The hilltop youth – the inevitable result of 50 years of ‘occupation’

Whatever the future political arrangements with the Palestinians will be, we can’t continue to rule over another people.

TWO SETTLERS stand atop a ridge in the West Bank. (photo credit: REUTERS)
TWO SETTLERS stand atop a ridge in the West Bank.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I was one of 14 Israeli activists and Palestinian shepherds from Uja village (Jordan Valley) who were attacked by masked Israelis who descended on us from the “Baladim” outpost near Kochav Hashahar and over a kilometer away from our location. I had joined Ta’ayush and EcoME in accompanying the shepherds because they were shot at in this area a year ago, and had been afraid to return. The previous week the Israelis descended, but went back up to throw stones at the army.
Our goal was to allow the shepherds to earn a living.
From year to year the growing number of settlements and outposts increasingly prevents them from accessing lands where they used to graze their flocks.
We were attacked with iron bars, wooden sticks and stones. Rocks, thrown with two hands from close range, could have crushed somebody’s skull. I heard one of them shout, “Don’t kill them,” and they finally turned around.
One activist suffered a head injury and a serious blow to his ribs. A second activist had his arm broken as he tried to protect himself from a huge rock aimed at his head. I escaped with one stitch and some ugly bruises on my hip and calf. My head still hurts from getting hit by an iron bar.
Some will comfortably view this as a conflict between “right-wing extremists” and “left-wing extremists.” It is simply wrong to create a false symmetry between those who non-violently protect the rights of others and those who employ hateful violence. Some will find it convenient to dismiss the “hilltop youth” as unrepresentative “wild weeds.” However, they are arguably the inevitable result of 50 years of absolute rule over another people. Furthermore, the problems of Uja began way before the hilltop youth showed up.
All the surrounding settlements are a tightening noose around their necks.
I spoke on the radio together with the spokeswoman from Kochav Hashahar on Sunday. She took great pains to distance her settlement from the outpost.
Acknowledging that most of the settlement movement disavows the hilltop youth, I pointed out that shepherds used to graze their flocks in areas where the presence of Kochav Hashahar now prevents them from reaching. Havat Omer and Mevuot Yericho limit them in the other direction. The spring that used to make Uja known for bananas is now diverted for settler use.
Year by year it is increasingly difficult for these simple people to eke out a living.
Uja is one example of many. The mere presence of settlements and outposts makes survival increasingly challenging, even if settlers do no more than demand security restrictions on Palestinian movement and access to their lands.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Some are guilty. All are responsible.” Nobody has said a word as the pasture area of Uja shepherds has been systematically reduced. Successive governments have given massive support to the settlement enterprise. Some encourage the settler youth. Others look the other way.
The hilltop youth warn us who we may be becoming.
They learned from their parents, and went a few steps further. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It may be that the hilltop youth are the inevitable result of 50 years of absolute rule over another people, making one-sided decisions every day.
A friend of mine once had a conflict with her neighbor over a garden. The police said it was hers. The visiting daughter of the neighbor lived in the Kiryat Arba settlement, and told her mother, “Who cares what the police say. Let me show you how it’s done.”
The hilltop youth grew up seeing how absolute power is used to control every aspect of Palestinian life for the welfare of settlers and the settlement movement.
We complain over perceived unilateral actions by Palestinians, but we make unilateral decisions and create facts on the ground every day. The law is manipulated unilaterally to support settlements and “legally” take over Palestinian land. We “legally” and unilaterally decide where Palestinians can (or usually can’t) build, and demolish “illegal” homes. We control aspects of their lives that arguably are connected to security, but also many aspects of civilian life that have nothing to do with security and everything to do with how much of the “occupied territories” is for Palestinian use and how much for Israeli use. We unilaterally place settlements in areas that create new excuses to further restrict Palestinians in the name of security.
When the government is with them, settlers exploit that. When the government is not with them, they will try to outwit the government in the name of a higher truth. David Be’eri, the leader of the Elad settlement organization in Silwan/City of David who will receive the Israel Prize for his life’s work in a few days, has been recorded bragging about how he deceived government officials in order to continue the work of digging underneath the homes of Palestinians. By giving him this prize we are telling our young people that he is a role model. His deceitful behavior is to be emulated.
There are many Jewish legends about “golems” created out of clay by rabbis, which eventually turn on their creators. In most of these legends, the rabbis take responsibility, and stop the golem. Whatever the future political arrangements with the Palestinians will be, we can’t continue to rule over another people.
The author led Rabbis For Human Rights for 21 years, and recently co-founded interfaith human rights organization Haqel – Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights.