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Teen's murder is a reminder that we are all settlers

Just as we must mourn Hallel Yaffa Ariel as a human being and a slain child, we must also mourn her as a settler — because all Israelis are responsible for her presence in the West Bank.

Mother of Hallel Yaffa Ariel mourns over her body during a funeral ceremony in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, in the West Bank, June 30, 2016. Earlier in the day, a 17-year-old Palestinian broke into the family home and stabbed to death 13-year-old Hallel in her bedroom. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Mother of Hallel Yaffa Ariel mourns over her body during a funeral ceremony in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, in the West Bank, June 30, 2016. Earlier in the day, a 17-year-old Palestinian broke into the family home and stabbed to death 13-year-old Hallel in her bedroom. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Superlatives are inadequate to tell the sorrow of recent weeks. Thirteen-year old Hallel Yaffa Ariel was stabbed to death in her bed in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba Thursday morning. Forty-four people were blown up in Istanbul’s airport, nearly 50 shot to death in Orlando. Mahmoud Badran, a 15-year old Palestinian boy, was killed by Israeli forces, “by mistake,” coming back from the pool with his friends.

I can’t keep up enough to write about each one, but nation, identity and politics mean little to me when faced with innocent deaths.

Some think the Israeli and the Palestinian killings are different, somehow less innocent than the others. Mahmoud was mistaken for a stone-thrower, as if this justifies his death. Hallel was a settler. Yet she was a civilian and a child — no more guilty than Mahmoud.

I’ve written in the past that Israelis on the left must sympathize with such victims as human beings. Now I want to emphasize that we must also mourn Hallel as a settler, for her presence in the West Bank is the responsibility of all Israelis.

The Left blames much on settlements. Many view the settlement enterprise as the heart of the occupation – those who live in settlements actively choose to steal land and resources from Palestinians, to enforce apartheid rule over people living next door, through military law.

After all, settlements are a tangible, visible manifestation of occupation. Just look at those perfect new housing units in tidy rows, perched on hills overlooking vast and underdeveloped Palestinian cities or parched clusters of tents and shacks.

A Palestinian home in the village of Umm al-Kheir is seen against the backdrop of the Israeli settlement of Carmel, South Hebron Hills, West Bank. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian home in the village of Umm al-Kheir is seen against the backdrop of the Israeli settlement of Carmel, South Hebron Hills, West Bank. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Getting outraged is rewarding because it lets the outraged party off the hook. If it weren’t for those darn wild-eyed-religious-messianics, many on the Left feel, Israel would transform into a Jewish and democratic state and all would be right with the world.

But people who think like that are actually sitting on an outrageous hilltop of their own. From their perch they look down on the settlers and say, we’re the good guys. We’re not complicit.

For some Israelis, settlers are becoming the main — or maybe the only — thing about occupation they actually oppose. I think there are some left-wingers for whom empathizing with settlers threatens their very identity. But reducing the occupation to settlements and settlers enables forgetting about the rest of it, which is a convenient tool because it’s very inconvenient to fathom how to fight the rest of it.

How does one even begin dismantling the impenetrable system of military law, stop or reverse the revocation of residency permits, keep track of the land in Area C being seized under the guise of declared military training zones, thereby blocking Palestinian development? Occupation is families in Gaza being cut off from the West Bank, and the Israeli army denying them permits to attend family funerals in time. Occupation is statelessness, it is refugees still living in Lebanon’s refugee camps. It is spying on Palestinian lives and conversations, by Israel’s crack intelligence units with the world’s most sophisticated technology, to blackmail them. Occupation is collective punishment. When you start looking closely, or perhaps when you take a step back, occupation is so much more than settlements.

To change those, it isn’t enough to oppose settlements and settlers, we must change the policy of whole institutions: the army, the defense establishment, the housing and infrastructure ministries, the propaganda that tries to sell these policies both to ourselves and to the world, and our revered intelligence systems. Most of all, it means we must change the government and our political parties – those that represent settlers, but also those that support and sometimes quietly enable their agenda.

We, regular Israelis, must take responsibility as the people who make these things tick. We pay taxes, we serve in these army units and agencies, we vote, and we benefit from the system that suppresses Palestinians. All of us.

