On November 16th of this year, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem released a video showing Israeli soldiers pulling Palestinian children out of their beds in the middle of the night and photographing them illegally. B’Tselem reported that during the night operations in the H1 area of Hebron, which is under Palestinian control, Israeli soldiers entered the home of the Daana family, forcing the parents to wake up and gather their children. According to the Yediot Aharonot daily, the incident took place in September and included 14 children, most of whom were asleep when the raid began. The Haaretz daily reported that according to the parents, all the children, who were in kindergarten or the early years of elementary school, were forced to stand in a line outside the house. The video shows several of the children trembling and crying. The video also shows soldiers ordering the children to say “cheese” over the objections of the parents. According to Israeli law, it is illegal to photograph miners.
Before photographing the children, an Israeli officer is heard in the video claiming that the children were being recorded because of a stone-throwing incident, without giving any details of the incident. Yediot quoted Sameh Daana, the father, as saying; “Our house is located 100-200 meters far from the fence, (separating them from the settler’s house) which makes it impossible for a child this age to throw a stone such a distance.”
This incident was not the only gross violation of Palestinian children’s rights to be conducted routinely against Palestinian children by the army or by settlers under the protection of the army. Earlier in October, a group of settlers from the South Hebron Hills entered a playground in the nearby poor Palestinian village of Susiya, kicking out children who had been playing there. In videos of the incident, soldiers can be seen standing guard outside the playground, keeping the Palestinians away while the settlers remained inside until police officers arrived and dispersed the crowd.1
The village of Burin, south of Nablus, was the site of another settler attack on October 16th, part of which was filmed by the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din. Hooded settlers, some dressed in black and some in white, pelted the Palestinian home closest to their illegal hilltop outpost of Givat Ronen with stones and lit multiple brush fires near it. At the time, a Palestinian mother and two of her daughters were in the house witnessing with utmost fear the savage attack. The mother was quoted as saying that Israel soldiers who arrived on the scene sided with the settlers and, rather than halting their assault, fired tear gas and stun grenades at the Palestinians who came to defend the family. She showed the canister of an IDF stun grenade which she said was found on her roof. According to Yesh Din, at first there were about 15 settler assailants, and they were later joined by another 15.
Every year, hundreds of Palestinian minors undergo the same scenario. Israeli security forces pick them up on the street or at home in the middle of the night, then handcuff and blindfold them and transport them to interrogation, often subjecting them to violence en route. Exhausted and scared – some having spent a long time in transit, some having been roused from sleep, some having had nothing to eat or drink for hours – the minors are then interrogated. They are completely alone, cut off from the world, without any adult they know and trust by their side, and without having been given a chance to consult with a lawyer before the interrogation. The interrogation itself often involves threats, yelling, verbal abuse, and sometimes physical violence. Its sole purpose is to get the minors to confess or provide information about others. They are taken to the military court for a remand hearing, where most see their lawyer for the first time. In the vast majority of cases, the military judges approve remand, even when the only evidence against the minors is their own confession or allegedly incriminating statements made against them by others.2
Settler violence has long become part of Palestinian daily life under occupation. Israeli security forces enable these actions, which result in Palestinian casualties – injuries and fatalities – as well as damage to land and property. In some cases, they even serve as armed escorts, or take part in the attacks. Investigations, if even opened, are usually closed with no action taken against perpetrators as part of an undeclared policy of leniency. The above incidents illustrate how arbitrarily the routine lives of Palestinians living under occupation is disrupted and how easily soldiers violate their rights. The long-term effect of this violence is the dispossession of Palestinians from increasing parts of the West Bank, making it easier for Israel to take over land and resources.3
Historical Roots of These Policies and Practices
These policies and actions by the settlers, the army, and the Israeli authorities could not be taking place accidentally or arbitrarily in a state that claims to be democratic and humanistic. They must be part of an ideology and intention. Indeed, the dehumanization of the Palestinians in their native land is deeply rooted in the ideology and vision of the founders of the Jewish state.
