According to Israeli official figures, only 3 out of 1,672 attacks were carried out within the Green Line in 2018; the rest were in the occupied territories.
On September 16, Khalil Jabarin – a 17-year-old Palestinian from Yatta in the southern West Bank – left his family home and headed north, to the Israeli settler-managed Gush Etzion Junction. There, the teenager fatally stabbed American-Israeli Ari Fuld, before being shot and arrested.
Following the killing of Fuld, a well-known far-right activist who lived in the nearby Efrat settlement, some Israelis vociferously objected to the reporting of his death, and in particular, to Fuld being described in various international news reports – quite accurately – as a settler.
Former Israeli army spokesperson Peter Lerner, for example, wrote an op-ed praising Fuld as “a passionate Israel advocate who believed in the historic Jewish right to live in our ancestors’ true homeland.” For Lerner, Fuld was simply a “Jew in Judea,” and settler only appeared in scare quotes.
In another piece, former soldier and pro-Israel activist Micha Danzig was clearly furious that Fuld had been described as a settler. “Ari Fuld was not a ‘settler’ – he was an innocent victim of terror,” Danzig wrote, adding: “And so it went, on and on. Settler. Settler. Settler.”
Danzig’s main concern was to normalise Israel’s occupation of the West Bank; settlements are “Jewish communities in Judea” and occupied territory was in scare quotes. Fuld, Danzig said, believed in “the Jewish people’s right to live in their indigenous, religious and historical homeland.”
For Lerner, Danzig and others, their objection to the use of the term settler to describe Fuld seemingly flowed from a two-fold concern: that the term settler apparently both dehumanises Fuld and delegitimises Israel’s colonial occupation of the West Bank.
The main overall goal is to disconnect the violence perpetrated by Palestinians against Israeli forces and settlers from the occupation itself, instead locating its source in an intangible and racialised ‘incitement’ or ‘hatred’ (indeed, Lerner explicitly wrote: “Don’t lecture me about occupation”).
Such an approach inevitably whitewashes what Israel’s settlements are, and their impact on Palestinians, an impact that is hard to understate, yet often goes underappreciated.
Settlements are land theft – a Palestinian family’s property, a community’s grazing land, a farmer’s orchard, a village’s natural spring. Settlements are segregation – the heart of an inherently discriminatory regime. Settlements are violence, and settlements are impunity.
Settlements are domination – the most visceral manifestation of occupation – and settlements are humiliation – a daily reminder for Palestinians of their second-class status in their own land.
It is, therefore, utterly disingenuous to argue – as Lerner, and Israeli politicians do – that Israeli settlers in the West Bank are killed for simply “being Jews.”
The Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, records monthly statistics for “terror attacks.” According to official figures, in the first eight months of 2018 (January-August inclusive), there were 1,672 such “attacks,” a number dominated by “firebombs,” i.e. Molotov cocktails (1,319).
Out of all these various incidents logged by Israeli authorities, a grand total of three attacks were “executed within the Green Line,” according to the Shin Bet. Three out of 1,672.
Such statistics are not unique to 2018. In the period October-December 2015, when there was an uptick in violence, just 12 out of 85 stabbings or alleged stabbings perpetrated by Palestinians occurred inside the Green Line. Despite Lerner’s unwillingness to be ‘lectured’, the occupation is of the utmost relevance.
Fuld’s personal beliefs are actually not the point here; though for the record, he was an anti-Palestinian racist who delighted in harassing human rights defenders, was politically active on what even in Israel is considered the far-right, and urged the annexation of the entirety of the West Bank.
Rather, the issue is that every single settlement – from Efrat to the handful of caravans on hilltops in the northern West Bank – are not just symbols of a brutal occupation but are its raison d’être.
After Fuld was killed, the head of Efrat municipality committed to expanding his settlement, declaring: “this land is ours!” Israeli Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel gave his backing, describing such expansion as “the fitting Zionist response.” Such an approach guarantees there will be more Jabarins.
In the outcry over the description of Fuld as a settler, one senses that some Israelis believe their colonial occupation could be the only one in history not to provoke a violent response.
It is not that these Israelis are exactly surprised by the kinds of attacks that killed Fuld, but that they attribute such incidents to their idea of being surrounded by ‘brainwashed Muslim fanatics’, rather than to the fact they are settlers in a military occupation.
Examine any act of conquest, occupation or colonial settlement, the world over, and the story repeats itself. It happened to the Brits, the French, the Belgians, to European settlers in North America, to settlers in southern Africa, to the Spanish and to the Portuguese.
And Israel is not so unique as to avoid an equation as old as time: Occupation and colonialism produce violent responses from the occupied and colonized.