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Israel’s ‘blame the hand’ excuse for settler violence

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In Mel Brooks’ comedy Blazing Saddles, the newly appointed black sheriff of a Wild West township realizes that his welcome ceremony is about to turn into a lynch by the town’s all-white denizens. The black cowboy improvises an ingenious escape plan: he points his gun at his own head and pretends to be taken hostage. Speaking with two voices and playing the double role of kidnapper and hostage, he manages to drag himself away to safety. His subterfuge works by garnering sympathy from the previously hostile crowd.

Fans of Mel Brooks may appreciate the Israeli spectacle, cast in the same mold, which could be referred to as “blame the hand”. In the Israeli version of Blazing Saddles, one of the characters is a habitual wife beater. He does so year after year and gets away with it by employing a brilliant tactic: whenever the cops show at his door, he blames his hand for doing the beating. In front of their dumbstruck faces he then enacts an epic struggle with his hand, ending the performance by slapping it in punishment. The cops, not the most intelligent bunch, fall for this sleight time and time again. They leave his house, not before having expressed their sympathy for his battle with the wayward hand.

It has been the mainstay of the Zionist left and the so-called peace camp to blame Israel’s post-1967 territorial entanglement on settlers. According to this view, the settlers have violated the 1967 borders, the settlers are stealing Palestinian land, the settlers are engaged in violence and “price tag” attacks against Palestinians. The settlers are preventing peace.  While these accusations certainly have merit, it is worth remembering that the hand does not operate by itself. It is the head that moves it. And the head is the Israeli government, representing Israel’s Jewish population.

Blame the Hand has been played since the early days of militant Zionism. While Ben Gurion’s forces ethnically cleansed Palestine, enacted the Absentees Laws to confiscate the refugees’ property, and shot those who attempted to return, the hand was blamed for Deir Yassin, Tantura and other relatively minor crimes. The big crime gets a pass while the small crime is pinned on “extremists”. It is obvious why: Zionism has always relied on the support of Western powers and that support relies on the projection of image. Violent settlers and Jewish terrorists simply don’t look good, even though their crimes amount to a fraction of the abuses committed by the Israeli government.

It is all too easy to point the finger at wild-eyed fundamentalist settlers, who have created their own version of a Biblical Wild West (Bank), terrorizing Palestinians, uprooting olive trees, vandalizing property and more recently, burning families. It is an easy target and many of us, including Palestinians, occasionally succumb to the temptation to lay the blame on Israel’s settler movement. But let’s not forget: the settlers are not there on their own design. Without the army’s protection, without their superior legal status granted by the Israeli judicial system, without the resources and government support, they would not be there. Without the predictable process of “legalization” of outposts, without the ideological edifice of Zionism – Israel’s state ideology – they would have as much ability and legitimization to settle in the West Bank as they would in Uzbekistan. It is a three card monte that everyone wittingly plays while Palestinians are herded into ever shrinking enclaves. By evacuating a few insignificant outposts, the Israeli government hopes to legitimize the ten-fold larger expansion of settlements and the “legalization” of others.

It is not the settlers who created Ariel, a city-settlement of 20,000 in the heart of the West Bank. It is the Israeli government. It is not the settlers who are denying Palestinians civil rights. It is not the settlers who are judaizing East Jerusalem – just ordinary Israelis who respond to government plans and incentives. It is not the settlers who are flouting international law – it is the Israeli government, left and right alike.

Blame the Hand proved itself a useful ploy once again with the murder of 18 months old Palestinian toddler Ali Dawabshe by settlers who set his family’s house on fire. It allows the Israeli government to present itself as a “moderate” that denounces violence, an arbiter in a conflict between extremist settlers and extremist Palestinians. It casts the occupation force that enables the colonization of the West Bank – the IDF – as a police force maintaining law and order. President Rivlin’s call for “tolerance” misses the point, perhaps deliberately: it is not possible to have a tolerant apartheid state and it is not possible to have normal relations between colonizer and colonized, between occupier and occupied. It is not even possible to have normal relations between citizen and citizen in a Jewish supremacist state.