Getting really mad at settlers doesn’t count as opposing occupation. Mainly, it leads to blanket hatred of a whole group and dismissal of those among the settlers who may think differently – including potential partners for change. It leads us to believe that whacky religious fanatics are the main problem, when regular people – “quality of life” and “moderate” settlers – comprise far larger numbers. Regular, moderate politicians nurture them, and we regular citizens support those politicians.

In fact, the only real difference between an Israeli in the West Bank and one in Tel Aviv is that inside the Green Line we can close our eyes in order to not see the effects of occupation on Palestinians.

The problem is less about where I live, but how our Palestinian cousins live. Any Israeli who is not actively opposing the mechanisms that destroy Palestinian lives is complicit. In that sense, we are all settlers.

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    1. Bernie X

      Why add the mistaken killing of Mamoud Badran, to a list of cold-blooded, premeditated murders?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Because the killing of Badran was not simply “a mistake.” Because the murder of Ariel was not simply “cold-blooded.” Because the killing of Badran was cold-blooded and casual too. Because the murder of Ariel was hot-blooded, a crime of passion (political passion, anger, rage, etc.) to an uncomfortable degree you want to ignore. Because smug, deceitful half-truths are part and parcel of another “outrageous” hilltop,” not the left wing one Scheindlin writes about but the right wing one. We’ll call them Twin Peaks.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Heather

      What a crock of uneducated and unadulterated drivel!

      Reply to Comment
    3. Steve Benassi

      Close your Eyes… Now imagine 500 children killed Gaza in 2014… Now imagine they were Jews… Now open your Eyes

      Reply to Comment
    4. Cheema

      I have suspicion the more east you go Tel Aviv the less educated Israeli Jews become …to the point of where the “Settlers” may well have no formal qualifications.

      from the PhDs of Tel Aviv past the mediocrity of Jerusalem to the Settlers with zeros


      Reply to Comment
    5. jjj

      Missed the point.

      Hallel was intentionally murdered, just for being Jewish girl. She only happened to be 13, she could have been 5 years old, and it wouldn’t matter to the killer, he would have still stabbed her to death. This is the same as the Fogel family.
      Also, the mother (and understandably, quite a lot more) take pride in this action, and call for more.
      Not that this justifies the occupation. The occupation is there for the foreseeable future, and your rejection of it is based on some ideological idea which has no support on the ground:
      1. Who can replace Israel as the ruling authority in the west bank?
      The Palestinian Authority (which would become the state)?
      Probably not, as it opposes any settlement that does not allow the flooding of
      Israel with Palestinian refugees and their offsprings, thereby bringing it down.
      2. Hamas?
      It is in Gaze – it would rain terror and rockets – would only bring back Israel
      and this time for some more bloody war.

      Who then?

      I would gladly give east Jerusalem, and as an atheist, the wailing wall and the temple mount – couldn’t care less about them, if that would bring peace.
      Problem is it won’t, because it is still apparent that Palestinian leadership still rejects the notion of Israel on any part of the original Palestinian mandate.
      Would love to see Palestinian work in peace in their land or come to work in Israel as standard workforce, in all aspects of the economy (skilled or mass workforce, whatever). But still, the majority of the Palestinian organizations reject anything notion which leaves Israel on the map. So now the leaders build on the momentum of the notorious and obnoxious BDS movement, which practically calls to end Israel by means of boycott, only to provoke total conflict, since there is no way in which Israel can give in to those demands without the table turning to a overall conflicts. This is the mother of Trojan horses, more like a Trojan horse which hides a 2nd holocaust.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “Hallel was intentionally murdered, just for being Jewish”

        Not true. She was murdered for the occupation.

        “The Palestinian Authority…opposes any settlement that does not allow the flooding of Israel with Palestinian refugees and their offsprings, thereby bringing it down.”

