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The Left cannot ignore violence against Jews

Two recent incidents in Hebron illustrate the dangerous and wrongful manipulation of violence against civilians to advance political ideology. The Left is guilty too — and it must change.

Masked settlers in Hebron attacked a Palestinian man who was being detained by the Israeli army on Saturday. When a soldier tried to stop them, the Israeli settlers turned on him as well, before discharging pepper spray at the Palestinian.

Last Thursday in Hebron, five young ultra-Orthodox American yeshiva students driving towards the adjacent settlement of Kiryat Arba took a wrong turn into the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabel Johar. A gang of young Palestinians spotted them and attacked their car with stones, then set it on fire.

When I started writing this article, it was supposed to only be about the two violent incidents in Hebron. By the time I finished writing, another person had fallen victim to the conflict. Reham Dawabshe from Duma, near Nablus, became the third person to die of her wounds from a firebomb attack that incinerated her home, her husband and her toddler son.

The incident in Hebron could easily have mirrored the grisly scene in Duma. Instead, the five Jewish students were led out of the car by another young Palestinian who took them up a steep dirt alley. Another Palestinian man rushed them into his home to shelter them. The Jerusalem Post reported that he used one of the students’ phones to call the Israeli security authorities, who came to get the yeshiva students out about an hour later.

The close timing of these attacks creates a sense of helpless symmetry to the violence: Israelis and Palestinians kill or try to kill each other.

Yet that paralyzing sentiment too easily gives way to something worse: each side quickly exploiting the events to prove the evils of the other side.

It is troubling to me that the Left does this too. Even here on +972 Magazine, we reported the settler attack on Palestinians in Hebron, without mentioning the mob that nearly killed the Jewish students just a few days earlier.

The burned-out car of five American yeshiva students who were attacked in Hebron by Palestinian youths. (Screenshot)

The burned-out car of five American yeshiva students who were attacked in Hebron by Palestinian youths. (Screenshot)

The error comes from a mentality that political context is a trump card; that the violence is not symmetrical because (insert “your side”) is the victim.

Context is of course essential, and the political situation in Hebron is explosive: it is the most divided city between river and sea. Heavily protected Israeli settlers live in a section of the city called H2, which under an Oslo-era agreement fell under absolute control of the Israeli army. The Jewish settlement in H2 juts into the city of Hebron like a finger. On the other side, it is adjacent to the slightly more suburban settlement of Kiryat Arba, where settlers maintain a tomb for mass murderer Baruch Goldstein and place stones of honor on the grave as per Jewish tradition.

Most Palestinians in Hebron live just a few streets over in area called H1, the majority of the city, where Palestinian police are theoretically responsible for security but the Israeli army has complete freedom of movement and operation. Israeli soldiers regularly enter H1, the “Palestinian side” of the city, to make arrests, conduct raids and disperse protests. (See a map of the division of Hebron here.)

The most recognizable symbol of the city’s segregation, however, is Shuhada Street, the once thriving Palestinian main market street which today is open only to Israelis. The settlers are sometimes armed, while Palestinians are subject to a tight permit and inspection regime, with regular body frisking and army checkpoints they must pass through in order to move around their neighborhoods.

When I last visited in 2012, a sidewalk was separated for Israelis and Palestinians by a low concrete barrier.

Soldier frisks Palestinian man in Hebron.

Soldier frisks Palestinian man in Hebron.

File photo of an Israeli soldier speaks with an armed Israeli settler in the Old City of Hebron. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

File photo of an Israeli soldier speaks with an armed Israeli settler in the Old City of Hebron. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The neighborhood where the tourists were attacked, Jabal Johar, is just outside Kiryat Arba. As far back as 2001, Human Rights Watch reported ongoing settler attacks against Palestinians there. According to that report, “many of the Palestinians believe that the settler attacks are aimed at making life unbearable for them, forcing them to leave their homes, and allowing the settlement to expand.” It is unlikely that these assumptions have changed.

And nothing about this context justifies violence against civilians, ultra-Orthodox Jews or anyone else. The Palestinians who saved the American Jews knew that.

Interviewed on Israel’s Channel 2 news a few days later, Faiz Abu Hamdiyeh, the man who sheltered them in his home, said the act was absolutely natural and completely clear to him. He would have tried to fend off the thugs with a sword he keeps at home, even if it meant risking his life, he said.

Abu Hamdiyeh said he has faced threats and anger since Thursday. “’We’ll burn his house and cut off his head,’” he recalled to Channel 2, with a nervous chuckle.

To ignore, downplay or even explain away violence against Jews, which can happen on the Left, is completely misguided and does a disservice to all. Neglecting this story means foolishly ignoring Abu Hamdiyeh’s act of sheer heroism and personal risk.

Instead, we could be commiserating how both he and Israel’s president have received death threats for taking humanizing positions towards the so-called “other,” and we could be supporting one other.

The political circumstances and daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians are not equal but the humanity of civilians is. The universal wrong of harming them goes in all directions.

