The mentality of violence that propels Israeli society reflects a racist ideology pervasive in illegally built settlements and throughout Israel.
Seven-year-old Tariq Zabania from Al-Khalil (Hebron) was killed on the spot when an Israeli Jewish settler ran his car over him on July 15. Little Tariq’s photograph, lying face down on the road, was circulated on social media. His untimely death is heartbreaking.
Tariq’s innocent blood must not go in vain. For this to happen, we are morally obliged to understand the nature of Jewish settler violence, which cannot be viewed in isolation from the inherent racism in Israeli society as a whole.
We are all often guilty of perpetuating the myth that militant Jewish settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories are a different and distinct category from other Israelis who live beyond the so-called “Green Line”.
Undoubtedly, the violent mentality that propels Israeli society, wherever it is located, is not governed by imaginary lines but by a racist ideology, of which disciples can be found everywhere in Israel, not just in the illegal Jewish colonies of the West Bank.
Israel is a sick society and its ailment is not confined to the 1967 Occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
While Palestinians are imprisoned behind walls, fences, and enclosed regions, Israelis are a different kind of prisoners, too. “A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness,” wrote the late anti-Apartheid hero and long-time prisoner, Nelson Mandela.
It is this racism and bigotry that makes Tariq invisible to most Israelis. For most Israelis, Palestinian children do not exist as real human beings, deserving of a dignified life of freedom. This callousness is a defining quality, common among all sectors of Israeli society—right, left and center.
An example is the terrorist attack carried out by Jewish settlers against the Palestinian Dawabshe family in the village of Duma, in the northern West Bank in July 2015, resulting in the death of Riham and Sa’ed, along with their 18-months old son, Ali. The only member of the family spared that horrific death was Ahmad, 4, who was severely burned.
This cruelty was further accentuated in the episodes that followed this criminal incident. Later that year, Israeli wedding guests were caught on tape while dancing with knives, chanting in celebration of the death of the Palestinian baby.
Three years later, as the Dawabshe family members were leaving an Israeli court, accompanied by Arab parliamentarians, they were greeted by a crowd of Israelis chanting “Where is Ali? Ali’s dead” and “Ali’s on the grill”.
The passing of time only cemented Israelis’ hatred of a little child whose only crime was his Palestinian identity.
The only survivor, Ahmad, was punished thrice: when he lost his whole family; with his severe burns and when he was denied compensation. The then Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, simply resolved that the boy was not a “terror victim.” Case closed.
Although the Dawabshes were killed by Jewish settlers, the Israeli court, army and political system all conspired to ensure the protection of the killers from any accountability.
This was no different in the case of Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, who, on March 24, 2016, killed an unconscious Palestinian man in Hebron. In his defense, Azaria insisted that he was following army manual instructions in dealing with alleged attackers, while top Israeli government officials came out in droves to support him.
When Azaria was triumphantly released following only nine months in jail, he was hailed by many Israelis as a hero. Possibly, he will have a successful career in politics should he decide to pursue that route. In fact, he was courted by Israeli politicians to help them garner more votes in April’s general elections.
Condemning solely Jewish settlers while sparing the rest of Israeli society is equivalent to political whitewashing, one that presents Israel as a healthy society prior to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This view presents Jewish settlements as a cancerous disease that is eating up at the otherwise proud and noble achievements of early Zionists.
It is convenient to classify Jewish settlers as rightwing extremists and to link them with Israel’s ruling right-wing political parties. But history proves otherwise.
It was Israel’s Labor Party that created the settlement projects originally, soon after the colonization of the West Bank. Some of Israel’s largest, and most militant colonial enterprises, in occupied East Jerusalem—Ramat Eshkol, Gilo, Ramot and Armon Hanatziv—are all the creation of the Labor Party, not the Likud.
Neither is the ‘settler’ a new phenomenon. Historically, the early settlers who preceded the establishment of Israel in 1948 were idealized as true Zionists, celebrated as “cultural heroes”—the Jewish redeemers, who eventually ethnically cleansed historic Palestine from its native inhabitants.
“The original Labor movement,” wrote Amotz Asa-El in The Jerusalem Post, “never thought settling beyond the Green Line was illegal, much less immoral.” If there was any debate in Israel regarding settlements, it was never truly concerned with the issue of legitimacy or legality, but practicality: whether these colonial projects can be sustained or defended.
Protecting the settlements is now the overriding task of the Israeli occupation army. The Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, which monitors the conduct of the Israeli army and Jewish settlers in the West Bank, explained the nature of this relationship in a report published in November 2017.
“Israeli security forces not only allow settlers to harm Palestinians and their property as a matter of course—they often provide the perpetrators escort and back-up. In some cases, they even join in on the attack,” B’Tselem wrote.
Another Israeli organization, Yesh Din, concluded in a report published earlier that 85% of cases involving settler violence against Palestinians are never pursued by law. Of the remaining cases, only 1.9% led to conviction, which is likely to be inconsequential.
Jewish settler violence should not be analyzed separately from the violence meted out by the Israeli army but seen within the larger context of the violent Zionist ideology that governs Israeli society entirely.
This violence can only end with the end of the racist ideology that rationalizes murder, like that of little Tariq Zabania.