violence were never defensive or retaliatory.

      that elephant, is history, I will presume that either you don’t know a whole lot of it, prefer not to know or prefer to ignore much of it…..its way too obvious.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Philos

      Ha’aretz is reporting that a group of settlers managed to beat up a patrol of IDF troops trying to enter their encampment. No arrests were made. Apparently, the IDF is running an equality policy in the West Bank; it doesn’t arrest settlers when they attack Palestinians and it doesn’t arrest settlers when they attack soldiers. It seems they are the kings of Israel after all…

      Reply to Comment
    11. Jerry

      Is it something built into Israeli genes?

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    12. Ben Israel

      What you are seeing now is the inevitable consequence of Sharon’s and the Israeli political Establishment’s actions leading up to the destruction of Gush Katif. We warned you this would happen.
      Some history:
      In the 2003 Election campaign, Labor’s Amram Mitzna promised to destroy ONE settlement in Gush Katif (Netzarim). Sharon promised he that he opposed this and said, (and this is a direct quote) “Netzarim is like Tel Aviv”.
      Sharon easily won the election.
      Shortly afterwards, he promises to destroy ALL of Gush Katif. Journalist Amnon Abramovitch says “he is doing what we want, we must treat him like an etrog and all discussion in the media of the numerous scandals he is involved in must be stopped”. Sharon is now described in media, not as the man responsible for Sabra and Shatilla and the Lebanon War fiasco, but rather as a far-sighted statesman, the greatest leader since Ben-Gurion.
      Those who opposed Sharon’s move organized many large demonstrations. Sharon, seeing the massive opposition promises to hold a referendum among Likud members and SWEARS he will honor the results. He says he views is at a personal vote of confidence in him. Polls show him winning easily, with something like a 70-30% spread. The opponents go to work (including yours truly) to persuade Likud voters to vote against Sharon. The final results has Sharon losing 60-40%. Sharon, the next day, announces that he was lying when he said he would honor the results and says he will go ahead and destroy Gush Katif anyway. Likud “hardliners” like Netanyahu and Livnat and Shalom, instead of saying that it was a disgrace that Sharon was lying, keep quiet and go along with him.
      Sharon, the virtuoso politician that he was beautifully played off different religious parties against each other and told the Rabbis and Judea/Samaria that “this is the last time, we are giving up Gush Katif in order to save Judea/Samaria settlements. Gush Katif is destroyed and then Sharon turns around, and for the third time announces he is lying and that he intends to destroy most of the Judea/Samaria settlements as well. Fate steps in and he is unable to continue, but Olmert promises to do the same thing. Two wars later, he is forced to postone the plan indefinitely.

      So what do we see? Using the democratic process, legal demonstrations, referendums regular politicking are seen to be useless. You all praised Sharon for being a genius at giving the shaft to people who had been his biggest supporters. When he was an international pariah after Sabra and Shatilla, the settlers were his only friends (beside Shimon Peres who insisted he be included in the 1984 unity gov’t, but that is another story) and then he turns around and spits in their face which you all gloated about.
      There is now a young, radicalized generation of settlers who don’t have the same sentiments to the old Zionist myths about the IDF, the “holy” government of the “holy Jewish” state that their parents believed in.
      Enjoy the broth that the Leftist political Establishment cooked up for you.

      Reply to Comment
    13. RichardL

      I don’t know what Ben Israel is rabbiting about.

      The settlers frequently claim to have a deep historical affinity for the West Bank yet they wantonly pollute and damage the land they claim God gave to them. They are uninterested in any form of law and they unashamedly use violence in any form as part of a programme that is essentially intent on ethnically cleansing the whole of the West Bank. At the same time they despise the government of Israel and the taxpayers to the west of the Green Line who finance and provide for their illegal activities.

      Can Israel survive this extreme insanity? Of course not. Sooner or later (probably sooner) this ruthless, rabid bunch of fanatics is going to commit some major atrocity that even the likes of Mark Regev and the BBC are going to be unable to cover up. The bad publicity is going to backfire big time on the Zionist project which is finally going to understand what it really means to be a pariah on the international scene. The government will then find that the monster it and its predecessors have created is not going to be an easy beast to eradicate. While civil war looms many of the people with transferable talent, many of the brightest amongst the population, will take the options they have already created and flee the morally bankrupt country as it threatens to tear itself apart.
      What then? I don’t know, but it will be painful and damaging and will probably involve very unpleasant actions and compromises for all concerned. But the reality is that it is the settlers who spit in the face of everyone who is not of their kind, everyone who does not share their demented, dangerous vision. At the end the day though they cannot go it alone. They do not have a viable economy, if push comes to shove they are no match for the IDF and never will be, and if viability for the Israeli state means enforcing and being seen to enforce internationally accepted standards of law and order and civilized standards of behaviour then the extreme rump of the settlers will be dealt with.

      These consequences will not be a result of pulling out of Gush Katif, they will be the final consequences of having started this evil, mischievous, fascist apartheid project in the first place, and the plague will be on your house.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Kernod

      @Pelsar: There you go again – responding with personal comments to a statement of fact which you seem to disagree with. Answer my point without making assumptions about what I know. Your comments says much more about the strength of your case than it does about mine, besides being pompous and pretentious.
      The point is this — from the early days of Zionism in the late 19th century to this very day the Zionist approach to the Palestinians was consistently one of containment and expulsion. Nothing else, ever.
      When considered in this context, all of the actions of both organized Zionism and the non-official of fringe groups, whether the revisionists or the mainstream, the right or the so-called “left”, pre-1948, during the Naqba, and post 1948, through the wars (with the exception of the 1973 war, in which Israel had bigger fish to fry than the Palestinians), the numerous massacres, land grabs, deportations, etc., etc., etc., ad naseum are clear and consistent.
      There never was any other strategy. The conflict has always been waged as an extended attempt to remove the Palestinians from their homeland. Sometimes with different pretexts, other times without bothering with a pretext. Through military, social, administrative, and economic means, various levels of violence and a very wide range of quite creative tactics and with unrelenting tenacity.
      This strategy has been documented so many times, I find it odd that anyone is even bothering to debate it. You could start by reading Norman Finkelstein’s Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict. He quotes many Zionist leaders verbatim. Most of the Zionists writers, in moments of honesty, stated that the Palestinians will have to be removed for Zionism to triumph. Not to mention official Israeli archives (e.g., the famous “Plan D”). Go, educate yourself, then come back and we shall see if you can dispute the following statement of fact:
      These price-tag terrorists are nothing more than the direct successors of the Zionist mainstream.
      If the Zionists ever stop their self-righteous BS and bother to look in the mirror – they see Meir Kahana. No one else.

      Reply to Comment
    15. annie

      kernod, do not bother with pelsar, he is clearly in denial as his description of zionist expansion testifies. “a few pathetic attempts of the settlers to destroy some olive trees and take a few more hilltops”

      Reply to Comment
    16. ginger

      very powerful indictment of the current state of Israeli policies.

      Settler policy is Israeli policy and Israeli policy is Apartheid policy

      Reply to Comment
    17. pelsar

      how do you expect me to answer….you view is so simplistic:
      “The point is this — from the early days of Zionism in the late 19th century to this very day the Zionist approach to the Palestinians was consistently one of containment and expulsion. Nothing else, ever

      that totally ignores the various israeli political parties, and their platforms, discussions and arguments…. it ignores the arabs who stayed put and now live in larger villages, cities, it ignores historical fact; oslo the israeli withdrawal, Palestinians returning, and expanding their autonomy, it ignores gaza and its withdrawal, and the semi autonomy there as well as well as its potential, that despite the rockets still exists.

      where is the “expulsion” your talking about that is still going on?

      those are actual events that happened, that negate the “contain and expulsion” mentality.

      Reply to Comment
    18. RichardL


      *Platforms, discussions and arguments are of no consequence when succesive parties in power have all had a policy of expanding the settlements. The state of Israel has to be judged by what it does not by what it says.

      *You are ignoring the Arabs who have been deported since 1967 from both the Golan and the West Bank. And what about the residents of Jerusalem who go away to study and are not allowed back to their homes? This is all part of the expulsion that is historical fact.

      *Israeli withdrawal? What planet are you on. The West Bank has 500,000 settlers and thousands of soldiers, as well you know. That ain’t withdrawal.

      *Potential in Gaza? Yes it certainly does exist but not while exports are prevented (there have been none since mid-May); not while people cannot leave to study and train; not while Israel will not allow a port and airport; not while construction materials cannot enter; not while electricity outages occur every day; not while upgrading of the sewage and water systems are prevented; not while farmers and fishermen are prevented from working by being shot at; not while the IDF uses Gaza as a weapons research laboratory…

      How do I expect you to answer? By referring to the truth and not trying to inflict a pack of lies on the readership.

      Reply to Comment