Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Another perspective: The recent West Bank violence against settlers

On 31 August, four Israeli settlers were killed near Hebron. The following day, two Israeli settlers were wounded near Ramallah. The attacks appear to be carried out by Palestinian militants associated with Hamas. The mainstream media (MSM) has covered these stories extensively, and therefore, I will not spend my time re-hashing what the MSM has to say. As you have seen (or if you haven't seen, you can probably guess) the MSM took this and ran with it, as did the White House. Obama immediately spoke out against these attacks, in juxtaposition to his silence during the duration of the Israel's onslaught on Gaza, which resulted in 1400 dead civilians.

The MSM is void of Arab voices and Muslim voices. It's not entirely void of voices sympathetic to a Palestinian perspective, but those voices are few and far between. The blogosphere is my lifeline because it feels this void. U.S. media is full of happy, optimistic anchors talking about the hope of these peace talks. Al Jazeera (the largest news corporation based in the Arab world), on the other hand, speaks about the Palestinian street, and the lack of optimism or even care for this round of peace talks. Likewise, Israeli papers have been lightly covering these peace talks, as opposed to the front page stories in the major U.S. newspapers, but I digress. My point was the lack of critically analytical (Arab or Palestinian) voices in the MSM. To foil that void, here are some critical voices (some Arab and some Jewish).

The blogger, Seham, writing for Mondowiess, put together a long list of violent settler attacks against Palestinians that occurred in the last few weeks. Here is some of her analysis (follow the link to see the list of attacks perpetrated by settlers):
The killing of the settlers was simply a reminder to everyone meeting in Washington that they cannot continue to ignore the democratically elected leadership of Gaza, no matter how despicable the West and Israel may find them. Most Palestinians, apparently with the exception of Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies, find all Israeli leadership to be even more despicable, more criminal and more violent than Hamas—but alas, they are left with no choice but to deal with them, no matter how many innocent Palestinians they have murdered.

Please don’t accuse me of advocating vigilante justice, because I don’t. But, those settlers are illegally squatting on Palestinian land, and the list of those responsible for what happened to them yesterday must include near the top the Israeli leadership that lured them from around the world into living in cheap, government subsidized housing with all kinds of welfare benefits so that Israel can continue its illegal military presence in the West Bank. Golda Meir said that there couldn’t be peace until the Arabs learned to love their children more than they hate Israelis… I posit that there won’t be peace until the Israelis learn to love their children more than they love the continued theft of Palestinian land.

And all of this talk of “why, why, why did Hamas do this?” Take a look at this list of settler initiated crimes against Palestinians from the last few weeks. What type of superhuman moral restraint do you expect Palestinians to continue? How long must they be intimidated by these thugs before they strike back? How long would Americans tolerate this sort of thuggish behavior before they fought back?
On the blog Mondoweiss, a response was posted by David Samel who strongly opposes armed resistance in this instance. I will post the complete response, and then Seham's counter response. It is lengthy but necessary to be quoted in full, as it is a glimpse into the pain and loss of each Palestinian person. Here is David in response to Seham:
Seham, I have no doubt that many settlers, especially the ones who are in the WB for ideological rather than economic reasons, are unapologetic racists who ruthlessly exercise their power to make life miserable for the Palestinians. They even resort to murder. However, this was not a spontaneous attack by a Palestinian driven by a last-straw incident to attack one of these cruel racists. This was a pre-planned murder of random settlers executed by an armed group (there may be some question as to whether it was Hamas after all.) The people who undertook this operation coolly decided that it was the proper course of action for reasons I cannot fathom. Assuming all of your stories are true (and I don’t have the slightest reason to doubt any), it could not have been a rational decision designed to alleviate the sadistic and cruel conditions imposed by the settlers upon the Palestinians.
And Seham's response to David:
David, let’s assume that they were Hamas members or sympathizers. How insulated do you think Hamas is from daily Israeli/PA aggression, violence and detention in the West Bank? Everyone knows about the siege in Gaza and how it affects everyone there, but, that doesn't mean that Hamas members or sympathizers in the West Bank have it much better. Surely you know what life is like for the average Palestinian, so do you think that Hamas members are somehow detached and unaffected by the occupation? They, their families and their property are constantly being targeted by either the Israelis or their Palestinian appendage in the West Bank. Besides, things are not getting any better for Palestinians in either the West Bank, Gaza or East Jerusalem and there isn't any chance for freedom in the future, not with the expansion of the settlements going full steam ahead. And as the settlements grow, so does the repression of all the Palestinians living around them. Expect then, for more "cool headed" people to snap, expect that they might be Hamas or, that they might be Fatah members who resent the shift in the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank that occurred post Oslo.

