The Itamar murders and after
More on the Italar murders – and their abuse
(see earlier posting Outburst of racist hate following settlement murders)
Jeremiah Haber, 13 March 2011
There is a well-known midrash that Pharoah, at the time of the enslavement of Israel, would bathe in the blood of Israelite children to cure himself of leprosy. The image is foul and disgusting, but it does teach us that people do foul and disgusting things to further their selfish aims. A leper is an outcast from society — but can outcasts purify themselves by such foul methods? I am reminded of that midrash when I read that the government of Israel has decided to improve its standing in the world by distributing gruesome photos of the Itamar murders to win some hasbara points. What do these murders, as condemnable as they are, say about the fundamental situation on the ground that we didn’t know already? At the height of the Second Intifada, I was sent emails containing gruesome pictures of Arab children who were butchered by Israeli bombs, and others containing gruesome pictures of Israeli Jewish children who were blown up by Arab suicide bombers. I made a collection of both pictures, and sent them to both groups of people – with the request to stop using these horrible incidents to win political points. The funeral of the Fogel family members, which was covered live, on the radio, was replete with speeches demonizing Palestinians (not just the group that carried out the murders) and calling for the appropriate Zionist response, the code-word for settlement, which itself is a form of terrorism. One speech, however, took a different tack – it was delivered by Motti Fogel, the brother of Udi Fogel, who was murdered:
Motti Fogel, brother of Udi Fogel, eulogized his younger brother but warned that his death cannot be used as a tool in a national struggle. “All of the slogans we hear are trying to efface the simple fact that you’re dead, and nothing can efface that. This funeral has to be a private affair,” Fogel said, adding: “A man dies to himself, to his children. Udi, you are no a national event. You’re horrible death mustn’t make your life into a tool.”
There is no symmetry between the Palestinians, the occupied, and the Israelis, the occupiers. Now that the “price tag” revenge actions have commenced, those charged with defending the Palestinians — the Israel Defense Forces — are incapable of doing their duty. Here, too, is another dishonoring of the memory of the Fogel family. Demonization dishonors; revenge killings and destruction of property dishonor; making political and hasbara hay dishonors; building settlements on Palestinian land dishonors. I wasn’t happy when I got gruesome pictures; I certainly am not happy when Israel dances on the blood, to use the Hebrew expression, in order to win points and to provide cover for building settlements. That is to be condemned especially because it is the work of the government. And one final word….when I was growing up, I was taught that what was particularly horrific about the Nazi extermination of the Jews was its cold, methodical, bureaucratic approach. The Jews were not even considered worthy to be killed out of hatred or passion; they were just bugs to be exterminated. Now, I am being told that brutally killing a baby by knife is more barbaric than bombing houses with civilians, where the killing is not deliberate (excuse me, does the IDF drop bombs accidentally?) Both claims are morally irrelevant. This kind of moral one-upmanship is repulsive. The bottom line: We kill their civilians and they kill ours. There are, however, two fundamental differences. First, we kill a lot more of theirs than they do of ours. And second, only one people subjugates another. I divide my moral universe into those who condemn the killing of civilians – whomever they may be – and those who don’t, whoever they may be. And those who condemn the subjugation of one people by another. And please read Yossi Gurevitz’s post here.
Sunday, March 13 2011|Yossi Gurvitz
Why I fail to be impressed by the wails emanating from the religious right, in four points
The strange call for denunciation: My colleague, Dimi Reider, wrote a sensitive post, calling upon leftist activists to denounce the massacre in Itamar. A list of leftist organizations – from Peace Now to Rabbis for Human Rights – have already done so, as did the Bil’in Popular Committee against the Wall.
I must say I find this demand strange. It plays straight into the hands of the right-wingers who say the leftists are responsible for the Palestinian struggle; it dances awkwardly with Ariel’s mayor Ron Nachman’s mad waltz on the blood, in which he demanded the left be investigated for its alleged participation in the massacre. As if someone has to earnestly explain he objects to the slaughtering of infants; as if you have to explain you truly support a heavy punishment for the perpetrators, assuming they are caught and legally convicted. A denunciation is, in its way, participation in the all-too-Israeli orgy of victimization we’ve seen since yesterday morning, and your role is that of the demon who has seen the light and begs for forgiveness. No, thanks. Not from the settlers.