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    1. Simon Adebisi

      Dahlia, thank you for writing such an adult-like, meaningful post. Thank you.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      “The error comes from a mentality that political context is a trump card; that the violence is not symmetrical” and it is imperative that we take humanizing positions towards the so-called “other.” I completely agree, Ms. Scheindlin.

      Of course, violence is not just the stereotypical violence of the standard terrorist attack as reported in mainstream media. It is also the day in, day out violence of the occupation, mostly unreported and forever excused by the political context as trump card and via a pervasive subtext of dehumanizing the “other.”

      But, as well, listen to your language: “Tourists…civilians.” American yeshiva students are “touring” belligerently occupied Hebron? Like this is some Disneyland theme park, or Italy or the south of France in midsummer? Tourists? Really? Sailing along, given carte blanche, weaving in and out among “closed military zones” and floating checkpoints? And the locals who set upon them had some way of knowing these were “tourists”? The car had a “we are tourists from America and we come in peace” sign on it? And the aggressively dominating, harshly suppressing, heavily armed Hebron settler-lords, proxies for an illegally occupying army over 48 long years (just look at the picture you provide of the heavily armed settler and soldier, side by side)–these settler-lords are “civilians” as much as a dentist or store owner in Tel Aviv is? Really?

      Furthermore, as an exercise let’s turn it around to seek some perspective and “symmetry,” if you will. Suppose Palestinian Arabs were illegally occupying Rehovot (let’s say) for 48 years and behaved towards Rehovot’s Jewish residents like the Hebron settler-lords behave towards Hebron’s Arab residents. Who then among the Israelis would say:

      “Context is of course essential, and the political situation in Rehovot is explosive: it is the most divided city between river and sea . . . The most recognizable symbol of the city’s segregation, however, is Herzl Street, the once thriving Jewish main market street which today is open only to Palestinians. The Arab settlers are sometimes armed, while Jews are subject to a tight permit and inspection regime, with regular body frisking and army checkpoints they must pass through in order to move around their neighborhoods . . . To ignore, downplay or even explain away violence against Arabs, which can happen on the Right, is completely misguided and does a disservice to all . . . The political circumstances and daily lives of Palestinians and Israelis are not equal but the humanity of civilians is. The universal wrong of harming them goes in all directions…”?

      How would Israelis feel about a Palestinian writer who wrote this?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben, apologetics never ends. Everyone can point to wrong motivating some attack as legitimate. DS said “civilians” and “tourists”; I immediately knew that meant she was opening herself to charge by omitting IDF soldiers.

        If you ever want to see this conflict move in a new direction, both sides are going to have to put down their side’s accumulated righteous merit. This piece moves toward that in a very moderate way. When bullets fly everyone has a reason to hate.

        The Palestinian who intervened to protect the Orthodox students–is he then, if we are keeping ledger, a race or nation traitor? Has he not, through his instantaneous intervention–something I know I could not do–had impact on these students’ perceptions? Has he, who perhaps unlike you, has lived a life of discrimination, intimidation, humiliation, not shown us another kind of bravery?

        DS knows well better than I the structural violence of Hebron and the WB generally, Israeli Arabs in their lives aside, Gaza aside. What this Palestinian did in intervening is gift all of us a way out of the trap that violence places all in. No, the structure didn’t change. The sun rose on the same land next day. But he says through his act that we on the outside of that life should pause before presuming to impose our righteousness on them. If ever a path comes, its most important maker will be those living that life.

        If I take your Arab–Jew interpositions of paragraph seriously I must wait satisfied for her future silence in correction. But if the Israeli left ignores violence on Jews how do you ever think the general opinions of Israelis will change? They will take your very rewrite as evidence that nothing can ever change.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Hey thanks very much Greg, I’ll reply in full to your excellent post later.

          Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Greg, first of all thank you very much for your thoughtful reply. So rare around here and the kind of dialogue-entering-into that is needful.

          My pointing to “tourists and civilians” and my exercise in reversal would be ideally a *parenthetical* statement, and followed by the things you say, with a bridging statement such as “Yet, even if it is necessary to point these things out, still, this kind of exercise can amount to an apologetics for a continued cycle of violence if we do not recognize [the things said by Greg].” Greg, I think you *complete* the essay of DS. I agree that Abu Hamdiyeh and those like him on both sides show uncommon courage, are the true heroes, repaid with vilification and threats; and that their heroism needs to be recognized and held up as the ideal. But they are an *ideal* that most people won’t live up to (see below, re what is realistic in terms of the cycle of feelings and behavior). It occurs to me that by asking what it might feel like to Israelis if Rehovot were occupied I am, indirectly, underlining Hamdiyeh’s uncommon courage and nobility. In the end, your point about the endlessness of apologetics is well taken. As is your point about apologetics-transcending heroes like Hamdiyeh. I did not really see myself as performing an apologetics for one side so much as an exercise in empathy. Let me explain.

          I found myself when reading DS’s essay to begin to take apart the language used. I read in it a latent, privileged complacency. That I could read in DS of all people a strain of complacency is interesting. She’s among the least complacent of human beings. But take note of, for example, the exasperation between the lines of the response of poster ‘Eliza’ to the also supremely uncomplacent Michael Omer-Man today (on the four things he says Israel can do right now about refugees). The heart of the matter in DS’s essay is: “something worse: each side quickly exploiting the events to prove the evils of the other side.” But, Greg, when it come down to it the question that keeps rising to the surface is “Ok, but just who is occupying whom?” Again, just look at the picture DS provides of the heavily armed settler and soldier, side by side. My response to DS yesterday could be put as: “Well, just get out then, end this illegal 48-year occupation, finally, at long last, and then you won’t have to blend tourists and civilians and soldiers and talk so much about all the complexities of the need to avoid exploiting violence. The occupation is itself violence on a daily basis. Stop talking endlessly about it and just do it. End it. Then we can tackle the residual violence-makers with clarity and decisiveness and resolve, together. In other words, I suspect an ultimately futile, therapeutic attempt to change the feelings first with the expectation that behavior on a large scale will follow, when my intuition, learning, and experience tells me that the first thing you need to do is change the behavior on a large scale and the feelings of individuals will follow. Hold on, you will say: Hamdiyeh’s actions are behavior, not feelings. Hamdiyeh acted. His action is to be encouraged. But Hamdiyeh is a hero. Rare. Few in the current impasse on either side will ever muster his heroism. I suspect that heroism will first have to take place at the prime minister and president and opposition leader level not the grass roots level to really exact a difference that gets the behavior-feelings-behavior-feelings cycle moving in the right direction. And to me Netanyahu is an antihero, contending against a pathetic non-hero, Herzog. Abetted by the pathetic leaders on the other side to be sure. I’m skeptical at this point that if the Israeli left does not ignore violence on Jews, that if it pays more explicit attention to violence against Jews, that that will make a difference, that it will somehow change the general opinions of Israelis. One can argue very plausibly that that would do nothing more than stoke the mass of Israelis’ right-wing self righteousness all the more. (Does that not sum up the weak efforts of the invisible man, Isaac Herzog?)

          What? Israelis en masse would begin to say “those Palestinians they’re not so bad after all, by golly, let’s seriously move on plans to withdraw the settlements”? Absolutely nothing about the Israelis’ behavior over decades suggests they would begin to do anything of the sort. Much more likely is that they would respond by saying “What occupation? Oh…that. Well, I don’t know what’s going on over there much but it’s quiet, what’s the problem?, they’re there and we’re here, it’s peaceful, life’s good. (Or, we’ve got other more pressing problems.) Let’s go to the beach. And it’s too difficult, you see, because of x, y, z. Some day it will all work out. What’s the rush?” And seize on the occasional un-Hamdiyeh like action with renewed self-righteousness.

          I am skeptical that Israelis and Palestinians, left to themselves, in their current far gone state, no matter what the weak Israeli left wing does differently or more smartly or “even-handedly,” whatever, will be able to initiate decisive change without outside intervention in the form of boycott and such. The South African Afrikaners and black indigenes couldn’t do it. Why will the Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs be different? South Africa was then, and Israel is now, an apartheid system. I say that unapologetically and with out mincing words. It has become apartheid. South Africa was *an* example of apartheid, it is not the exclusive model of it, so pointing out the dissimilarities between Israel and South Africa does not negate the crucial similarities and the way that Israel meets the definition. I also don’t see how the dissimilarities point to a lack of a need for outside intervention.

          I encourage you to reply with the problems you see in my reply. Thanks.

          Reply to Comment
        • Simon Adebisi

          Greg, Nine shootings in ten days in your lovely hometown of PHX. That does not seem to concern you as much as what Jews are doing half-a-world away.
          What a pitiful human being you are

          Reply to Comment
    3. Weiss


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      • Simon Adebisi

        Weiss, STFU you miserable fascist.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Simon Adebisi

      After,writing such a brave article I am sad to see that your comment area was taken over by extremists. These are people never want Jews and Arabs to live in peace. These are people who only see violence as a means to solve problems.
      Please do not be discouraged regardless of how much heat you have to take from extremists.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        We’re all delighted you care so much, Adebisi. We’re touched. Have you shown how deeply you care by donating to +972 this month? And every month? +972 Editor in Chief Michael Omer-Man wrote today with (I am sure you’ll agree) wonderful news: In the five years since a small group of journalists pooled their own money to start +972 Magazine it has seen an astounding 100-percent increase in readers each year. Michael also noted that +972 Magazine is the only completely independent, non-profit, English-language outlet reporting from the ground in Israel and Palestine.

        Adebisi, you care. All of +972’s bloggers write on a volunteer basis. Will you do your part to support independent journalism? Will you make a tax deductible donation today? +972 depends on people like you. As Michael writes, behind the work is “the deeply held belief that, through our journalism, we can be part of the change our region needs: ending the occupation, ensuring freedom of speech and the press, and realizing equal rights for both Israelis and Palestinians.”

        Reply to Comment
    5. Jason Kidd


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