Remembering Israel Shahak
Dr. Shahak predicted the catastrophe being played out today in Israel and the Occupied Territories. The following article "The Religious Settlers: Instrument of Israeli Domination" appeared in the Summer 1994 Middle East Policy journal.
The Rabin government's support of the Jewish settlements in general and of the religious settlers in particular can be defined as two crucial issues of both current Israeli politics and the peace process. Only via a formal inquiry is it possible to find out what the Israeli government does to support settling and to protect the settlers even when on a rampage. The more perceptive Hebrew press commentators realized long ago that Rabin is no less zealous than Shamir in safeguarding the interests of all Jewish settlers in the territories, but with more circumspection.
Also clearly noticed have been the contradictions between Rabin's policies and his support for the Oslo Agreement with the PLO. Both points were elaborated by Meron Benvenisti (Haaretz, November 11, 1993). After Rabin's amicable meeting with leaders of the religious settlers on November 10, which occurred right after strident demonstrations under the slogan "Rabin is a traitor," Benvenisti observed that "for all the differences in the ideology the chasm between the two positions is not as deep as some would like to depict it," yet in practice they "cannot be easily reconciled, especially during the present stage of negotiations with the PLO."
In substantiation of his thesis, Benvenisti points to "the extraordinary generosity with which the government keeps disbursing money to the settlers for all their daily activities, which include their anti-Arab demonstrations and acts of vandalism against Arab property. The gasoline fueling their cars is used for burning the tyres blocking the highways" (and, as other sources describe, Arab property as well.) "The settlers also use their radio equipment, paid for by the government, to coordinate their blockades." They receive salaries [too many to describe here], all of them "defrayed by lavish supplies of money from the very same government which they detest so fiercely." More curiosities of the same kind will be described later, in the context of discussing the U.S. support for Rabin's policies toward the settlers.
Even earlier than Benvenisti, the military correspondent of Hadashot, Alex Fishman (October 20), described
a pattern of cooperation which has evolved in the territories between the [Israeli] army and the Jewish settlers. The Defense Ministry and the regional commands [of the Israeli army] have established full partnership with the settlers in seeking solutions to the latter's survival and security problems in the interim period. In every settlement the Security Coordinators were asked to prepare documentation concerning their security problems.. . . Senior officers from the Commands are visiting every settlement. Every documentary file is checked with the settlers. . . . All settlements are cooperating with the [Israeli] government after coming to the conclusion that the two sides now have common interests. After all, the settler files provide Israel with data to be used in the Taba negotiations. Even more important, the settlers and the government are united in their resolve to tolerate in the interim five-year period no precedent that might hurt the [Jewish] settlement cause.
Fishman concludes, rightly in my view, that "the status quo with regard to Jewish settlement has become an iron wall surrounding them." The concept of an "iron wall" has been borrowed from a historic article by Zeev Jabotinsky, the ideological founding father of Likud, published as long ago as 1925. For whole decades it was regarded by the entire Zionist Labor movement with genuine or faked revulsion. The iron wall means that the Zionist state should behave like a feudal lord dominating his realm by means of his heavily armored knights intervening from behind the walls of an impregnable castle in order to maintain a status quo or a "custom" even when the behavior is incompatible with medieval notions of "justice."
The case of the settlement Netzarim is particularly instructive. It was described in detail by Nahum Barnea (Yediot Ahronot) as early as October 1, 1993. Netzarim is a decaying kibbutz now inhabited mostly by Gush Emunim extremists, who are not doing any work. They just study the Talmud, for which they have all their expenses covered by the government. The few "farmers" among them are really overseers of workers brought from Thailand. As Barnea explains it, the "original intention" of founding Netzarim
was to wedge a Jewish settlement between Gaza and the huge refugee camps located south of it, which in the Israeli army's lingo are called "the camps of the center." Like an isolated fortress, the kibbutz is surrounded from all sides by huge chunks of Arab-populated land. It is separated from the Jewish-populated areas both in Israel and in the Katif Bloc.
