I was filled with horror and disbelief as I opened my family WhatsApp to read the devastating news that terrorists murdered my cousin, Meir Tamari, near his home in Hermesh, an Israeli village in Judea and Samaria. Meir’s wife, Tal, is only 25 years old, and they have two tiny children aged 1 and 2. The pain and sorrow of this tragedy is immeasurable.
I immediately booked a flight from the US to Israel, filling my suitcase with toys for the newly orphaned toddlers. I had to be there for my grieving family and to go on a personal quest to try and understand how and why this happened.
In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the dominant narrative that often emerges is one of division, contrasting interests, and perpetual struggle but I found that narrative to be profoundly misleading in this context. It’s not the zero-sum game often portrayed where one’s gain equates to the other’s loss. The everyday Palestinians and Jewish settlers’ interests are surprisingly more aligned than you’d think.
My cousin Meir was the opposite of an antagonistic settler. He was an unarmed civilian who had been returning from fixing his car at an Arab mechanic friend’s garage in a local Palestinian village, when Islamic Jihadists ambushed him in a cold-blooded drive-by shooting. The settlement he lived in, Hermesh, is known as non-ideological where both Jews and non-Jews live for a better quality of life.
Terrorist make no distinction, all that matters is the victims are Jewish
The terrorists made no distinction. It didn’t matter that he was friendly with his Palestinian neighbors and that he despised hostile settlers. It didn’t matter that he did his weekly grocery shopping at a local Arab village, or that he hired them for jobs. All that mattered, was that he was a Jew. It was heartless antisemitism. This wasn’t an isolated event either. Islamic terrorists have murdered four other residents of Hermesh since the town was founded in 1984.
I contacted one of Meir’s local Palestinian friends he hired to help build his home. I wanted to know what he thought about what happened. I was wary that he might be unsympathetic in case I believed the often-biased media narrative that Palestinians and Jewish settlers don’t get along.
For his safety, and to avoid potential retaliation against him from terrorist factions, I’ll refer to him with the pseudonym Amal and withhold his hometown.
Through an English-to-Arabic Google-translated text message exchange, I introduced myself to Amal. “Good morning… It’s a pleasure to meet…. I’m Eli, Meir Tamari’s cousin from America… how do you feel about what happened?”
He replied, “he [Meir] was a good man who cherished life and his family. May God rest his soul.” He continued, “My family and I extend our deepest condolences. We treated each other like brothers. There’s no distinction between a Jew, a Muslim, or a Christian. We are all children of Adam.” He confirmed that many in his village also embrace the spirit of unity and kinship with their Israeli neighbors.
This story is but a small sliver of a much larger reality of how much Palestinians benefit from local Jewish settlers. An estimated 37,000 local Palestinian villagers work in West Bank settlements. The Israeli settlements are reducing the high unemployment rate in the Palestinian economy, and are providing significantly higher daily average wages, compared to the Palestinian areas.
The infrastructure, development and modernization the settlements bring can also serve to benefit local Palestinians. Improved roads, electricity, water facilities, and hospitals positively impact surrounding areas.
The economic implications were evident several years ago when hundreds of Palestinians lost their jobs because SodaStream was pressured to relocate its factory from the West Bank to Israel’s Negev. The anti-Israel faction hailed this as a success, ignoring the reality on the ground that countless Palestinians lost reliable, well paid jobs.
Political narratives that underscore potential violations of the Geneva Convention or territorial disputes often oversimplify the complex reality on the ground. They risk transforming this into a legal debate, rather than one that centers on real human lives and experiences.
Al Jazeera, for example, ran a misleading news report on Meir’s murder framing the coverage with the sensationalized claim that Meir was an “illegal settler,” and deliberately omitting the fact that he was murdered, repeatedly using the euphemism that he was “killed.” Of course, they didn’t bother mentioning Meir’s friendly relationship with his Palestinian neighbors, or the published fact that he was from Hermesh, which is known to be a non-ideological settlement. The coverage left the misimpression that he was probably hostile to his Arab neighbors.
Generally, the narrative on the left spotlights the few hostile settlers, and on the right, terrorist attacks. Most of the reality is much less sensational.
Beyond the news-driven narrative of conflict, geopolitics, and ideological interests clashing, are people like my cousin Meir, and his friend Amal both of whom sought peace. They want to live normal lives. They want to raise families, and just have a good quality of life without any ideologically driven hatred.
But hell-bent, hatred-filled terrorists like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah seek to undermine that reality for Jews and Palestinians alike. From the cradle, they inculcate their children to hate Jews and celebrate murder. Their objective is to wipe out the Jews. In the process, they are also hurting their own people.
It’s time to tell the truth that settlers like Meir aren’t the problem. They are part of the potential solution to the conflict in the Middle East.
A CauseMatch fundraiser was set up to help the Tamari Family. https://causematch.com/tamarifamily/
The author has written on culture, law, and religion in USA Today, The Forward, NY Post, Daily News, Reuters and others. Twitter: @elifederman