Violent tit-for-tat attacks between Israelis and Palestinians are spiralling out of control. That might, however, be exactly what the far-right ministers in Israel’s government are hoping for.
In the latest and gravest incident, a vigilante force of Jewish settlers, armed with iron bars and rocks, rampaged through the West Bank town of Huwara on Sunday, burning cars and homes. One Palestinian was killed.
The violence was seen as revenge for the murder, hours earlier, of two Jewish settlers. Their killings were retribution for the Israeli raid on Nablus the week before, which killed 11 Palestinians. And so it goes on.
The settlers’ rampage was worryingly well-organised. Some reports suggest the prolonged attack on Huwara was the work of the “price taggers,” a movement that vows to extract a “price” for any Palestinian attacks, or any moves to limit settlement expansion.
In Huwara, the Israeli military and police – now overseen by far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir – have been accused of failing to intervene.
“This isn’t ‘loss of control’. This is exactly what Israeli control looks like,” tweeted Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. “The settlers carry out the attack, the military secures it, the politicians back it. It’s a synergy.”
Ben-Gvir and another coalition extremist, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, have a long record of promoting ultra-nationalist politics and denigrating Arabs and other minorities.
Zvika Fogel, an MP in Ben-Gvir’s far-right Jewish Power party, said on Monday that the settlers’ violence in Huwara, a form of “collective punishment”, was justified.
“A closed, burned Huwara; that’s what I want to see,” he said. “That’s the only way to achieve deterrence.”
Palestinians who were shot at said they saw Israeli soldiers allow the settler vigilantes to carry out their attacks and even protected them.
The fact that the attackers were allowed to continue their violence for hours unimpeded gives credence to these claims.
The Palestinian writer and columnist Muhammad Shehada wrote that the weekend’s violence follows near-daily incursions, and an increase in the demolition of Palestinian homes.
“Exactly the point”. Because although violence between Palestinians and settlers is hardly new, the political situation in Israel is unprecedented. The current Israeli regime is the most extreme and bigoted in the country’s history – driven by religious fanatics who want to annex the whole West Bank and who now control key police, finance and military portfolios.
These Israeli zealots believe things will have to be shaken up a bit to get to what they want.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is not an ultra-zealot like Ben-Gvir or Smotrich. However, he needs their support to prop up his paper-thin majority. In return, he might get through the law reforms he needs to evade charges of breach of trust, bribery and fraud that could send him to prison.
Netanyahu doesn’t believe in the poisonous, religious claptrap of Ben-Gvir, et al. But the fact he’s prepared to work with them to save himself, says a lot about his morals.
You know things are getting out of hand when even the perennially cowed and embarrassed Germans hit out at an Israeli government.
Last week German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock expressed concern about judicial independence in Israel as well as plans by the Israeli government to allow the death penalty.
Around 250 officers from the Military Intelligence’s Special Operations Division have signed a public letter threatening to rebel if Netanyahu weakens the Supreme Court. On Saturday more than 160,000 Israelis protested in Tel Aviv against the judicial shake-up.
As the New York Times Israel commentator Thomas Friedman notes: “Israel has never experienced a Palestinian intifada, a Jewish settler intifada and an Israeli citizen judicial intifada all at once. But that’s begun to unfold since Netanyahu’s far-right government took office.”
If or when the current motley coalition crumbles – and one of the first cracks may have appeared on Tuesday with the resignation of far-right deputy minister Avi Maoz – then a rather larger number of Israelis – that is the 290,000 or so who wasted their votes on tiny anti-Netanyahu parties which failed to cross the electoral threshold in December, will have to do something that’s anathema to the left: vote for compromise, in order to keep Netanyahu and his zealots out of power, and let the prosecutors finish him off.