By Daniel Sokatch, International CEO of the New Israel Fund
These last few days have been terribly difficult ones in the West Bank. Events began on Sunday, when Israeli troops entered the Jenin refugee camp undercover, to arrest two militants who were planning, they said, an imminent attack on Israeli civilians. Palestinian militants ambushed them with roadside bombs, disabling several armored trucks with troops trapped inside. An Apache helicopter was flown in to rescue them. Six Palestinians were killed, including a 15-year old girl, and 91 people were injured.
And, as is so often the case, violence begets more violence.
In response, two Hamas-affiliated men entered a gas station outside of the settlement of Eli, and opened fire, killing four Jewish Israelis.
Our board member, Aaron David Miller was right when he wrote that these events should surprise no one. The pressure has been building for months in the West Bank with near-daily raids by the military into Palestinian cities. Meanwhile settlers act like the lords of the land with their politicians in power. Just this week, Finance Minister and settler leader Betzalel Smotrich was handed even more power: he is now the final approver for housing (read: settlement expansion) in the West Bank’s Area C. And on Wednesday he and Prime Minister Netanyahu approved the fast-tracking of 1,000 housing units in and around the settlement Eli—it was, they said, a direct response to the Israeli deaths the day before.
“A perfect storm is raging,” Aaron David Miller said. “The most extreme Israeli government; Hamas [and Islamic] Jihad-backed cells along with independent Palestinian groups in the West Bank all planning terror attacks. A bloody cul-de-sac with no way out.”
Over the next few days settlers descended–en masse and intent on revenge–on Arab villages in the northern West Bank. In efforts organized over WhatsApp, under the IDF’s nose, armed settlers entered Palestinian town (ten in all, according to Palestinian outlets) and burned whatever they could get their hands on—cars, homes, property. In Turmusayya, an armed settler killed a man. In Urif, after the pogrom was over, settlers cut the electricity for the entire village. These were pogroms in every sense of the word, the product of a long-standing culture of impunity that settlers have enjoyed for decades.
For those of us in the American Jewish community who dream of a safe, secure, peaceful Israel—it was a gutpunch, and a stark chilul hashem, a desecration of God’s name–or, if you prefer, a desecration of the sanctity of what it means to be human.
The villages now smolder with burned-out automobiles, smoke-stained buildings, mangled property, and traumatized people, old and young, who watched in terror as the settlers rampaged.
This kind of violence is something that we at NIF and our partners—especially Yesh Din, which has long defended Palestinian victims of settler violence in court—have stood against for decades.
And while we know that today the deck is stacked against justice, we won’t stop fighting for it tomorrow.
But we also know that now, the world is seeing what we’ve seen for a long time: that these pogroms cannot be chalked up to a few “bad apples” or “extremists.” Yes, they are carried out by some of the most ideological and determined settlers, but what is happening is far more serious than a handful of vigilantes destroying a couple of olive trees.
And the first thing we can do is talk about it. And that’s what’s happening. CNN just published an extremely thorough investigation of the Huwara pogrom from February. Their story, which used geolocation, verified video, and the testimony of a soldier, through NIFC-funded partner Breaking the Silence, who witnessed the events, showed how army vehicles were present throughout the pogrom in Huwara, and did nothing to prevent it. And, with the help of another NIFC-funded partner FakeReporter, it showed how the army could have easily found out what the settlers were planning. Indeed, they communicated openly about their plans in WhatsApp groups that included Members of Knesset.
There are reasons for hope.
There is hope in messaging from partners, like Standing Together, who state that another war will mean that we all lose—Arabs, Jews, those who live in Israel and those who live in the Palestinian territories. We need to find a way to live together. Because that is the fate of all those who live in the land. There is no escaping it. Not through forced ignorance, walls, or violent attempts to dispossess.
And our Director in Israel, Mickey Gitzin, explained it this way: Israelis—all Israelis—need to be able to say (and feel) that murder is murder, and that people are people.
It is our job to support those who are doing the good work: supporting those who have been harmed or marginalized, demanding accountability, and, ultimately, building democratic infrastructure so that one day Palestinians and Israelis will live together as equals.
Photo courtesy of Breaking the Silence