The Beasts: When I woke up yesterday morning and read about the massacre, there already were reports about settlers’ reprisals, pogroms which the IDF, as usual, did not stop. Were one to use the IDF’s logic, all of the settlements should be have been put under curfew as soon as the massacre took place, to prevent acts of vengeance: After all, after Baruch Goldstein carried out his massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs, the IDF put the Palestinians under curfew, precisely for this reason. The IDF proved, once more, it either incapable or unwilling to defend the majority of the residents of the West Bank, contrary to its duty under international law.
The leaders of the settlers went into a seizure, challenging each other to be more ruthless (Hebrew). The prize goes, as usual, to the representative of Kahane and Rabbi Wolfa in the Knesset, Michael Ben Ari: “I call upon the government to carry out a ‘price tag’ [euphemism for pogrom – YG] and expel the residents of the village from which the murderers emerged, and to demolish the village and build in its place apartments for young couples of army veterans.” In short, Ben Ari wants a Lidice-like collective punishment. MK Zevulun Orlev, supposedly more moderate then Ben Ari, blamed the government for the massacre – the usual tactic of the settlers, from the 1970s onwards – and also demanded a ‘price tag’ operation.
The government rushed last night, several hours after the end of the Sabbath, to accept those settler demands, and announced it will build 500 new housing units in the settlements. This wasn’t enough for Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who demanded the price (the price tag?) to be “a thousand apartments per child.”
We’ve heard much about the bottomless monstrosity of the Palestinians who carried out the terrorist attack. What shall we say, then, of the humanity of people who measure the lives of children in acres and real estate? A teenage girl is good enough for a three-room apartment, but an infant – that’ll cost you a whole villa. And, again: This isn’t new. This is how the settlers have operated for decades. Every body is, as far as they are concerned, the equivalent of real estate. They used to call it “a proper Zionist response”: Perhaps a better name would be “construction for cadavers.”
What can you say about a public that moves so speedily from mourning to organized violence to the demand of ransom? I lived in Greater Tel Aviv when it was the preferred target for suicide bombers. Twice, all that stood between me and death was a delay of ten minutes. I never even considered the idea of grabbing the nearest Palestinian, burning his property, or beating him up. And most Israelis were just like me. We took the attacks on the chin, gritted our teeth, and kept ourselves from whining. The settlers, on the other hands, have gone native. It used to be Palestinians who brandished bloodied Israeli bodies; now it’s the settlers who do so. Things being what they are, I have a hard time accepting their demands that I join them in mourning. So sorry, you have besmirched it – and in record time.
Demons: The Israeli media preferred treating the murderers of the Fogel family as human-shaped monsters. The record was broken by Gilad Sharon, the shady son of the former prime minister, writing in Yediot. According to Sharon (Hebrew), “You can put a mask on the Palestinian wild beast, such as a speaker who speaks fluent English. You can put it in a three-piece suit and a silk tie. But once in a while – when the moon is born, when a raven defecates on the head of a howling jackal, or when the pita-bread with za’atar (hyssop) has gone wrong, the beast feels this is its night, and out of a primal instinct it goes ambushing its prey.” And to think that Netanyahu has the gall to speak of “Palestinian incitement.” President Peres brayed that “this is an act showing the lack of humanity, and no religion or faith in the world allows such acts of horror.” Peres apparently has not read the new bestseller in the settlements, “Torat Hamelech,” which not only allows those acts of horror but actively promotes them, according to the teaching that the commandment ‘though shalt not murder’ applies only to a Jew who murders a Jew.
There are, of course, no two-legged beasts; there only humans, and most of them can rationalize just about anything. The person who popularized the term “two legged beasts” in Hebrew was Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who dispatched the Israeli air force to bomb Beirut indiscriminately. The Lebanon War of 1982 cost the Lebanese no less than 17,000 dead (this number does not include the number of Palestinian and Syrian fighters killed, estimated at 9,798). The total sum of Israeli dead from terrorism since the creation of Israel did not, at that time, exceed 500. Begin, one of the more decent prime ministers we’ve had, had no qualms at killing 34 Lebanese civilians for each Israeli dead.
