By Richard Edmondson
Since acts of vandalism by racist Israelis have been in the news this week, I thought it would be worthwhile to supply some context and background on the issue…
Last year the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department (NAD) published a report entitled “Settler Violence and Israeli Incitement: A Culture of Hate,” offering a detailed look at this rising phenomenon through text, photos, and statistics. The occurrences earlier this week—the desecration of a Christian cemetery and the vandalism, including torching, of a number of cars owned by Palestinians (see here and here )—need to be viewed in light of what is in essence a rapidly-growing problem, one exacerbated by official inaction when incidents like this occur or are reported. Here is a quote from the report:
In 2011, settler violence, that is to say attacks by Israelis living illegally in the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem), against Palestinian communities rose by 39% from the previous year. Since 2007, incidents of settler violence have risen by a staggering 315%.
This upward trend in terrorism forms part of a wider culture of discrimination and hate, which is cultivated, mainly, by the actions of the Israeli government in endorsing discrimination, and its creation of a culture of impunity among settlers brought on by its systematic inaction and failure to hold perpetrators of anti-Palestinian hate crimes accountable. Meanwhile, Israeli occupation forces, who have a duty to protect Palestinians under the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention Relevant to the Protection of Civilians in Times of War (Fourth Geneva Convention), are also widely known to be complicit in settler attacks, most often through deliberate unwillingness to suppress acts of terrorism against Palestinian civilians, property, and places of worship, as well as their failure to see that settlers are tried and punished for their crimes.
The report also offers quotes from Palestinians who have fallen prey to settler attacks, including Odai S., a 12-year-old Palestinian boy whose family was attacked by settlers in April of 2012.
“At around 1:00 pm, I saw six men approaching us. They were carrying sticks and their faces were covered. I stayed where I was and didn’t feel scared because I didn’t know they were settlers. When they were about 20 metres away, they started throwing stones at us. Four of them attacked my father, and the other two attacked me and my brother. I felt terrified. Hammam started screaming and shivering. He was also terrified.”
Odai’s statement is drawn from a report at Defense of Children International-Palestine. The incident he described took place on April 21, 2012 near Hebron.
Today there are more than half a million settlers living in the OPT, many of them having been induced to move there by economic incentives provided by the Israeli government. Let me say that again: the Israeli government, which claims to want “peace” with the Palestinians, has been providing its citizens with economic incentives to move into and settle upon the very land Palestinians would need if they are ever to have a state of their own separate and independent from Israel.
For starters, settlers enjoy up to a 50% discount on public transportation fares. Also, in May of 2012, the Israeli Knesset passed a law providing a 35% tax break to those individuals donating to non-governmental organizations supporting the settler enterprise. But perhaps the greatest incentive of all is cheaper housing. The report cites as an example the northern West Bank settlement of Ariel, where four bedroom apartments go for under NIS 1 million ($255,000), whereas in Petach Tikva, located just across the green line, comparable residential dwellings can cost twice that. Hardly surprising then that according to a Peace Now survey, mentioned in the NAD report, 77% of Israeli settlers moved to the illegal settlements primarily for economic reasons.
The report also discusses the so-called “price tag policy,” in which settlers carry out attacks supposedly in response to unpopular government decisions, but the report calls this a “myth” and a “twisted narrative,” one designed to convey the impression “that the settlers and the Israeli state are facing off against each other.” The reality, it says, is quite the opposite, with the Israeli state perpetuating the attacks by means of an “overwhelming” failure to confront the settlers or to provide protection for Palestinians. Speaking of the price tag attacks, one settler described them as a display of “good citizenship” designed to “help the police enforce the planning and building laws in the area on Palestinians.”
In addition to the government’s laissez faire policy toward such crimes, Israeli settlers, many of them openly and avowedly racist, often actually receive government funding. The report discusses the Odyosefhai Rabbinical College in the Yitzhar settlement, “which receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Israeli Ministries of Welfare and Social Services and Ministry of Education.”
