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Breaking news: the Shin Bet has arrested settler extremist members of Hilltop Youth for plotting violence in the contested Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The settlers have dispossessed Palestinian families there and stolen their homes. The connection of the arrests to Sheikh Jarrah is under a security gag order. I’m reporting this here for the first time..
Anytime we know that an unjust condition exists and it is illegal and unjust, we will strike at it by any means necessary. And strike also at whatever and whoever gets in the way…We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary. —Malcolm X
I’ve come a long way from being a liberal Zionist. I used to say that violence was not the answer. That it was wrong on both sides. I used to feel there was a difference between Palestinian “terrorism” and Israeli “violence.” I used to believe in a two-state solution. I used to believe that a one-state solution would destroy my (then) cherished idea of a Jewish state. I didn’t even know what the Nakba was. Even if I did, I didn’t understand the enormity of the crime. I used to believe Israel could become a liberal democratic state. I even used to believe that democracy and religion (at least an enlightened form of it) could co-exist. I used to love Israel, but as a ‘loyal’ critic. I used to believe that Meir Kahane was an aberration and didn’t represent “Israel.” I used to believe that there were Israeli heroes.
All of that has come crashing down over the years. It didn’t happen all at once. It was a gradual process. As Israel turned farther and farther to the right, I turned the opposite way. Now, I burn inside at what Israel has made of itself. The mass murder. The apartheid. The bombs. The hate. It’s just too much. It breaks my heart. But more than that, it enrages me. I feel betrayed. But more than that, I’m angry and disgusted.
In one important way, I’ve made a massive change. In the past, it would have hurt me to speak of any sense of righteousness in killing Israeli Jews. How could I justify killing one of my own people? Some may question my hesitation in so. To them I would say, especially is they observe any particular religion: how would you feel if you were Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc. and justice required you to accept killing your own? That’s a hard decision to make.
But I’ve come to understand that my Judaism is not theirs. They are alien to me. They abuse and betray my religion. They make a mockery of it. They hate me and my Judaism. I view my religion as embracing peace and justice. They view theirs as worshipping what I call stones and bones: the worship of holy sites, martyred heroes, and so-called sacred ground. They are willing to kill for it. I am not.
A Holy Temple in which High Priests sacrificed animals and sent goats into the wilderness to atone for my sins, means nothing to me. Anyone who believes in destroying a Muslim holy site in order to rebuild a site of pagan sacrifice is my enemy. The Bible is full of dire warnings against Israelites falling under the sway of pagan idols and temple rites. Now I feel Israeli Jews have succumbed to the siren call of such idolatry.
I write all this as a preface to the latest violence, in a year of unending killings, filling Palestinian towns and villages with rivers of blood. 130 Palestinians have been murdered by Israeli forces this year. 35 this month alone, including six children. Palestinians have responded with terror attacks of their own. Earlier today, a Palestinian gunman, whose name is reported to be Mohammad Kamal Jabari, shot a vehicle driven by a settler accompanied by his son. He killed the father and seriously wounded a medic who came to aid the victim. Though his family is known for its support of Hamas, he is no relation to Ahmed al-Jabari, a senior Hamas leader who was assassinated by Israel after he played a crucial role in negotiating the freedom of Gilad Shalit. In return, Israel released Palestinian prisoners, one of whom was his brother.
משפחתי נמצאת כרגע מאובטחת תחת מתקפת יריות על ביתנו בגבעת האבות. נשמעים לכוחות הביטחון.
— איתמר בן גביר (@itamarbengvir) October 29, 2022
Kahanist MK Itamar Ben Gvir, who is nothing but a champion of incitement and wild claims, tweeted falsely (above) that his home “was under attack.” This was either a lie or a complete misjudgment of events transpiring nearby. Channel 7 picked this up and reported the false story. This is a clever bit of incitement to fuel the sense of rage among the radical settler movement. It serves two purposes: it turns Ben Gvir into a martyr and swings even more votes his way for the Tuesday election; it also whips up a frenzy of vengeance against Palestinians. Which of course fuels the next round of violence. Israel is a whirlwind of hate and blood. An unending cycle of vengeance and counter-vengeance. It is hopeless. I’m sorry to say it. I wish I didn’t feel this way.
When is violence justified?
Unlike in the past, I cannot condemn such resistance. In the face of mass murder who can denounce the victim who fights back and seeks to do to his killer what he has done to his own? If Israel wants to engage in apartheid and even genocide (yes, I’m willing to use the “G” word which I never would in the past), then Palestinians have no obligation to restrain their response.
The Kahanist right is in a paroxysm of anger at the murder, fueled by the anticipation that it will play a crucial role in a far-right election victory. It expects that its fascist leaders, Betzalel Smotirch and Ben Gvir will become senior security ministers in the coming cabinet. As such they will get the opportunity to bring down their iron fist on the Palestinians in ways Israel has not until now. It’s hard to believe how much worse it can be than now. But trust me, it can and will if these would-be murderers are given access to real political power.
But I’ve lived and breathed this conflict since I was a teenager. And I’ve often been depressed or sad about the conflict. But at least at one time, I thought: surely in my lifetime it will end. Surely good and right will triumph. Compromise and common sense will see the light. Now I know I am wrong. It will continue after I’m gone. Maybe for generations.
Of course, this is not unique in the history of the human race. Nations and religions have engaged in campaigns of genocide against rivals lasting decades or even longer. Israel and Palestine have no monopoly on such suffering. But as a Jew, I feel this tragedy even more since it is a place that holds a place in the heart of (almost) every Jew.
But the only Israel that can restore some of my former confidence is one transformed into a single fully democratic state. I don’t care what they call it. I don’t care about its flag. I don’t care who is prime minister (though I expect a Palestinian to become one). I only care about how it treats its citizens and that all of them, regardless of religion or ethnicity, are treated exactly the same. That is not the Israel that exists now. Not by a long shot. And until it does, Palestinians have every right to fight for that vision or any vision that offers them justice and political rights.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.