Instead of protesting term 'settler violence,' just stop the violence - opinion

The phrase "settler violence" can only be retired if the violence is ended.

IDF soldier stops Israeli settlers from beating Palestinian in Hebron, June 12, 2020 (photo credit: SCREENSHOT HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS)
IDF soldier stops Israeli settlers from beating Palestinian in Hebron, June 12, 2020
(photo credit: SCREENSHOT HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS)

I have noticed, from indignant letters to the editor to demagogic howls in the Knesset, that the term “settler violence” is very triggering – to speak politically correctspeak. Using the phrase essentially invites the far Right to abuse you.

I humbly offer a simple solution. To retire the phrase, stop the violence!

This twisted protest reflects a massive moral misfire. These activists target the adjective “settler.” They find it too categorical, demonizing everyone who lives over the Green Line. They are protesting the wrong word. I hate the noun. I am furious at the violence directed at innocent Palestinians and cannot understand why our government cannot quash it. And I am equally furious when some of that violence spills over and hurts Israeli soldiers or police officers who are simply doing their job to keep public order.

I love the Jewish people. I feel a deep mystical connection to individual Jews as well as to our ongoing eternal enterprise. I am proud of the Jewish state. Defending it when necessary, and celebrating it always, is one of my most central and most satisfying life-missions. And I literally wrote the book Why I am a Zionist.

My pride and intense patriotism in our ethically oriented people and Jewish-democratic state is what leaves me so intensely ashamed. I am appalled by the crimes, by the government’s cowardly passivity, and by this morally tone-deaf reaction. Because I identify so intensely with my people and my state, being on the wrong side of this story embarrasses me.

 Palestinians extinguish a fire in a field around the village of Burin, south of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, after Israeli settlers from the settlement of Yitzhar set it ablaze, according to eyewitnesses from the village council, Jun. 29, 2021.  (credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP) Palestinians extinguish a fire in a field around the village of Burin, south of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, after Israeli settlers from the settlement of Yitzhar set it ablaze, according to eyewitnesses from the village council, Jun. 29, 2021. (credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

When I hear, from the activist-angels at Tag Meir, about Raed Haraz’s ongoing medical plight, I am appalled. On November 24, a fusillade of stones or iron rods from a car with Israeli license plates cost him an eye and sent him into a five-week coma. The police investigation seems stalled, and this case of “let’s just call it ‘violence’” has not even yet been classified as terrorism, condemning him and his family to medical, bureaucratic and financial hell.

When I read about Ode Kaid al-Deek, victimized just last week by let’s just call it a “riot” in the village of Huwara, my heart breaks. Let’s just call them “hooligans,” in a convoy headed to Yitzhar, stoned the glass storefront of his store and trashed his car, along with 25 other vehicles. The rampage injured a three-year-old and two others.

My colleague Tovah Lazaroff reports that Deek’s damages run as high as NIS 60,000. He believes “there is no way to recoup that loss.” Of course, there is. Israel’s government should compensate him. If not, generous donors could compensate him – and so could waves of new customers buying the bathroom fixtures he sells.

Admittedly, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett brands such violence “despicable.” He says he ordered both the Shin Bet’s (Israel Security Agency’s) leader and the IDF chief of staff to use the necessary tools to end the violence. More poignantly, he denounced those let’s call them “outlaws” who believe they “set the law,” saying: “That is not why my parents moved to Israel. That’s not why we established a state. We are a state of law.”

These words must generate decisive actions. And there’s a need for a broader moral accounting among many but not all right-wingers – not just settlers: I accuse anyone who houses or excuses these criminals.

CLEARLY, CNN stereotypes are unfair; not every settler is a gun-toting lunatic from Brooklyn. I know the sweet settlers of Hemdat who run an amazing mechina (pre-military academy) and speak movingly about how blessed they feel to live on biblical lands. I have befriended some of the pseudo suburbanites of Ma’aleh Adumim – one-third of whom voted for one of the parties in today’s coalition, including a smattering of Labor and Meretz voters, and who enjoy Israel’s largest, flashiest, Las-Vegas-style mall, DCity, shopping peacefully together there with Arab neighbors.

I have mourned every rock thrown, every knife wielded, and every shot fired against “the settlers.” And I get it when my son Yoni, an IDF officer in the reserves, explains that many young Israelis lean rightward partially because, as soldiers, many let’s call them “settlers” bombed them with love, showered them with care packages, and took photos together with them to show their pride in them, while left-wingers bombed them with protests, showered them with curses and took videos of them to “expose,” humiliate or even convict them.

For some reason, I have never seen any letters to the editor objecting when soldiers thanked “settlers” for those 24/7 food and comfort stations many settlements keep so well stocked. Nor have I seen any “settlers” objecting to the phrase “Palestinian terrorists” – even though many have Palestinian friends, co-workers and employees who are not terrorists.

That’s how language works. We understand that “settler violence” means violence coming from within the settler community, not from every settler (but also not, for example, from my neighbors in Baka). Similarly, Jerusalem Syndrome doesn’t strike every Jerusalemite, and not everyone in the Big Apple is always in a New York state of mind.

But I want to be fair and respectful. I am willing to use the clunky term “violence committed by some extremist settlers” – or the insane acronym VCSES – if settlers start using the equally clunky but more accurate term “violence committed by some extremist Palestinians” or VCSEPS.

Ultimately, all this is semantics and secondary. Every Israeli must rise and demand of the government, of the settlers, and particularly of the hooligans: stop this unconscionable violence, which sullies us all, and undermines our moral standing collectively, even when it’s committed only by an immoral minority.

The writer is a distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, and the author of nine books on American history and three on Zionism. His book Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, coauthored with Natan Sharansky, has been published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.