Hold on! How dare you compare the two? Is there any Israeli, who would kill a Palestinian child? Of course there is: You only need a bit of memory. The Bat ‘Ayin Underground (Hebrew) tried to activate a cart bomb next to a Palestinian girls’ school. Its members were acquitted of the killing of eight other Palestinians, one of them a child (then who did kill them? the case were never closed). Two of the Bat ‘Ayin conspirators were sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment, another was sentenced to eight years, and two others received two years’ imprisonment each. The security coordinator of the Hadar Beitar settlement, Nahum Korman, was convicted of the killing of a 10 year-old Palestinian child, Hilmi Shusha, after hitting him on the head with the butt of his pistol. Korman was sentenced to six months of community service (!). Pinchas Wallerstein, one of the mainstays of the settler movement, chased a Palestinian boy, Rabbah Rhanem Ahmed, whom he claimed threw stones at his car, and shot him dead. Naturally – Wallerstein is a Jew and a settler – he was not charged with murder, but with manslaughter, was convicted of wrongful causing of death, and atoned for his actions with a mere four months of community service.
Korman and Wallerstein, and to a lesser extent the men of the Bat ‘Ayin group, were embraced by their communities. Turns out that if you’re a Jew who shoots a Palestinian child in the back, or bashes his head in with a pistol, or just try to blow him to kingdom come with his classmates, you’re not a two-legged beast; you’re a pillar of the community.
Such are the joys: It’s not easy to remember the last time Binyamin Netanyahu danced such a jig on spilled blood. I think it was after the attack on the number five bus in Tel Aviv, during the Rabin government. Then, Netanyahu blamed the government for the attack. Naturally, that’s not how he spins it today.
Netanyahu has finally found his excuse to stall forever, and he’s going to squeeze this lemon for all it’s worth. Now he can avoid the hated duty of yet another hollow policy speech. There was a massacre! We’re saved! Once more Israel proves it is a peace refusenik: If there are no terror attacks, there’s no reason to speak to the Palestinians; if there are any, of course, we surely can’t talk to them.
There is only one viable way to end the conflict: Non-violent Palestinian resistance. It drives Israel crazy.
Settlers Blame Left For Itamar Murders
Creating a Culture of Incitement That Leads To an Attack, They Say
Nathan Jeffay, published March 16, 2011, issue of March 25, 2011.
Tel Aviv — Some tragedies lead to nations pulling together. But in Israel, the March 11 terrorist attack that left five Israelis, including three children, dead in their home in the West Bank settlement of Itamar has led to bitter sectarian arguments.
In a controversy reminiscent of the aftermath of Yitzhak Rabin’s murder, when the Israeli left blamed the right for its incitement against Rabin, the right is furious with the left, charging it with causing incitement against settlers.
Though numerous dovish groups have issued condemnations of the attack, settler leaders on the right say the issue goes deeper. They are blaming the left for creating an atmosphere in which Palestinians consider their constituency fair game for attacks.
“There is a direct link between domestic incitement and the murder,” Ron Nachman, mayor of Ariel, one of the largest settlements, told Israeli journalists in Itamar on March 12.
He called on the government to “probe all the bleeding hearts that delegitimize the residents living here,” saying: “Where are the human rights defenders? I demand to investigate the correlation between their statements and this heinous murder.”
Naftali Bennett, CEO of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the main settler umbrella organization, told the Forward that some leftist groups “constantly demonize Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.” Bennett argued: “If you constantly portray settlers as conquerors, murderers, olive tree choppers, and go on and on with this kind of dehumanization, it creates the kind of culture that led to this attack.”
Groups opposed to the settlements have criticized them for expropriating Palestinian land and taking a disproportionate share of the West Bank’s water rights. Like almost all countries in the world, they regard the settlements as illegal under international law. The groups have also condemned militant settlers for uprooting Palestinian-owned olive groves, and for violence against the Palestinians themselves.
But left wing groups say their narrative draws clear lines between these condemnations and justifying harm against settlers. “To us it’s very clear. Settlers, in spite of the illegality of settlements, are civilians and mustn’t be attacked under any circumstances,” said Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman for B’Tselem-The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. She added: “Human rights aren’t a prize for good behavior — they apply to people whatever they have done.”
