Highway 60 Visited: Part 2

This continues our special essay by our new editor, Assaf Harel. Part 1 was posted on Thur, March 3rd, please click here to read Part 1.

Two units of security forces remained in the area. Partly police partly military unit, the notorious Border Police is feared and admired for its efficient use of brute force. It also serves as a model of ethnic diversity, containing high numbers of Ethiopian Jews, Bedouins, Druze and migrants from the former Soviet Union. The 50th Battalion of the Nahal (the Hebrew acronym for Pioneering Fighting Youth) is less varied in its ethnic composition and most of its soldiers arrive from secular settlements and Kibbutzim traditionally known for their Leftist orientations. The Nahal was established in the early years of the Israeli state for the purpose of realizing a socialist-Zionist settlement ideology. Nahal groups would camp in territories lacking Jewish populace, their military camps eventually naturalized and transformed into civilian communities. Over the years this national task was mostly taken over by religious-Zionist settlers.

In comparison to the light gear of the Border Police, the equipment of the Nahal soldiers appeared very cumbersome. Red army boots, camouflaged ceramic helmets, a fat ammunition vest, a short M-16 rifle and a large backpack completely full with who knows what. I examined the differences when all of a sudden I heard loud hurried voices coming from the communication devices of the Border Police. Nahal soldiers began running down the slopes toward the road. Inspecting my surrounding I could not miss the two thick columns of smoke that began to rise up to the north, the closest one no more than 300 meters ahead. Price Tag policy. I began running up the road.

“Price Tag” is an economically inspired euphemism given to violent actions of intimidation and revenge carried out against Palestinians and their possessions. These violent acts are executed by a group of probably no more than two hundred mostly teenage settlers who are backed by several hard-line Rabbis. The political rational is quite simple: Palestinians serve as scapegoats for any governmental or non-governmental action taken against settlers. These highly committed Jewish troublemakers hope to strategically compensate for their small numbers through battles of attrition with Israeli security forces. An additional deeply ingrained logic is at work: Arabs only understand the language of force and they need to realize that this is not their land, but a divinely sanctioned Jewish land.

Hardly keeping up with the Nahal soldiers, I passed a traffic blockade made out of concrete cubes and continued running up the dusty road into the Palestinian area. A brushfire in the terraced olive grove to the left produced a lot of smoke. Several smoking charred circles to the right marked a failed arson attempt. A young settler was being dragged by Border Policemen out of the olive grove ahead. Beyond the grove, Nahal soldiers slowly climbed yet another hill toward a small settler “outpost” of tin houses. Next to the olive grove and outside the patio of a flat-roofed two-story building, a mixed group of Israeli soldiers and Palestinian women was forming. Three settlers walked down the road in my direction, smiling as they passed the soldiers. Price Tag attacks sometimes occur when many of the physically able Arab males are at work. Women, children and old are usually left to fend for themselves. When around, the heavily equipped soldiers cannot catch the light footed thugs. But all I could see was the waving of arms in the distance. I wanted to get closer.

Inside the olive grove the soldiers finally rejoined a larger group. Their commander, a red headed Major began debriefing them. I was about to pass them when the Major commanded me to stop: “Where do you think you are going?” “Over there” I pointed my finger. “What business do you have there?” “I am an anthropology student, doing research on settlers. I am not going to cause any trouble,” I assured him, thinking I should have left my yarmulke in the car. “You are not supposed to be here, do you have a journalist or a photojournalist card?” “I can show you my student card if you don’t believe me,” I responded with a smile. He did not smile. Red-faced, sweaty and still heavily breathing due to a recent physical effort, he looked at me with anger. “Get out of here now” he ordered with a raised voice. “I promise you I am only here to look,” I said trying to appear as emphatic as possible. I gently laid my hand on his shoulder. “Don’t touch me, get your hand off me” he barked and recoiled in disgust. Last try. “I am sorry, but I am really a student, a doctoral student.” “Well, I am a doctor too” he threw back at me, “now get the hell out of my sight.” You!” he yelled at one of the smallest soldiers in the group, “take him and escort him all the way down. Make sure he does not come back.”

The soldier grabbed me by the shirt and shoved me out of the olive grove. Shortly after he apologized, “don’t take it personally, but yarmulke wearers are not too popular here at this moment, if you know what I mean.”

The brushfire burned low. An overweight reserve officer stood on one of the terraces and gazed at it. Behind him, a young female soldier looked unhappy. “This is not a big one, we should be able to handle it with a fire extinguisher” the officer told her. “What?” ”We should use a fire extinguisher in case it spreads further” he repeated. “We don’t have one” she replied while moving down and away from the fire. “Isn’t there one in the Jeep? Bring one from the Jeep.” He seemed to be talking to himself. “There is none in the Jeep” she replied with a whining voice. The reserve officer did not give up. “We should get a fire extinguisher!” he shouted to an older officer waiting below. The Grey haired Lieutenant-Colonel was also ready to leave but he looked too exhausted to even respond. “He asks if you have a fire extinguisher in the jeep” I told him. He made a tired gesture with his hand and muttered “come on, let’s get out of here. Their own services can take care of that.”

The yarmulke stayed on my head until I passed the last checkpoint out of the occupied territories.

Postscript

2013: The last two years were characterized by a drastic increase in settler violence (pdf file) against Palestinians, which included the torching of fields, burning of mosques, as well as bodily harm. In 2011, settler violence appeared for the first time in the US state department list of “terrorist incidents.”[1] The settlers committing the violence oppose the secular elements of the Israeli state and work towards establishing a Jewish theocracy in the Biblical Land of Israel instead. Espousing a theology of spiritual hierarchy, they place Jewish “souls” as supreme to all others, and take actions to undermine Palestinian state-building through a myriad of activities including terror. These acts of violence received a new ethical support from The King’s Torah (Torat Ha’melec), a recent Hallachic book, which provides theological rationales for the killing of non-Jews: “There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults” (Elitzur and Shapira 2010: 207).

The last two years were also characterized by the unexpected rise of a new settler peace movement, Land of Peace, lead by Rabbi Menahem Froman, the chief Rabbi of the settlement of Tekoah and a Jewish mystic. Members of Land of Peace understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as religious at its core and therefore view themselves as the “heart of the conflict.” However, emphasizing the uniting power of monotheistic faith, members of this movement believe they are also “the heart of the solution.” Rabbi Fruman contends that all peace initiatives are doomed to fail without the central involvement of Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the US, EU and Israel. Some members of this settler movement are offering to live as a Jewish minority in a future Palestinian state and act as “a bridge toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” Indeed, “settlers for peace” sounds like an ethical oxymoron. Yet, in challenging our taken for granted sociopolitical categories, these settlers and their brave Palestinian partners bring us back to a basic human fact: true peace will always be the work of true enemies.     

 

Rabbi Froman (fourth from the left) and members of Land of Peace during a peace missionin in Qusra (plestinian village, West Bank), where a mosque was vandalized by extreemist settlers

Works Cited:

Elitzur, Y and Shapira, Y. (2010). The King’s Torah: Rules of Souls among Israel and the Nations The Torah institute, Od Yosef Chai: Yitzhar. (In Hebrew).

This finishes our special two part essay by new editor Assaf Harel. Click here to read Part 1.

 

 

 

 

[1] U.S. Department of State, Office of the Coordinator For Counterterrorism,” Country Reports on Terrorism 2011 Report,” July 31, 2012 <http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2011/195544.htm>, 10/10/2012

 

 

 

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