At the first Zionist Congress in 1897, Theodor Herzl, the founder of the movement, stated that “for Europe, we shall be part of the wall against Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism.”4
In all the debates within the Zionist movement in Europe, the presence of Arabs in Palestine was almost never raised. After all, the phrase that described Palestine as “a land without a people for a people without a land” popularized by British Jewish writer Israel Zangwill suited the Zionist drive to take over Palestine – with no people. Later, some Israelis went as far as to justify this dismissal of the Palestinian existence on moral grounds.
For Herzl, who had a colonial mindset and lived in the era of imperialism, the issue of native rights was not on the table, and he did not consider the acquisition of a homeland outside Europe to be a goal requiring justification.5
This perception of Herzl and other leaders of the Zionist movement was reflected in the practices of the early Zionist settlers in Palestine and later by Israel. Their territorial restructuring of the land centered on a combined Judaization and de-Arabization scheme.
Indeed, Israel, as a settler society, has since 1948 and after 1967 made every effort to execute the territorial restructuring of the land of Palestine based on these two schemes. The Israeli Judaization program was premised on a hegemonic myth that the land belongs to the Jewish people (as promised by God) and only to the Jewish people. Thus, an exclusive form of settling ethno-nationalistic settlement developed in order to quickly indigenize immigrant Jews and deny or marginalize the Palestinian rights and their presence.6
This myth was and continues to be claimed by many Zionist arguments, such as that of Professor Eliezer Schweid from the Hebrew University who wrote in 1970 in the Zionist publication Dispersion and Unity that “the general policy of Zionism should be based itself upon the certainty and primacy of the right of the Jewish people to its homeland. From this point of view, the opposition of the Arabs was a stumbling block that must be overcome and not a moral problem that must be dealt with.”7
On June 1969, Golda Meir, then prime minister, was reported to have said: “There was no such thing as Palestinians. When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state? It was either southern Syria before the first world war and then it was a Palestine including Jordan. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country from them. They did not exist.”
In a 1974 article in the New Outlook, Dr. Nahum Goldman, then president of the World Jewish Congress, wrote about the total unawareness of the Arabs on the part of most early Zionists and those who were aware did not attach the necessary significance to them.8
According to researcher Adam Raz, the first ruling party (Mapai) looked at the Palestinians as if they were donkeys. He wrote that Moshe Sharett, then minister of foreign affairs, maintained that Ben-Gurion, the founder of Israel, had not given consideration to the root of the problem (with the Arab citizens). “Terrible things were being done against Arabs in the country,” he warned. And in a meeting of Mapai Knesset members and senior party leaders on June 18, 1950, Sharett was quoted as saying that “this is one of the fundamental questions of our policy and of the future of our country.” He added that “the issue was one that will determine the direction of the country’s morality, for our entire moral stature depends on this test – on whether we pass it or not.” Raz wrote that the minutes of that meeting attested to the deep dispute in the party over two conflicting approaches concerning the Arabs in Israel. Prime Minister David Ben- Gurion and his associates Moshe Dayan, Israel Defense Forces chief of staff 1953-1958, and Shimon Peres, at the time Director General of the Defense Ministry, advocated for a policy of segregation and a hard hand against what he considered as a communal threat to national security; while Sharett and other Mapai leaders – Pinhas Lavon, Zalman Aran, David Hacohen, and others – promoted a policy of integration. It was clear that the first approach prevailed over the second one. This approach was manifested, among other things, in imposing a harsh military government over the Arab localities for many years.9
In Segev’s biography, he shows how central exclusionary nationalism, war, and racism were to Ben-Gurion’s vision of the Jewish homeland in Palestine and how contemptuous he was not only of the Arabs but of Jewish life outside Zion.10
The Vision and Practice of Religious Zionism
The Zionist scheme as was perceived and implemented by the secular founders of the movement and of Israel was gradually replaced, after the 1967 occupation of the rest of Palestine, by religious Zionism. The leaders of this movement, who dominate the establishment of the vast number of settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territory (OPT), have, as shown above, developed hegemony over the consecutive Israeli governments in connection with Israel’s rule over the OPT, including the operation of its security forces.
