Following a tense and violent week in which hundreds of Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian villages in the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria in response to incessant Palestinian terror, shortly after the end of the Shabbat, Israel’s army spokesman, the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Police joined in signing a statement condemning outbursts of anger. “In recent days, violent attacks have been carried out by Israelis in Judea and Samaria on innocent Palestinians. These attacks go against all moral and Jewish values. They constitute nationalist terrorism in every respect and we have an obligation to combat it,” the statement read. Of course, this sparked heated debate: Is Jewish terror even possible? Can one really compare the Jewish outburst of anger with Palestinian terrorism?
The right-wing settler and government minister Orit Strook slammed the chiefs of Israel’s security bodies: “Who do you think you are, the Wagner Group? How can you publish such a message on behalf of the government? Who are you that you preach morality to us? I, too, am against this behavior, but it is a shame that Israel’s security establishment calls it nationalist terror,” said Strook in remarks to Israel Radio. Another government minister, Israel Katz, agreed with his colleague, stressing that such violence cannot be compared to Palestinian terror, which deliberately murders Jews.
“The IDF, the Shin Bet and the Israel Police will continue to act decisively and use all means at our disposal to maintain security and the rule of law in Judea and Samaria. The Shin Bet will carry out an increased number of arrests, including administrative arrests, of (Jewish) rioters,” the statement continued. On the right, the collective punishment of settlers is heavily criticized and administrative arrests are opposed, while on the left, politicians were in favor of defining Jewish settler violence as terrorism.
After the bloody terrorist attack near the Jewish settlement of Eli in which four Israelis were shot dead, about 200 settlers set fire to shops and cars in several Palestinian villages last week. Several Palestinians were injured, and olive groves and livestock went up in smoke. Later that night, the Palestinians retaliated, throwing stones and opening fire on settlers and Israeli security forces. The IDF announced that it would send more troops to the area. Settlers rioted in the Palestinian village of Turmus Ayya, torching homes, businesses and vehicles. The riots continued in other villages on Saturday, such as in Umm Safa.
In addition to worldwide criticism, including from the ambassadors of the US, Germany, the EU, the UAE, the Palestinian Authority and many others, some Israeli opposition politicians also took a stand, above all opposition leader Yair Lapid, who called for an iron fist against the “Jewish terrorists.”
Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism) warned against making any comparison between Arab and Jewish violence:
“To equate murderous Arab terrorism with acts by Jewish civilians, however serious, is morally wrong and practically dangerous. Administrative arrests of Jewish settlers are draconian and undemocratic. The fact that they are used only against the settlers in Judea and Samaria and not against other violent groups in the State of Israel constitutes serious discrimination.”
His right-wing religious colleague Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir joined Smotrich in denouncing the collective punishment of Jewish settlers, noting that such measures were not used against the Druze unrest in the Golan Heights or when riots broke out among the Bedouin population in the Negev.
“There is a threat of a Druze intifada on the Golan Heights, and the gatekeepers are capitulating. Criminal gangs in the Arab sector form militias, the gatekeepers capitulate and do not allow administrative arrests. Israeli leftists protest and set fire to Ayalon Highway, gatekeepers applaud. But as soon as Jewish settlers are involved, collective punishment is imposed and administrative arrests are made. This is what selective politics looks like.”
Of course, there have been cases, but only a few, very few, of Jews murdering Palestinians out of hatred, and this is more like Jewish terror. But what happened in the country last week is not the same. The outbursts of anger by Jewish settlers in the Palestinian villages shouldn’t happen because no matter how you interpret it politically or biblically, it never looks good in the media. For the foreign media, this is a godsend.
From a Jewish point of view, revenge is not a sin biblically. Christians tend to see it a bit differently. Of course, in modern times and in a state of law and order like Israel, revenge must not be taken independently. It is true that the Jewish settlers stormed into the Palestinian villages in order to damage the Palestinians’ property, setting houses and cars on fire. None of them entered the villages with machine guns and intended to shoot Palestinian civilians, as is the intention of the Palestinian terrorists. Nevertheless, the Jewish settlers’ outburst of anger must not be justified. Still, if inside Israel these acts are being defined as Jewish terror, that only serves to bolster unfair international criticism of Israel. It’s like scoring an own goal, but that’s quite typical of Israel.
As the Israeli government is a right-wing coalition and wants to reassure its voters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that his coalition would authorize the construction of thousands of new Jewish homes in the biblical heartland. That reassures his voters and makes the West uneasy. Whether it actually comes to construction afterwards is another topic. Usually, it never materializes.
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