As gleefully explained by "a senior in the [Israeli] Security System charged with overseeing arrangements for the Israeli army withdrawal from the concentrations of Palestinian population," the Oslo Agreement promotes this scheme, because it
stipulates that all settlements are to stay on, so that every single settlement turns into a fortress of military value. Had Netzarim been merely an Israeli army base, the Palestinians could demand its abandonment, along with other bases located in the midst of densely inhabited chunks of the Gaza Strip that the army is going to abandon. But since Netzarim is plainly defined on the map as a kibbutz, the Israeli presence is assured there. The Israeli army can use it for effectively establishing its presence between the city of Gaza and "the camps of the center."
Hence, concluded the officer, "had Netzarim not existed, it should have been invented," because it makes it legal "to turn this settlement into a roadpost concealing the fortress containing sizable Israeli army forces." Barnea is right when he concluded that Netzarim, "may yet become a pattern of things to come." His predictions were fulfilled during the ensuing negotiations up to the Cairo Agreement, in all of which Israel had firmly insisted on retaining Netzarim. Rabin-government support for settlements has the effect of encouraging the Gush Emunim settlers, who are ready to settle in places like Netzarim, where their less zealous brethren are unwilling to go.
The best overview of Rabin's settling policies can be found in an article by Yair Fidel (Hadashot, October 29):
The settlers, whose numbers amount to no more than 2.4 percent of the Israeli population, received in 1993 12 percent of municipal budgets. This largesse for the local councils in the territories has a consequence: almost half of all the settlers are civil servants, receiving salaries from the government either directly or via the local councils. According to a rough estimate prepared by government ministries [but not published], about 45 percent of Jews residing in the territories are employed in the public sector. For comparison, according to the data of the Central Bureau of Statistics, the percentage of public-sector employees in Israel amounts to 25 percent. True, in some populous settlements located near Jerusalem or along the Green Line, the percentage of civil servants is close to the latter figure. Most residents of such towns and settlements hold ordinary jobs inside Israel, and their social profile does not differ much from other Israeli Jews. But this means that in hard-core ideological settlements of Gush Emunim, the percentage of civil servants on the state's payroll is much higher.
There exist quasi-official estimates which appraise the proportion of the religious settlers who really are state employees at about 70 percent. In my view, if all employees of all kinds of religious institutions (which are also financed by the state of Israel) were added to this figure, the estimate might be as high as 90-95 percent. The figure becomes credible through the simple expedient of taking a walk in Kiryat Arba in order to roughly compare the number and the size of local businesses with the size of the town and the number of its inhabitants.
Here is my own personal testimony on how the Israeli government winks at fictitious occupations for the religious settlers (letter-to-the-editor, Davar, November 15).
I happen to live near the residence of the Prime Minister, and I use this as an opportunity for regular talks with the religious settlers from the territories who keep demonstrating in front of that residence. Customarily, I ask them a question: "Since you will get back home in the territories long after midnight, how will you be able to work tomorrow?" Their answers do not leave doubt that their "occupations" are one big fiction. They may be nominally defined as a job in a local, regional or any other council, in a yeshiva, in an association for studying the Talmud, or some other fiction may be invented: but the fact remains that no one could care less whether such an "employee" reports to work in the morning or doesn't. The masses of Gush Emunim militants are on the state payroll for just being what they are. Rabin is supplying his worst enemies with money extracted from our pockets.
Last summer the religious settlers demonstrated for an entire week on the "Hill of Roses" opposite the Knesset. I went to meet them there. I passed by a religious settler talking to one of the handful of secular settlers from the Golan Heights. The former asked the latter: "Why are hardly any from the Heights here?" "Because we are busy harvesting cotton," he answered. The Gush Emunim militant then commented: "Harvesting money in government ministries is more profitable than harvesting cotton."
My conclusion was,
Rabin has done nothing to halt the torrent of money to the religious settlers, nor the torrent of lies about their supposed jobs. Rabin's generosity still makes it possible for the religious settlers to live their parasitic lives, and it provides them with enough free time and resources to organize their demonstrations against him.
For these reasons, the political power of the religious settlers should be regarded as much greater than their numbers. I anticipate their influence on actual Israeli policies as remaining high under the Rabin government. Let me give an example. The most important single freedom which the Palestinians won as a result of the Israel-PLO agreement was the right to display their flag and other national emblems. Yet on November 12, 1993, Hillel Cohen could report (Kol Hair) that "in the entire city of Hebron one cannot see a single Palestinian flag on display." Why? Because the religious settlers of Kiryat Arba and Hebron itself, immediately assault any house or even a whole neighborhood where this flag can be seen, smash the windows and other property, beat the people indiscriminately, often right in front of the Israeli soldiers.