The leader of this religious Zionism was Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook who led the movement spiritually and ideologically. He maintained that “the Jews had not taken sovereignty from the Arabs (Palestinians) since they never had sovereignty or control of the land. The land was part of the Ottoman Empire, did not even exist as a separate unit, and when that empire fell apart, control of the land passed to the British Empire who held it as a League of Nations trust for the Jewish people, from which the state of Israel arose”. ….” It should be understood that historically, legally, religiously, and morally the land was the homeland of the Jewish nation and Zionism was its liberation movement.” He argued that “the Jewish nation has no opposition to non-Jews living here, as long as they accept that this is the Jewish state. …. But first it has to be clear that on the national level – the right of self-determination in this land is that of the Jewish nation. Once the Arab world recognizes this – peace will follow”.11
Rabbi Zvi Thau (among the senior students of Rabbi Kook) maintained that the clash between Israelis and Palestinians is a conflict between two collective identities, one of which is true (the Jewish collective), while the other one is false (the Palestinian collective). “They (The Palestinians) masquerade as a people, they cloak themselves with all the national features – and yet they lack any essence, any content of their own. They have no value, role or hidden talent that is required to complete the form of humanity, nor do they have any foothold in eternity, as does the Jewish people, whose nationality is connected with the divine plan of restoring the world and making all creatures achieve their true purpose.” “Our Rabbi (Rabbi Kook) used to say: We have no business with Ahmed and Mustafa as private individuals; we have business with a group of people that pretends to be a national entity and wishes to deprive from us our claim to the land of Israel, forestall the establishment of the kingdom of Israel, to undermine our national strength. This is the point of contrast. Any attempt to solve this problem other than by exercising the utmost national valor, the rule and the governance of Israel over the entire land, for sake of the holy and lofty goal of our kingdom…will undermine our national strength”.12
Current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s position has been described as “ultranationalism.” He describes himself as “more right wing” than former Prime Minister Netanyahu. He opposes the creation of a Palestinian state. After reentering Israeli politics in 2013, he has been known for incendiary anti–Palestinian rhetoric. In June 2013, Bennett was quoted as saying “I have a friend who’s got shrapnel in his rear end, and he’s been told that it can be removed surgically, but it would leave him disabled… so he decided to live with it. There are situations where insisting on perfection can lead to more trouble than it’s worth.” Bennett’s “shrapnel in the butt” analogy became widely known as representing his views on the Palestinian problem.
In response to Israel’s release of prisoners in 2013, Bennett said that Palestinian terrorists should be shot and then added: “I already killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there is absolutely no problem with that.”
In January 2013, Bennett said: There is not going to be a Palestinian state within the tiny land of Israel. It’s just not going to happen. A Palestinian state would be a disaster for the next 200 years.”
In October 2016, Bennett said: “We have to mark the dream, and the dream is that Judea and Samaria will be part of the sovereign state of Israel”.13
Denying legal and moral responsibility
Acknowledging the other’s victimhood or recognizing oneself as the victimizer of the other is perhaps the most terrifying ghost train one can decide to embark upon. Most Israeli Jews are unable or simply refuse to contemplate the possibility.