But many settlers claim that this distinction doesn’t wash. They dismiss the numerous condemnations of the attack from left-wing groups as disingenuous. “Even if they say, ‘We are sorry,’ and, ‘The murder was a terrible thing,’ they don’t mean it,” Daniella Weiss, former mayor of Kedumim in the West Bank and an icon of hard-line settlers, told the Forward.
She reasoned that while “nobody wants to see this,” as far as these groups are concerned, “it doesn’t touch them deeply, because we, the settlers, have come to this territory in a wrong manner, and the fact that we are here is causing problems in the country, the region, the world, and we are being punished.”
Despite the right-left tension following the attack, the two ends of the political spectrum have found themselves coming to the same conclusion about who must bear a large part of the blame for the West Bank’s ripeness for violence: the government, as a result of its policies there.
“Let’s not be naive. Of course one has to relate to the attack in the context of the occupation,” said Dror Etkes, a renowned left-wing activist who has held senior positions in Peace Now and Yesh Din, and who today helps Palestinians sue Israel in land claims. “If not for the occupation, there would not be families there and there would not be kids there.” The occupation must be seen as “one of the conditions that creates this kind of behavior,” he added.
Former lawmaker Uri Avnery, who leads the Gush Shalom movement, said that “without settlements, there would have been peace decades ago,” preventing such attacks. He views the attack as part of a “vicious circle” in which,“like [in] any war, each side kills the other.”
Peace Now’s general secretary, Yariv Oppenheimer, said: “I think the only way to make sure that such actions are avoided is making a peace agreement and solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It will remove the motivation and [Palestinian terrorists’] claim of legitimacy.” All three activists stressed their condemnation of the attack.
As far as settlers are concerned, the message that the left draws from the attack defies logic. “People think that despair leads people to this. In fact, it’s the opposite,” Bennett argued. “It’s the hope of a Palestinian state in the Land of Israel, to wipe us out, [that] fuels terrorism.” In his analysis, attacks are part of Palestinian agitation for statehood and would not take place if Israel took the two-state solution off the table.
Some on the right point to an even more direct causal relationship between Israeli policy and the attack.
One of the Knesset’s most enthusiastic advocates for the settlements, Danny Danon of Likud, released a statement March 12, saying that the attack “is the result of Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s lax security policies in Judea and Samaria.”
Referring to Israel’s decision to scale back roadblocks in recent months and to its security coordination with the Palestinian Authority, which lately has been thriving, he argued: “It is the irresponsible removal of checkpoints and the abdication of our security needs to the Palestinian Authority that has led to a situation where an innocent family was brutally slaughtered in their own home. Barak should be concentrating on protecting the citizens of Israel and not pressuring Prime Minister Netanyahu into ill-advised ‘peace’ plans.”
As well as both sides blaming the government for an atmosphere in the West Bank that is conducive to violence, left and right have surprisingly found common ground on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the Itamar attack. As expected, left-wing groups have reacted angrily to his decision to approve 500 new units in the settlements — but so have settlers, albeit for opposite reasons.
“It is a feeble and weak response,” Bennett told the Forward.
He reasoned, “The notion that you need a family to be murdered in order to build for a few hundred families in your own country is a disgrace.”
Meanwhile reaction to aspects of Netanyahu’s response aimed at the international community is unlikely to have the desired effect, according to analysts.
Like many experts, Shlomo Brom, director of the Program on Israel-Palestinian Relations at the Institute for National Security Studies, believes that Netanyahu’s unusual step of releasing graphic photographs of the victims is part of an effort to use the attack to ease international pressure on him. That pressure has been building since last November, when Netanyahu rejected entreaties from the United States for a 90-day renewal of Israel’s freeze on West Bank settlement expansion as a gesture to draw the Palestinians back to peace talks over the territory’s fate. An April meeting of the international Quartet — a group consisting of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union — to review progress toward peace is expected to produce renewed criticism of Israel.
In the view of Brom, a retired brigadier general, Netanyahu hopes that the attack will make the Quartet members more respectful of his security concerns, especially his desire to have Israeli troops stationed in the Jordan Valley. “He thinks that this [attack] will help his demand, but I doubt it will,” Brom said. “People in the international community are very aware of the security situation in the area, and see Netanyahu’s positions as very exaggerated.”