Violent assaults upon the Palestinians in the territories are in the overwhelming majority perpetrated by Jewish religious settlers, and they have two peculiarities. In the first place, these assaults are overtly and avowedly aimed at innocent, randomly chosen individuals or groups of people. Their avowed "purpose" is either "to relieve the feelings of distress of the assaulters," or "to teach the Arabs a lesson," or somehow to "influence" the Palestinian population to prevent future violence. (The first of these rationalizations is recognized by the Israeli government as valid.) Regardless of whether the assaults cause injury to persons or "only" to property, they imply the recourse to violence against innocent bystanders for the sake of a political purpose. As such they can be regarded as acts of terror. The organizations responsible for these assaults are in my view terroristic organizations, even though they are perfectly legal and generously assisted financially and otherwise by the Israeli government.
Accordingly, the Israeli government, which not only tolerates the violence in question but also, as will be shown below, abets it, can only be defined as a terror-supporting government. (When Israel accuses the governments of Syria or Iran of "supporting terror" it uses exactly the same argument.) Let me refer here to the criteria by which terror is defined by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud leader, as quoted by Amnon Abramovitz (Maariv, August 6, 1993). Abramovitz borrowed the definition from the book bearing the title How the West Can Win [translation from the Hebrew], which Netanyahu edited in the late 1970s. In a preface he himself wrote, Netanyahu defined terror as "violence aimed at people who have no connection with the aims of the terrorists." He also claims that "the terrorists consciously and deliberately choose the civilians as their targets," that they "threaten and intimidate the civilians in order to thus achieve a political aim," and that "for a terrorist the civilians are the key concept." As will be shown below, these definitions fit settler terrorism to perfection.
Let me begin the description and analysis of typical incidents of settler terrorism with an article byHaolam Haze correspondent Amit Gurevitz (November 17), which deserves extensive coverage. Gurevitz happened to do his reserve service in a paratrooper unit stationed in Hebron shortly before he wrote his article, which draws much from the author's personal experience, including his conversations with fellow soldiers, most of whom proudly defined themselves as voters for the right-wing Likud and Tzomet parties, and who yet professed their loathing of religious settlers of the Hebron area. Some of them confided to him,
They terminated their service with hard feelings, not about the Arabs but about the settlers. The unit's officers circulated among the soldiers a petition, intended to be submitted to the Defense Ministry. The petition deplored the hostile attitude toward them by the very settlers they were ordered to protect.
The article appeared shortly after a Hamas guerrilla assault resulted in the killing of a religious settler, Ephraim Ayubi, who worked as the driver of Rabbi Druckman, one of the most extreme Gush Emunim leaders. This is why Gurevitz is careful to point out at the beginning of his article that
according to the unanimous view of the unit's officers, duly reported to the area's commanders, the murder of Ephraim Ayubi was a retaliation for the settlers' rampages, in the course of which the settlers burned fifteen Arab-owned cars in a single day. That arson, not reported in the Israeli media at all [except for a very short and hard-to-find note in Haaretz], took place one day before the murder. Right after this arson, the soldiers were told by their higher-ups to "expect an Arab retaliation."
Although the most publicized (especially by the U.S. press) exploits of settler terrorism do follow acts of violence by Palestinian guerrilla units, their retaliatory character is in doubt. As in Ayubi's case, they may provoke the Palestinians to retaliate. This is acknowledged by the internal communications of the Israeli army, which often admit that a given action of Palestinian guerrillas was "a retaliation." But in Israeli (let alone U.S.) propaganda, Palestinian violence is invariably described as "unprovoked" by anything which the settlers or the Israeli government may have done.
Gurevitz quotes a unit officer:
"When we had to intervene in a skirmish between the Arabs and the settlers, I felt more secure when my back was turned to the Arabs than to the settlers. The unit's officers and soldiers have serious grievances, both about the nature of their assignments and about the attitudes of the Jews toward them. . . . About the Jews living in Hebron they say: 'Their behavior towards the Arabs is intentionally provocative.' They consciously sabotaged our work. For example, they always knew in advance which Hamas members we sought to arrest, but they obstructed our searches so that we would fail to capture the hard-core terrorists. They are interested in keeping tension in the area, so as to prevent the emergence of any reconciliatory mood. The settlers have a vested interest in perpetuating unrest, in order to thus prove that despite the peace process, in Hebron there is no order. We got the impression that they were ready to die for that purpose. In their eyes, their own death would be a martyrdom for the cause of sabotaging the political process."