Every single Palestinian in the territories has a relative that was either killed, arrested, held up at a checkpoint, or had something they owned stolen by Israelis.

My own Palestinian story is as follows: my father had a heart attack years ago in the West Bank. Doctors said if he would have gotten to the hospital in time, he would have survived. The taxi that was taking him to the hospital was held up at a checkpoint. We never got to see him before he died. I live in the U.S., I have not experienced a scintilla of what Palestinians living in the territories have. And do you know how hard I have to work to control the rage I feel inside of me? How Palestinians living over there do it, every single day, I can’t understand.
Can you hear the pain. The resignation. The pessimism. The lack of hope in these photo opportunities peace talks. Why would you have an ounce of hope that Mahmoud Abbas, a man whose presidential term expired eons ago, and is a known collaborator with Israel and the U.S., will try to end this oppressive occupation?

Max Aji, a Jewish blogger writes at Jewbonics. Aji strongly rejects the comdemnation of the attacks when compared with the ongoing violence and repression Palestinians face by the state of Israel, and the supported extensions of the state (read settlers), which never gets condemned:
I will not comment on the Hamas killings of four settlers in the West Bank except to comment that I will not comment on those killings. As Seham points out in the last several months there were many Israeli attacks against Palestinians. Many Palestinians were shot or died and I did not even write about every atrocity I saw with my own eyes in Gaza. No one apologized for those atrocities. No heads-of-state spoke about the assassination of Ahmed Salem Deeb, nor did the New York Times decide to cover the day when a dum-dum bullet turned his leg to jelly, leading to his death. That paper does not cover or condemn the quotidian crimes committed against the Palestinian populace, and the good people of New York and LA either don't know or don't care that the attack against the armed paramilitary settlers in the West Bank is only visible because of the religion of the dead. The uproar is about racism, it's about valuing a white corpse complicit in atrocity higher than the brown corpse of its victim, and so I see no particular value in condemning a people psychically lacerated by living through over 60 years of hell for lashing out against their tormentors, no matter the motivation.
As uncomfortable as that point may be, it's a point that needs to be stated. Obama responding immediately to the killing of four white Israelis, while remaining silent for an entire month about the killing of 1400 brown Palestinians smacks of racism. It is about one people group, wearing white skin and espousing the Jewish faith, being viewed as more valuable than brown people espousing Islamic faith. If it isn't about that, I invite your comments, I invite a debate.


Gerard said...


Sam, I appreciate your voice. This helps me understand better what is going on over in the WB and Gaza and the approach the MSM is taking when it suddenly decides to report on these issues.

Good work sir. I shall be reposting this myself.

Samuel Nichols said...

Good, getting some other voices out there is important. The MSM seems to pat world leaders on the back, and place so much authority/legitimacy in Abbas, when in reality, he speaks for solely for himself because his term expired years ago.

Since writing this, Ali Abunimah was published in the NYT and Ahmad Tibi was published in the LAT. It's very encouraging to see Palestinian voices show up in the MSM. Also, if you don't get it on your TV, check out where you can stream Al Jazeera English for free. I find it less flowerly and blindly hopeful about things like the peace talks, probably because they are reporting from the Arab world where Palestinians have seen their land confiscated more and more as each of the 7 peace talks have taken place.