I write with a mixture of sadness and anger in response to Jewish fundamentalist murderers inflicting untold pain and anguish on innocent people. Romanian-French playwright Eugène Ionesco wrote in one of his plays: “Oh words, what crimes are committed in your name?” These are fitting words for events last week in Israel and the occupied West Bank.
In their pursuit of imposing their distorted version of Judaism, terrorists did not spare the life of either18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsheh in an arson attack, or of Shira Banki who was stabbed to death. Dawabsheh’s only crime was being Palestinian, Banki’s was participating in a gay parade in solidarity with her friends.
It capped a week in which Jewish settlers showed once again their contempt for the rule of law in Israel by violently opposing the demolition of two illegal housing structures in the settlement of Beit El.
One can only hope that the violent bigotry of last week will prompt some within Israel to vigorously reflect on the path that led to this low point in its historyYossi Mekelberg
These horrific attacks may have shocked many, but should have surprised very few. The seeds of Jewish terrorism were sown for many years, in an environment that permitted religious and nationalist terrorism to flourish. The expressions of shock by politicians from the entire political spectrum, including Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, were visible on their faces as much as in their condemnations.
However, equally shocking is their lack of understanding. These destructive elements, deliberately or unwittingly, have been nurtured by decades of government policies and pandering to the very elements in Israeli society that have no respect for the rule of law or the state itself. Settlers showed utter disrespect for the High Court of Justice and the Israeli army in the clashes at Beit El.
It beggars belief that Netanyahu responded by approving the building of a further 300 housing units in that same settlement. Can he not see the correlation between his decisions and settlers’ sense of controlling the Israeli political system? Is it a demonstration of his weakness, or is he intentionally using them to pursue his own agenda of rendering a two-state solution impossible?
Public events in Israel left its leaders with no choice but to admit that Jewish terrorism exists. It remains to be seen whether they can also accept that their behavior contributed to it, and embark on a genuine personal and public introspection. The entire society needs to reflect on its role of at least tolerating, if not supporting, policies and behavior that discriminate against minorities, as well as ongoing subordination of millions of Palestinians to an oppressive occupation.
According to Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, the arson attack on the Dawabsheh family was far from an isolated incident. Over the past three years, B’Tselem recorded nine incidents of Israeli civilians setting fire to Palestinian homes in the West Bank. There was a further instance of a Molotov cocktail being thrown at a Palestinian taxi and severely injuring its passengers. In none of these cases were charges pressed, which puts Israeli authorities under scrutiny in terms of their lack of commitment to bringing Jewish militants to justice.
The attempt to separate such events from the social discourse in Israel is disingenuous. These Israeli terrorists might well be a minority within the settlement movement, but they draw legitimacy for their actions from their religious and political leaders’ incitement against the rule of law whenever it disagrees with their ideology and interests. This population is the most privileged in Israeli society in terms of allotted resources and, in some cases, their exemption from civil and military duties.
There is no escaping the fact that the recent outbreak of violence is a direct consequence of a failing education system, abysmal leadership, deplorable social discourse, and above all the subjection of another nation to the whims of occupation.
Depriving millions of people of their basic civil, human and political rights, and daily humiliation by the security forces that represent the state, send a clear message that the lives of Palestinians are not as worthy as their Jewish counterparts.
In a society that permits the indefinite holding of people under detention with no trial, humiliates others at checkpoints and carries out collective punishments, one should not be surprised that for some it is a license to harm Palestinians simply because they are Palestinian.
Events last week should serve as a wakeup call for the entire Israeli society, though especially for the settler and ultra-Orthodox communities. If most of them believe that “God created humankind in his own image,” they must understand that burning people alive, setting fire to places of worship, or stabbing young people demonstrating for their rights, affronts the very same holy entity they claim to glorify.
It is also the state of Israel that is fighting for its character. Rivlin probably hit the right tone asserting in a demonstration in Jerusalem on Saturday: “More than feeling shame, I feel pain over the murder of a little baby. Pain that members of my nation chose this way of terror and lost their sense of humanity. Their path is not my path. Their path is not our path. Their path is not the path of the State of Israel and it is not the path of the Jewish people.”
Stating the obvious, he also admitted that Israel had been far too weak in the face of Jewish extremism. Unfortunately, he fails to acknowledge that opposing the creation of a Palestinian state, as he does, and supporting the perpetuation of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, through military force and the continuing expansion of Jewish settlements, directly contributes to the rise of these radical elements.
Jewish fundamentalism and ultra-nationalism in Israel are encouraged and abetted by the allocation of generous resources, exempting groups of them from any civil duties and venerating the settler movement as the true Zionist pioneers of our time. In some religious schools, the curriculum undermines the principles of citizenry in a modern liberal democracy, and conveys a sense of superiority over secular people and anyone who is not Jewish.
Racist incitement against Arabs can be heard in football stadiums, with no adequate response from the authorities. How can we expect a prime minister who incites against the entire Arab Israeli population in order to win elections, or a justice minister who believes the entire Palestinian population is the enemy, to protect Palestinian lives and rights? It is like allowing the fox to guard the henhouse.
One can only hope that the violent bigotry of last week will prompt some within Israel to vigorously reflect on the path that led to this low point in its history. Israel currently faces one of its fiercest reflection tests. The threat posed is not an external one, but arises from within, challenging its very existence not only as Jewish state, but what is left of its democratic and liberal character.
Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee. Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international media on a wide range of international issues and you can find him on Twitter @YMekelberg.