The soldiers testify that the settlers often harass Hebron Arabs in front of the Israeli army troops. They overturn the crates in the market, kick the elderly Arabs carrying the baskets, spit at people, spray insecticides on fruits and vegetables, overturn the carts loaded with tomatoes so as to crush them underfoot. Particularly shocking for the soldiers was an incident in which the settlers screamed "Mazal Toy!" [Good Luck! in Hebrew] at an Arab family burying their child in front of an army equipment camp near Beit Hadassah.
But as the unit's officers and soldiers testify, the attitude of the settlers toward the Israeli army soldiers was no less scandalous. Even those soldiers who had had feelings of sympathy for the Jewish settlers when they began to serve, were saying, "This is what bothers us most." I know that this view is shared by the commanders of a reserve unit which preceded our paratrooper unit in serving on the spot. It is also shared by many soldiers with whom I spoke, including the steadfast voters for [the right-wing] Likud and Tsomet parties. All of them stressed how shocked they were by the settlers' attitude toward both the Arabs and the Israeli army, and by their attempts to disrupt the army's routines. No wonder the soldiers began to ask themselves whose side the settlers were on, and whom the army was protecting. All the events desribed here have been reported to the area's permanent military commanders, including the commander of the "Hebron brigade" of the Israeli army, Colonel K.
One of the unit's major assignments in Hebron was the guarding of the Patriarchs' Cave, a prayer site for both the religious settlers and the Muslims:
B. R., a unit soldier who in the last elections voted for Tzomet recounts: "Most of us served in this area for the first time. We came without prejudice. . . . In the Patriarchs' Cave, administered by the Islamic Waqf, the settlers keep trying hard to disrupt the officially imposed status quo between the Jews and the Arabs. For example, they enter Jacob's Hall before the 40 minutes of [officially imposed] break between the Jewish and Muslim prayers are up. They bring food there, which is against the regulations. Some of those who guard the Patriarchs' Cave are religious 'Hesder Yeshiva' soldiers. But even they report how the settler children keep spraying acid and scattering thumb-tacks on the carpets of that Hall. The Muslims now have no choice but to collect the thumb-tacks with a magnet before beginning to pray."
Let me omit other disturbing facts in Gurevitz's description in order to concentrate on what is crucial in his article: namely on the reasons for which the soldiers cannot call the religious settlers to order. These reasons are not often discussed by Hebrew papers now supporting Rabin. But Gurevitz was told by a unit officer that "the soldiers are forbidden to arrest a Jew, except if he hits a soldier or injures an Arab by shooting in the presence of an Israeli army soldier." Beating the Arabs, or humiliating them otherwise, or vandalizing their property before the very eyes of the army soldiers is not regarded as "a sufficient reason" for arresting a settler. Let me add that no Jew can be arrested if he does the same. A rule to this effect has remained in force for many years, but has never been announced in public. It is explicitly communicated only to high-ranking officers. Gurevitz quotes
another officer, T., who complained that he had never received adequate explanations from the permanent commanders of the area what the standard procedure is by which the Jews are never arrested. . . . An Arab is sent to jail the minute he is seen to throw a stone. But the settlers throw stones with impunity, or else they send girls or women to throw stones or to overturn peddlers' carts in the market, because they know that according to army regulations we are forbidden to have physical contact with Jewish women, so we can do nothing against them. . . . Another of the settlers' tricks is to pretend to play football, the real purpose of the supposed game being to smash street lamps or windows in Arab houses.