        Not true. A mere propaganda talking point. It is no more true than saying that Israel forever will oppose any division of Jerusalem and any withdrawal of settlements. Both sides have starting positions or postures but in no way are these the end points of meaningful negotiations. Israel has never offered a fair deal a Palestinian leader could accept.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Ben

      Israel is forever playing the pure victim when it is constantly the aggressor. Sure this grievous murder is horrific. It’s horrendous. All the deaths in this conflict are terrible. But everyone is blaming only the 17-year-old who murdered the girl and apparently his mother too, and not the murder victim’s crazy mother and crazy leadership who put her there and told her that her presence there was only a pure good thing and no one ever taught her about the corruption and the cruelty of their being there, the daily grinding pain it inflicts on others. I don’t discount the terrible grief the mother is going through but she’s crazily entitled too, a kind of madwoman. Yes, I do blame the mother. I blame the terrible self righteousness the mother cloaks herself in, bragging to the dead attacker’s mother over her daughter’s body about how “I taught my daughter to love but YOU taught your son to hate!” Excuse me but what terrible self righteous twaddle. What bullshit. What delusion. But because she’s the heroic suffering Jewish mother no one will call her on it. What a meretricious, nasty spectacle. Bibi is trying to make this blond haired American girl a symbol of purity and innocence juxtaposed to dark “blood lust” and as usual with Bibi it is shot through with manipulation and dishonesty. But look, all this is beside the main point that Scheindlin, and Gad Yariv make well: “you are complicit no matter what you do, simply because you are an Israeli.”

      Reply to Comment
    7. ish yehudi

      i thought this piece was going to open the real issue– instead i found it opened in the comments- what Aktham Jarrar wrote. Israel is a settlement. Arafat was a traitor for compromising on the land of Palestine.
      To continue to feel good illusion that “over there is the issue” misses the key point that probably 90% of Palestinians will still deny any legitimacy to Israel being here. That is where the roots of this conflict sit. Yes the pressure cooker of suffering that is the current reality- keeps us occupied from looking deeper. But Dahlia- I thought you were really going to say it– to look the conflict in the eye and step out of the more accessible and convenient thinking that ’67 is the issue. This conflict is deeper than that.
      When I listen to Palestinians I see where the work is and what really needs to be done. When I here the Israeli left speak- i hear something different entirely.
      But your piece makes it seem like if every israeli would just work to end occupation we’d find peace. I know that’s the official line- but we’ve got to look and work deeper than that.
      that’s why initiatives like 2States 1 Homeland are real and important (even if they get dissed on this site by “true Lefties.”) And just like you can’t talk about reconciliation without addressing the politics, we won’t find politics without basic steps of reconciliation. Abu Mazen refusing to condemn? ya’Alla..
      if the international support for Palestine wouldn’t have convinced Palestinian CW that they’re gonna be able to force a state on the zionists, maybe we would have started looking each other in the eye by now.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Raja

      If I were on the other side I would say something heartless like, “by settling on another’s land with family, the settlers are using their children as ‘human shields'”. Or that “there will only be peace once Israelis – especially settlers – love their children more than they hate the Palestinians”. But I will not repeat the dumb, reactionary tactics that are commonly used to justify killing Palestinians. The murder of the settler girl is a terrible tragedy among many tragedies. She is yet another casualty of the occupation. May she rest in peace.

      Reply to Comment
      • Carole Anne

        I think I have seen this blog before–I would call it a left wing tabloid. It is just as bad as a right wing one. History, conflict, territorial conflicts are a lot more complicated than the simplistic, categorizing nature which is DISTORTION, of this review that has a clear cutted agenda: only their view is right, and ALL INDIVIDUALS are abstracts, symbols. Their only meaning is a part of a conflict for which the editors of this blog have only one standard, one view, one objective: basically to criminalize Israel, to forget history and to make the Palestinians solely victims. This is a pity.

        I suggest you all have a look at a very interesting, informative recent Israeli document called, ‘Zionism: A collision of Dreams’. And remember that a two state solution WAS proposed by the UN in 1948 and was not accepted by the Arab nations. It takes two to tango, and while I always wondered what would have happened had there not been WWII, that question is not really pertinent.I am going to stop now, because it all will be the same, anyway.

        Reply to Comment
    9. Ben

      Netanyahu approves 42 settlement units in Kiryat Arba. They were non-kosher a week ago but now they’re blessed. A 13-year old girl is sacrificed to the settlement god and that purifies 42 heretofore tainted settlement units, rendering them suddenly holy in the eyes of the Lord and the Israeli public. Thus are the sins expiated. God works in wondrous ways.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Jonathan Rakstin

      Netanyahu and his right wing enthusiasts are robbing decent Israelies of the opportunity of a secure homeland and peace. Supported politically by the religious zealots that keep his government in power. The Palestinians are pushed into the hands of terrorists because they have nothing else!! Murder is murder and nothing can justify it..

      Reply to Comment