Saturday, October 17, 2009

The actions of criminal settlers in Israel cannot be allowed to define the Jewish people

NPR recently covered a story about the response of Jewish settlers on the West Bank to the Israeli army tearing down illegal “outpost” settlements, in response to court order (“Evicted Israeli settlers attack Palestinian land”). The settlers are, apparently, responding by burning down the olive groves and other property, belonging to nearby Palestinian farmers.

Let’s get this straight: Jewish settlers, in Palestinian territory, establish illegal “satellite” settlements in an absolutely purposeful aggressive gesture against their own government, the Palestinian people, and the rest of the world. Israeli courts declare them illegal, and send in Israeli security forces to tear them down. In response, the settlers destroy the property of nearby Palestinians. This they call the “price tag”.

So I waited, as they interviewed the Arab farmer whose groves were burned, the attorney who had brought the issue to the court, and a settler who asserted their right to act because the “Jews have a right to all this territory”. I waited to hear how the settlers who committed this atrocity, identified after an intensive police investigation, had been jailed and were awaiting trial.

Didn’t hear it. Did hear that the courts are now more reluctant to issue such orders. So they are not arresting and prosecuting the thugs who perpetrate these acts, but rather awarding them victory. This is not ok.

I was going to say that the settlers who destroyed the lands of their Arab neighbors were nothing more than common criminals, to be arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned. But they are more than common criminals. They are hate criminals. I do not know Israeli law, but in the US these would be clearly hate crimes, and treated much more harshly than common crimes.

The settlers, as a movement, are wrong, but this sort of tactic is execrable. These are bad people because they are doing bad things, very bad things, and the failure of the Israeli government to immediately, enthusiastically, and harshly punish this behavior is intolerable. These people, these bad people, give the Jewish people a bad name.

Jews, as a people, probably because of their own history of oppression, have always been in the forefront of progressive social movements. They are and have been very active in movements for social justice, including the civil rights movement in the United States, including the war against fascism (by some estimates 80% of US volunteers who fought with the Lincoln Battalion in Spain were Jewish). In South Africa, a very high proportion of the white participants in and leaders of the anti-apartheid movement were Jewish. Across the US and the world, where there are any Jews, they are disproportionately represented in fights for human rights. Even in Israel; while even progressive Jews in the US are reluctant to criticize Israel, in that country there are many who stand for human rights.

The perpetrators of these acts, and their supporters, are acting to reverse the Jewish people’s tradition of empathy and support for the oppressed, becoming oppressors themselves. Just as most Muslim people do not wish to be defined by Al Qaeda, these criminals cannot be permitted to define what it means to be Jewish. They are the Jewish Taliban, and deserve no support or sympathy.

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