That story by Gurevitz, which happened to be published in the Hebrew press, is by no means an isolated instance. Hanna Kim (Hadashot, November 9) inspected a roadblock set up by religious settlers from the settlement of Yaqir, where
a local hero, Yehuda, nicknamed by his neighbors "Crazy Yehuda" revelled in all his glory. "Do you want to watch how an Arab gets burned alive? Just point your camera at me," he boasted to the reporters. . . . A bus of Arab workers arrived and Crazy Yehuda yelled that he would not let it pass through. He screamed at the (Jewish) driver: "You little parasite, take your Arabs back. Get me some fire, so that I can burn you all," and got on the bus. The stunned Arab passengers stared at him in silence. Two chums of Yehuda took him away from the bus, one of them telling him to "shut up." Two conscript soldiers, one of them a lieutenant, and two reservists without indication of rank, were watching it unruffled. "Because of them, I was wakened up at 2:00 a.m.," one of the reservists explained. "Isn't it enough that I have 23 days more to serve in the West Bank, in Tulkarm? Do I need to do this as well?" The term "to do" was inappropriate as the reservist remained seated throughout. At a moment of quiet, the religious settlers talked to Kim. Crazy Yehuda told her that "they should be exterminated just as we [the Israelites] had exterminated the Amalekites. [see Samuel I, Chapter 15.] Not only the males, but entire families, and their descendants no matter how remote. You just have to seek out all the descendants."
Hillel Cohen (Kol Hair, November 12) reports how in Hebron,
A group of settlers went to the Patriarchs' Cave for Sabbath prayers. On their way there the settlers damaged 14 cars belonging to Arab residents of the neighborhood. They smashed their windows or punctured their tires, and then proceeded on to the Cave, where they greeted the arrival of the Sabbath by singing melodious songs . . . .
On Sunday, after a settler was killed by Hamas guerrillas,
Hebron was announced a military zone closed to the media. A curfew was imposed on the city's Palestinian residents. The army had good reason to deny the media access to the place, because evidence of the settlers' rampage was plentiful. Many houses and dozens of cars parked on the city's major streets had windows broken. It was an ideal testimony of the army's impotence vis-à-vis the settlers.
Cohen comments that "breaking the windows of an Arab car is in Hebron an everyday occurrence which long ago stopped attracting any attention." After the army did not let Cohen enter Hebron, he simply, together with his photographer, boarded the religious settlers' bus in Jerusalem. In this way he could enter the city undisturbed:
On the way, the religious youths from Kiryat Arba kept themselves busy slinging stones at Arab passersby, while summarily explaining their behavior by saying: "We are the settlers, aren't we?" At the entrance to Kiryat Arba, old grafitti -- "Only a sucker doesn't kill an Arab" -- was still visible.
Like any Jew, settler or visitor, Cohen could walk freely through "the city of Hebron even under curfew, when its streets were deserted" with none of its Arab inhabitants in sight. He noticed "evidence of the settlers' rampages from previous days" everywhere: shattered windows, overturned cars and traces of arson. Grafitti in Hebrew, noticed by other reporters, like Gideon Levy (Haaretz Supplement, November 26) were in full view. Religious settlers threatened the locals with dire consequences if they dared wipe out those grafitti. According to Levy, the most frequent among them was the beginning of verse 7 of Psalm 149: "To execute vengeance upon the Gentiles"; whereas the next in frequency was "Death to the Arabs." Apartheid manifests itself in the territories also in that the Israeli army orders the local Palestinians to wipe out any grafitti in Arabic, even those which express longing for peace; but grafitti in Hebrew spraypainted by the settlers are left untouched.
Another story by Nahum Barnea (Yediot Ahronot, November 26) concerns Muhammad Lutfi Darwish al-Raouf al-Zaru and his pregnant wife Rima. Al-Zaru was driving his car on the way to his sister. Due to a beating, Rima al-Zaru miscarried her twin children. Barnea stresses that al-Zaru had in his youth worked for ten years in factories owned by Jews and learned to speak fluent Hebrew.
Here is a part of Barnea's story. Al-Zaru, 33, now supports himself by driving Palestinian workers to work in a rented Peugeot 504 car. On November 6, at 9:40 a.m., he was with his wife driving his car on a highway to the east of Hebron. Their destination was the home of his sister. The assault on him was thus described to Barnea in his own words:
"A group of religious settlers were walking on the road linking Kiryat Arba with the neighboring settlement of Givat Ha'Harsma. One of them, a large, bearded man wearing a prayer shawl, signaled by hand the car to stop. I shifted gears and stopped the car slowly. Without saying a word, he knocked me in the eye. I saw red. I moved over to the other seat, but he kept hitting me. I got infuriated. I said: 'Damn you, what did I do to you?' He put the barrel of his M-16 [gun] against my chest and cocked it. My wife grabbed the barrel so as to shift it aside. 'What did he do to you?' she shouted at him in Arabic. He twisted her arm, with the effect of pulling her abdomen forward, toward the back of the seat, and then he abruptly pushed her back. She screamed and cried.