For Israelis, recognition of the Palestinians as the victims of Israeli actions is deeply distressing in at least two ways. This acknowledgment means facing up to the historical injustice committed by Israel, from its ethnic cleansing of the country’s indigenous people in 1948 to the lie of “a land without a people for a people without a land.” And it raises a host of ethical questions that have inescapable implications for the future of the state. What Palestinians are demanding is to be recognized as the victims of an ongoing evil consciously perpetrated by Israel against them. For Israeli Jews to accept this would naturally mean losing their own status of victimhood.14
During the Haaretz Peace Conference in July 2014, Eva Illouz (professor of sociology) one of the conferees, addressed the conference with the question of Israel and Jewish morality. Among other things, she argued that the occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967 and the Israeli military rule over the Palestinian inhabitants of these territories have raised intense discussions about Israeli morality. She argued that while various Israeli groups try to reaffirm the moral identity of Israel, in reality Israel holds the Palestinian people in a harsh grip. Israel, she argued, builds settlements; uses the army to protect the settlers; engages in the administrative detention of Palestinian; confiscates private land; suffocates the Palestinian trade and economy; installs fences and checkpoints; separates family members; demolishes dwellings; assaults women and children; shoots at Palestinians; and more. These practices are taking place without questioning their morality, and Israeli leaders never doubt the legitimacy of their police because “Israel is a country of peace.” However, she argued, Israel’s moral identity has had zero impact on what happens on the ground and is set aside when it comes to the significance of ruling over another people. She concluded that Israelis and Jews have not and cannot settle the contradiction between their belief in Israeli morality and the practical reality they have created and but refuse to see.15
What we learn from this paper is that since the beginning of the Zionist movement, there has been collusion and even intimate cooperation between the nationalistic Zionism and the fanatic religious Zionism. This political engagement has lately become obvious and more intense, though at times ambiguous. Since the beginning of the Zionist project in Europe, the secular nationalistic leaders claimed to have a historical right to establish a Jewish national home in Palestine at the expense of the native Palestinians. The Jews, they claimed, are democratic and enlightened, are the extension of Western culture, while the native people are primitive and inferior, and thus there was no need to take into consideration their wishes and aspirations. The religious Zionists, on the other hand, believe in the Jewish land (holy land) which was promised to the Jewish people by God, Abraham, and Yitzhak to be for the Jews and for the Jews only. They consider the native people of the land to be passing strangers. There is no doubt that that these two approaches, together or separate, as well as other factors, have had a profound and direct impact on the practice of dehumanizing the Palestinians at both the official and the popular levels. The children of the Daana family are only a small example of this dehumanization.
1 Haaretz, 18 November 2021, “IDF Soldiers rousted 13 Palestinian kids at midnight for photo”. Yedioth Ahronoth, 18 November, 2021, “My Children are still traumatized”
2 B’tselem: Summary March 2018
3 B’tselem: Israel’s misappropriation of land in the West bank through settlers violence” November 2021 (3)
4 Ehud Adiv: “Politics and Identity” in Ilan Pappe & Jamil Hilal (Ed), Across The Wall, I.B Tauris, London, 2010, pp. 19-44
5 Alex Bein, Theodor Herzl, Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1941
6 Oren Yiftachel,“Ethnocracy” in Ilan Pappe & Jamil Hilal (Ed), ibid pp. 269-306
7 Eliezer Schweid, “New Ideological Direction after the Sex Day War” in Dispersion and Unity, No. 10, 1970, p. 48
8 New Outlook Vol. 17, no. 9, November-December 1974
9 Adam Raz, an Israeli journalist wrote in the daily Haaretz, (13, January, 2018)
10 Tom Segev: A STATE AT ANY COST: THE LIFE OF DAVID BEN-GURION . Head of Zeus, August 2019
11 David Be-Meir: What Do Jews in Judea and Samaria think of their Arab Neighbors – Part Two, The Jerusalem Post, May 24, 2016
12 Moshe Hellinger: “Political Theology in the Thought of ‘Merkaz HaRav’ Yeshiva and its Profound Influence on Israeli Politics and Society since 1967. Bar Ilan University December 2008
13 Wikipedia (En.m.Wikipedia org), Nov. 2021, Naftali Bennett
14 Ilan Pappe: “Fear,Victimhood, Self and Others”, in Ilan Pappe and Jamil Hilal (Ed), ibid pp. 155-176
15 Eva Illouz, Haaretz Peace Conference, July 2014