Blaming the Hand helps the colonization project of Palestine to continue unabated. It is of course the wish of every colonist to colonize and take over a land without any violence at all – after all, he has the military might and the legislative system which makes the dispossession “legal”. In that context, Netanyahu (for once) is not lying when he denounces violence and expresses his desire for calm. The US State Department’s calls for “restraint on both sides”, like Rivlin’s gracious words about the need to fight “Jewish terror”, create the illusion that in the absence of violence, normalcy would prevail. But this abnormal normalcy and what people erroneously call the “status quo” is not a status quo at all – the occupation, creeping colonization and dispossession of Palestinians is an ongoing process that hasn’t stopped for one day since Israel’s establishment.

But don’t despair. There are signs that perceptions are slowly changing and Blame the Hand can no longer be relied upon. As I noted in my previous essay, the immolation murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir may have been a tipping point. Tipping points are many times seen in hindsight and the latest burning death of a Palestinian infant wakes up more and more Israelis – including on the right – to the reality of apartheid and the fact that different laws apply to different sets of people who reside on the same patch of land. The disappearance of the flimsy cover known as the “peace process” has hastened this slow process. Sensing the bad PR of settler violence and apartheid, instead of moving in the direction of granting Palestinians the same rights and protection of the law as their Jewish neighbors, Israel now proposes to punish its hand by imposing harsher measures on “extremist settlers” (but obviously, not as harsh as on Palestinians), including the draconian administrative detention, which allows to imprison a person for long periods of time without charges or trial – a “privilege” that had been so far reserved for Palestinians only. It is a slight narrowing of the gap, but in the wrong direction. Moreover, it is a sleight.

Sadly, it will probably take countless more lives, Jewish and Palestinian alike, before the inevitable conclusion is reached: there is no other solution than equal rights and one law for all. After that, if there is still demand for partition, let the negotiations resume.

Aaron Turgeman

Aaron Turgeman is an Israeli-American and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace.

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23 Responses

  1. bintbiba on August 10, 2015, 10:49 am

    …..” Sadly, it will probably take countless more lives, Jewish and Palestinian alike, before the inevitable conclusion is reached: there is no other solution than equal rights and one law for all. After that, if there is still demand for partition, let the negotiations resume. ”

    @Aaron Turgeman,
    There have to be more frequent ‘tipping points’ maybe before the general public start to wake up !
    Thank you ,Mr Turgeman for this cogent, frank article.

  2. jimby on August 10, 2015, 11:45 am

    The tipping point for me was Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Sharon bombed downtown Beirut not because there were Palestinians there but just to put pressure on them. Then the icing on the cake were the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Israel has not changed only the exposure has. The crime of the occupation is meeting the light of day. It is an ugly sight but now there are growing numbers of people who cannot avoid the putrid truth of Zionism. The Kool-aid is wearing off.

    • Ellen on August 11, 2015, 10:54 pm

      1982 was the tipping point for me as well. I started to do homework and asked questions. But I think that was an event of massive scale that, maybe for the first time, received some mass media coverage in the West.

      But what happened in Lebanon on 1982 is an example of what had been going on for a very long time to secure the Zionist enterprise.

      As one former poster (since banished) here stated, the “cleansing” of the Arabs was necessary to build the Jewish state.

  3. JLewisDickerson on August 10, 2015, 11:49 am

    RE: “It has been the mainstay of the Zionist left and the so-called peace camp to blame Israel’s post-1967 territorial entanglement on settlers. According to this view, the settlers have violated the 1967 borders, the settlers are stealing Palestinian land, the settlers are engaged in violence and “price tag” attacks against Palestinians.” ~ Aaron Turgeman

    SEE: “Fighting Settlers’ Impunity and Immunity”, by Pierre Klochendler, Inter Press Service, 12/16/11