"When I saw my wife getting hit, I said to myself that my life didn't matter. If I die, so be it. I opened the door of the car in order to grab him. But other settlers came to his help and started beating me. My wife said that they were three or four, one of them a woman, but I saw no one else but him. They knocked me onto the ground. To protect myself, I curled myself up. They kicked me, turning me over. I touched my eye and found it was bleeding. I wanted to grab a stone. But, aiming his gun at my head, he said: 'Get up.' Then he said: 'Get into your car and get lost.' I drove some distance down the highway, towards Jerusalem. I noticed an army jeep. I signaled to them with my lights. They stopped, coming out of the jeep with their guns drawn. They relaxed only when they saw my gory face. I asked them to 'drive with me to catch the settlers.' 'We can't,' they answered, 'We are on an assignement. Drive the other way, toward the roadblock. They will help you.'
"On Saturdays the army sets up roadblocks between Kiryat Arba and Hebron, to protect the religious settlers on their way to pray in the Patriarchs' Cave. I drove there to tell the soldiers everything. 'Never mind,' a soldier said. 'Go to the hospital for treatment, and then come back and wait with us until the settlers return from the prayers. We will catch the fellow, don't worry.' I parted with my wife, leaving her with her father. I received first aid and returned to the roadblock. The soldier made a phonecall and a jeep arrived from the Civil Administration. 'I will take care of it,' said the man from the Civil Administration. I told him, 'Everyone keeps telling me, don't worry, I want to do something, but no one is doing anything.' He laughed. 'If you wait for the soldiers to do something,' he said, 'then you can forget it.' He turned on a communication set. 'I spoke to the military governor himself,' he said. 'He instructed me to make you stay here until the settler returns. You will identify him, and we will take care of him.'
"At 12:30 the settlers returned. I approached a soldier and said, 'There he is.' 'Sit where you are and say nothing,' the soldier answered. He went over to him and said, 'Give me your name, you beat up this man.' The settler just kept going, as if he didn't hear a word. When the soldier asked his name for the second time, the settler said: 'Who are you to demand that I identify myself?' And he kept walking on, without stopping...
"The roadblock officer came over. The soldiers told him what happened. I was told by the officer to 'get into the jeep.' We pursued the settler up to the entrance to Kiryat Arba. I pointed him out. The officer told him: 'Give me your particulars.' 'Are you crazy?,' yelled the settler. 'Do you bring an Arab to arrest me, a Jew, on the ground of what he says? We refuse to answer any questions until you hand the Arab over to us. We need him.' 'The Arab is in my custody,' answered the officer. And he went over to his driver telling him in a soft voice: 'Take the Arab at once back to the roadblock.' He told the settlers: 'Move 20 meters away, then I will hand him over to you.' When the settlers did so, the soldiers started the car and just fled. I remained at the roadblock. Ten minutes later some military vehicles arrived. I asked the soldiers what happened. 'Can't you see?' a soldier said, 'a real war is going on over you.'"
I am omitting the rest of the story, which recounts the unavailing attempts of al-Zaru even to submit a complaint, but in another incident on Saturday, December 4, a border guard who happened to be a Druze called upon a religious settler of Hebron to identify himself. The latter answered: "A Jew who identifies himself to a Gentile on Sabbath desecrates Sabbath and commits a religious sin." The Border Guard didn't insist. The incident was reported by the Police minister, Shahal, at the next day's government meeting. Some junior ministers denounced that religious settler as a "racist" (Haaretz and other Hebrew papers, December 5). Rabin and the two senior ministers, Peres and Shohat (Finance), however, refrained from making any comment. And the government didn't issue any instructions to the effect that settlers refusing to identify themselves, on Sabbath or at any other time, were to be detained, charged and brought to court.