On its website, the college praises the so-called ‘hilltop youth,’ who have carried out hundreds of terrorist attacks against Palestinian villages, including arson attacks against mosques.
The Hilltop Youth group apparently was involved in one of the episodes earlier this week—the attack upon the Christian cemetery in which attackers smashed headstones by hurling concrete blocks at them. A Jerusalem Post article quotes an Israeli police official on the matter:
“Two of the men are known Hilltop Youth activists,” Rosenfeld said, referring to a fringe group of Jewish settlers suspected by Israeli authorities of vandalizing several mosques and monasteries in the past few years.
But how “fringe” really is the group? Perhaps the NAD report gives us a clue:
During the Israeli celebration of “Jerusalem Day” in June 2012, 50,000 Jewish Israelis marched in occupied East Jerusalem with large groups of religious boys chanting, “Death to Arabs!” and, “Revenge on Palestine!” while catcalling and applauding each time the Israeli police removed an Arab demonstrator. Others celebrated by standing in front of a mosque shouting “Death to Arabs;” “Muhammad is dead;” and “Butcher the Arabs.” The Israeli police, who were present, made no attempt to stop these racist chants.
Interestingly, the Odyosefhai Rabbinical College, which praises the Hilltop Youth group on its website, is headed by Rabbis Yitzhak Ginzburg and Yitzhak Shapira, both of whom “have published books and pamphlets advocating the killing of non-Jews,” according to the report. You may actually have heard of Shapira. He is the author of the 2009 book Torat Hemlekh, or The King’s Torah, which, among other things, justifies the killing of non-Jewish children.
“There is justification in harming [non-Jewish] infants if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us. Under such circumstances the blow can be directed at them and not only by targeting adults,” Shapira writes in that book.
According to the NAD report:
In February 2011, the rabbi was investigated for incitement to racism and violence because of statements made in the ‘King’s Torah’ book. He refused to be questioned. In May 2012, the Israeli attorney general announced he would drop the investigation due to lack of evidence…
In January 2010, Shapira was suspected in participating in an arson attack against a mosque in the town of Yasuf. After setting the mosque on fire, the attackers spray-painted anti-Arab slogans on the floor. He was released without charge.
Also mentioned in the report is the illustrious Rabbi Dov Lior. A rabid Zionist, Lior is chief rabbi of Hebron who also heads the Nirhesder yeshiva program. That program combines advanced Talmudic studies with military service and also receives “generous funding from the state” as the report puts it.
Lior’s racist attitudes are shockingly extreme. In December 2011, he said Jewish women should not get pregnant using donated sperm from non-Jews because their babies would have “negative genetic traits that characterize non-Jews,” warning that the offspring would have “traits of cruelty and barbarism.”
Lior, perhaps not surprisingly, endorsed the book, The King’s Torah, and for doing so suffered the minor inconvenience of being “briefly detained for questioning,” this taking place in June of 2011. But the reaction amongst the Israeli public was swift.
Right-wing activists in Israel, including his students and supporters, rioted and blocked roads, while Knesset members and officials, including 25 members of the ruling coalition, decried the arrest. The brief detention even prompted threats of revenge from Israeli settlers and supporter (sic) of Lior. Since that arrest, Lior has not been questioned again. He continues to serve in his official capacities and receive government funding.
Needless to say, all of this does not reflect well on America or its funding of Israel to the tune of some $3 billion or more annually. But be that as it may, on Monday of this week, just as Palestinians were inspecting the violence done to their torched and destroyed motor vehicles, Vice President Joe Biden unbosomed one of those characteristic declarations of undying love for the Jewish state for which he has become famous.
“America’s support for Israel’s security is unshakeable, period, period, period,” Biden said at a J Street conference in Washington. “The president and I are absolutely devoted to the survival of Israel.”
The full NAD report in PDF format can be downloaded here.