On the violence of extremist Israelis.

Arming a bunch of religious zealots. What could go wrong?

Let’s be honest: Israel appears to be going entirely to the dogs.

The promulgation of anti-democratic laws, the hounding of the press and NGOs, the stream of news of settler extremism, in addition to the ever-expanding occupation of, and state violence against, the Palestinian people — well. It’s bad, is all I’m saying. And that doesn’t even get into the issues raised by the social protests over the summer.

Last week I rounded up some of the bad news, but I haven’t tried to really grapple with the rise in violence perpetrated by Israelis against Israelis. For one, as I may have let slip a time or two in recent months, I’m dead exhausted by the whole thing.

For another, the fact that everyone is suddenly getting all wrought up over the trials and tribulations of the Israeli people at the hands of violent and anti-democratic forces is occasionally just a little too much for me.

It’s wrong, it’s bad, people of good will really need to stand up against it — but dude. This is as nothing compared to what Palestinians have faced on the daily for 44 years. I lose patience, though I know I shouldn’t — if for no other reason than that recent events are entirely entangled with the habits, norms and mores of the occupation culture.

When you form and maintain a violent and repressive political relationship with your neighbors, it really is just a matter of time before that violence and repression finds its way back across the border. And bottom line, most of the legislation and settler violence is all about the same thing: Perpetuating that violent and repressive political relationship (some of the legislation is about stripping away modern pluralism in favor of 16th century religious standards. So. There’s that, too).

But Israeli writer and public opinion analyst Dahlia Scheindlin has grappled with all of this, and quite brilliantly at that, in the always excellent (and highly book-markable) online English-language magazine +972.

Following is a big chunk of what she wrote, but I really, really encourage you to click here and read the whole thing (my emphasis down there in the middle).

The Jewish Intifada: The conflict turns upside-down

The newest chapter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – settler-led physical violence and destruction of both Palestinian and Israeli targets, within and beyond the Green Line – has turned regular conflict patterns of political divisions upside-down. Confusion and irony reign.

Settler-led violence isn’t new: attacks on Palestinian civilians has been a regular feature of life in the “Wild East” for years, just as there have been Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets in the West Bank. But something seems different now.

Attacks on mosques, cemeteries and property of Palestinians has accelerated in recent months. A brazen attack on an IDF camp in the West Bank really ignited emotions this week. If there’s one thing you don’t do in Israel, it’s mess with the beloved, almost-holy institution of the army.

The multi-pronged attacks have erased the border between Israel and the Palestinian territories, between citizens of Israel and non-citizens. The conflict lines are no longer solely ethnic. A few weeks ago, the Price Tag attacks on Peace Now and another Israeli NGO turned this into an internecine war of left against right. The country had barely adjusted to that, when the attack on an army base redrew the lines of the conflict yet again.

The extremists seem to have unleashed a fully elaborated and deliberate strategy. This is not about isolated cells of weirdo-freaks. This is an uprising; it’s a Jewish Intifada.

And this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Don’t misunderstand: The destruction of property, religious desecration, and (god forbid) the loss of life, are horrific, and the long-term damage they wreak knows no bounds. But the tragic fact is that this alone does not make the conflict any worse than it has been for the last four or six decades. I wonder if Palestinians care about the fiery debate raging Israel. They suffer violence as a matter of course, at the hands of Israelis, all the time – what do they care if it’s settlers, soldiers, or private security companies, whether it’s sanctioned by, or violates Israeli civil law, military law, or just the arbitrary nature of the occupation?

But for Israelis, the very juxtaposition of two symbolically incompatible notions – Jewish and Intifada – is a potential paradigm-crack of the moldy self-perpetuating alliances of the past.

A settler interviewed on the radio today complained that the authorities don’t give permission or permits to build their neighborhoods. Then, he said, the Israeli authorities have the nerve to accuse them of illegal expansion. “If they don’t let us build,” he said, “we are forced to build illegally.”

So the most extreme elements of Israeli society now find themselves in precisely the same situation as the most marginalized elements of Israeli society – Palestinian citizens of Israel, Bedouin, East Jerusalem Palestinians whose lands and cities are overcrowded, who build without permits for lack of any other options, and face the constant threat of court orders, bulldozers, and eviction.

The prospect of Israel losing internal cohesion is truly frightening, and not because I hold the state’s policies in high regard. Rather, with the integrity of Israeli democracy already breached, a profound threat to state legitimacy could result in ever-more coercive attempts to hold the state together for the sake of itself: raison d’état. And who knows what will be sacrificed for that cause.

Really, please go read the whole thing, and while you’re there take a look around the place. +972 (a reference, by the way, to the country code you dial when calling Israel) is a consistently excellent, and often surprising outlet (witness Yuval Ben-Ami’s Christmas journey).

4 Comments

  1. It seems that everywhere religious zealots stamp their feet, human decency lies bleeding on the ground before them, despite their vociferous protestations of their want of “peace.” Their “peace” is a peace based on their interpretation of what is best for everyone, irrespective of the right of the individual to self-determination.

    Israel is now a microcosm of a problem that plagues the globe & it will be the crucible where lasting peace will be forged or the bonfire where civilization will be burned down.

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