A minority of religious settlers belonging to various splinters of the Kahane ("Kach") movement are in a class by themselves. Many of them are American Jews, particularly from New York City, and their plentiful supplies of money come mostly from the United States. All the bickering between the splinters notwithstanding, for the purpose of assaulting the Palestinians most Kach progeny in the territories are organizationally united in the so-called Committee for Safety on Highways, an organization which began its career as far back as January 1988. The committee and its leaders have been openly admitting their involvement in assaults on the Arabs and their property for almost six years, during which the Israeli government has done nothing to stop them. The last time they did it in an interview granted "by a veteran member of the Committee, who requested to remain anonymous," in which "he spoke about the Committee's character and activities" toHaaretz correspondent Naday Shragai (November 23). Of particular concern is the fact that this committee takes full advantage of the rules restricting the options of the Israeli army in dealing with the Jews, as Gurevitz described them (November 17). Presumably as a quid pro quo for their following the rules, "the Committee members could have carried out hundreds of actions, but the Israeli army, police, security forces [i.e. the Shabak] and the judiciary have hardly ever responded" (a quote from Shragai).
The openness with which the Committee professes its aims and acts is truly remarkable. Says the "veteran member":
After Ayubi's murder we used our loudspeakers in the streets of Kiryat Arba to call upon the Committee activists to assemble at the southern gate. About 60 people came in about 15 cars. We planned in advance. We divided ourselves into groups. Each group was assigned an area. We were equipped with our personal weapons, crowbars to fracture doors, iron rods, plenty of stones and many gallons of gasoline.
None of this could have been done except under the very noses of the Israeli army.
Our method was simple, and already proven effective. We drive with searchlights lit so as to blind the Arab drivers approaching us. The driver gets confused and slows down. This gives us two options: he either gets into an accident, or waits until we pass him by. In the latter case we throw a large stone at his windshield. The stone may hit him or cause an accident. Last week we were helped by dense fog over the Hebron area. The blinding lights and the stones had quite potent an effect on the Arab drivers. At Beit Kakhil junction alone we precipitated six accidents I know of. One Arab vehicle crashed into a police car. In some accidents the Arabs were wounded.
Shragai then asked: "Have firearms been used?" The veteran answered:
As a rule they aren't. We use knives to puncture the tires. Usually, we try to puncture two tires of each car so as to make the reserve tire useless. The crowbars are used to break the door locks. The Arabs recently learned to protect their water heaters on the roofs from all sides by iron bars, but crowbars are the answer to that. Stones are thrown at house and car windows. In the summer we also set fire to every pile of hay we see and spray insecticides on vineyards of the Hallioul area. After the Ayubi murder we uprooted two dunums of Arab-owned grapevines near the site of the murder and set fire to fifteen Arab cars. We arrived at an Arab building site near Hebron. We vandalized it as much as we could. There was a huge crane there. In the foreseeable future that crane won't work.
Question: "What happens to those who defy you?" The veteran's answer:
We concentrate on damaging property. If there are locals who dare defy us, they get beaten badly. This happened at the Hebron market, where we follow a standard retaliatory procedure. The procedure is to overturn as many market carts as possible. Several Arab peddlers were cheeky enough to put up resistance. They got beaten exactly as they deserved.
Such atrocities are perpetrated not only in Hebron and the adjoining area. The veteran informs that the Committee
is active not only in the Hebron area, but also in Ariel, Yitzhar, Beit-El, Shilo and in [the Haredi town of Immanuel. We have a handful of members in almost every one of the 140 settlements [of the West Bank]. Three or four people are enough to carry out simple unsophisticated operations. For that we don't need more people. Such minimal manpower is always available to us.
To all appearances this is true. The veteran also provides the already well-known information about the Committee's members such as
Baruch Marzel, the first chairman of the Committee for Safety on Highways, who is now a member of the Kiryat Arba [Municipal] Council, which proves something. And we also have our representatives coordinating work in the Local Action Committee, which is the Council's informal vigilante outfit for retaliations against the terrorists.
The same is in my view the case in all religious settlements, but not in the secular ones, because all major Israeli secular parties abhor Kach, Likud even more than Labor.
An example of the committee's performance which occurred far away from Hebron was reported by Haaretz on November 21. The above-mentioned Baruch Marzel together with another well-known Kach militant, Noam Federman, were detained a day before for having gone on a rampage during the visit of the president of Israel, Ezer Weizmann, to Kiryat Arba. Weizmann's intention was to encourage the settlers, but Marzel and Federman nevertheless abused him violently. When they were brought before the magistrate in Western Jerusalem (as settlers they have the privilege of standing trial in Israel), the police asked to remand them on the ground that "they could not be found while being pursued since November 4 for an offense they were suspected of committing on that day." Let me parenthetically comment that at the time the two "could not be found" they were engaged in public activities. The police told the magistrate, Yehudit Tzur, that it suspects Marzel and Federman of "arriving in a rented taxi in the Arab village of Al-Hadar in the district of Bethlehem, in the company of some armed settlers. Upon arriving there, they went to a local grocery. One of them aimed his gun at the grocer, while others burned the Palestinian flags on sale." Thereupon, the whole group crisscrossed the village, burning all the flags that could be found, and forcing the inhabitants to watch the fires under threats of shooting and actually shooting into the air. According to my sources, incidents of this type are quite common in many West Bank villages, though not in the Gaza Strip. The assaulters are hardly ever apprehended, and the Israeli army dismisses the complaints of the villagers with contempt. In this particular case, however, the assaulters were watched from a nearby Israeli army lookout and telescopically photographed, presumably by soldiers uninformed of what the army really wanted. The photographs, which were clear enough to identify the assaulters, were handed over to the police. The latter, which then had Marzel and Federman under detetion for insulting the president, asked that they be remanded for seven more days. The sequel of the story is instructive. Marzel and Federman wanted to be freed on bail in view of the "petty" nature of offenses they were charged with. Marzel argued that charging him "with such petty offenses proves that the police are biased against" him. Accepting such "arguments," Ms. Tzur freed the two on a minuscule bail, in addition to instructing Marzel to spend the next four days in Jerusalem in some place where he could be located by the police.
Such kindness toward the Kach members and other religious settlers is typical of, if not all Jewish judges of Jerusalem, then of a large majority of them. Their leniency is so well-known that, in the rare cases when the Israeli police or the attorney general's office really want to prosecute Kach members from the territories, they assign them to magistrates and judges in other Israeli cities, which is perfectly legal.
The most important conclusion warranted by evidence presented here is analogous to that made at the beginning of the article. I argued there that Rabin's real policy is to support the settlements in order to guarantee continuing Israeli domination over the territories under the cover of pretended concessions to the Palestinians. To pursue that policy, Rabin needs to bestow particular favors upon religious settlers, because they alone are willing to settle in places like Netzarim and even Hebron, for that matter. For the same reason Rabin must condone the violence of the religious settlers against the Palestinians. Ruling a population which refuses to accord to its rulers any legitimacy requires a continuous recourse to violence, however limited in its scope, for the purpose of cowing the people and keeping them intimidated.
This is exactly what the religious settlers are doing, and it is also the reason why the Israeli army does nothing to restrain them although it easily could. The religious settlers (including Kach, as long as it sticks to the rules of the game) should be regarded as a vital segment of the Israeli security system, on a par with the army, the Shabak and the police, which are inhibited by the constraints of their roles as official arms of the Israeli government. It is therefore delusory to expect any segment of that security system to take meaningful action against another.
Another conclusion to be drawn is that in social and political terms, systematic violence such as described here, even if purposefully limited, is much more important than the murders (even of children) or tortures inflicted only on relatively few Palestinians. On the contrary, the present report shows that, with the exception of the "wanted," the Israeli Security System is not interested in having too many Palestinians murdered or even wounded. It is interested in having them continually harassed, humiliated and, therefore, feeling vulnerable. I do not mean to minimize the significance of murder and torture. For years on end, I have done my best to struggle against the murders of Palestinians committed by the state of Israel, and I was one of the first Israelis to openly protest after 1967 against torture of Palestinians. I merely say that socially and politically what matters most is what has the strongest impact upon the everyday life of the greatest numbers of people -- in this case upon everybody, at least potentially. Such an impact cannot avoid affecting and ultimately shaping people's consciousness, though not necessarily to the oppressors' liking. In this case, mass violence of the kind described will, in my view, contribute to stepping up Palestinian resistance, regardless of what the fate of the agreement between Israel and the PLO may yet be.