    [EXCERPT] . . . The Israeli occupation, particularly the future of wildcat settlements built by settlers without formal government approval has been a simmering issue ever since their creation during the 1990s.
    In 2005, former head of the State Prosecution Criminal Department Talia Sasson published a landmark report* on the question. Commissioned by then prime minister Ariel Sharon, the report found the Israeli government guilty of “institutional lawbreaking”
    and of the theft of private Palestinian land to covertly establish over a hundred “illegal outposts”. The damning irony is that the “outposts” were a 1997 initiative by none but Sharon himself, then foreign Minister under Netanyahu, who’d urged settlers to seize hilltops in order to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.
    The report recommended criminal investigation against those allegedly involved in the scheme, but it was shelved. Repeated injunctions have since pressed successive governments to address the issue. . .


    * P.S. ■ Sasson Report –

    • JLewisDickerson on August 10, 2015, 12:08 pm

      P.S. RE: “Israel’s ‘blame the hand’ excuse for settler violence”

    • JLewisDickerson on August 10, 2015, 12:24 pm

      P.P.P.S. ALSO SEE: “Bold West Bank land grab may have been on drawing board for decades, by Bethan Staton,, 9/15/14
      If developed, nearly 1,000 acres seized by Israeli authorities last month could link Israeli settlements, some that started as tiny outposts, between Jerusalem and the West Bank.

      [EXCERPT] In one of the boldest moves of its kind, Israeli authorities confiscated 4,000 dunums – 990 acres – of West Bank land in late August. A chorus of frustration and disapproval from international bodies met the declaration: on land that borders both the 1949 Armistice Green Line and Palestinian villages of al-Jab’a and Surif, the seizure is likely to pave the way for settlement expansion, and could seriously stifle Palestinian development.

      While it might change the reality of the West Bank dramatically, however, the news shouldn’t be surprising; plans for this area have long been on the drawing board of Israeli authorities. In fact, a critical look at a map of the region shows these intentions have been perceptible for years.

      Located in Gush Etzion, south of Bethlehem, the confiscated land is bordered by a scattering of settlements: Beitar Illit, Kfar Etzion and Gvot. And following this month’s land grab, the closest, Gvaot, has been cast into the settleament spotlight. Established in 1982 as an Israeli army Nahal base, where residents combined military service, volunteering and agriculture, it was turned into a religious Yeshiva community in the 1990s. Now it’s inhabited by a handful of families, and because it’s never been officially recognised by the government, the homes and buildings in the community are all technically illegal under Israeli law.

      The tenuous status of this tiny settlement means it might as well be referred to as an “outpost”: a small Israeli community established by radical, often religious groups without government authorisation, or as a military base, some distance from major settlements. After establishing a presence at these strategic points in the West Bank, these outposts are supported and developed by nearby settlements. Steps are taken to make them stronger, larger and even legal, setting the scene for a permanent presence and further expansion into the West Bank.

      This is just what the confiscation is set to do for Gvaot – and it seems clear that Israeli authorities wish big things for the tiny settlement. In the past, the Israeli NGO, Peace Now, revealed a government plan to turn it into a city of 15,000 housing units: although that blueprint was never promoted, the minister of defense has approved two separate plans that would see the construction of 584 buildings around the settlement. The seizure of 4,000 dunums will mean plenty of room for Gvaot to expand. Even more importantly, it will link the settlement up to the Green Line – creating Israeli continuity between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement blocs, and making Gvaot feel much more like part of Israel.

      The thinking behind the seizure is no secret: representatives of Gush Etzion have been quite clear about the strategy. “If you look at a map today, you can see that there are no Jewish communities between Beitar Illit and Gush Etzion,” Shani Simowitz, a resident of a nearby settlement, told Middle East Eye. “So you connect them. Those 4,000 dunums connect Gvaot, Kibbutz Rosh Tzurim and the Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit.”

      Simowitz lives in Tekoa, a cluster of settlements to the east of Gush Etzion. She sees that community – which, like Gvaot, started life as a Israel army Nahal base – as exemplary of an outpost rationale, which strikes out “to the northernmost tip” of the area that Israeli developers and communities want to claim, before “joining the dots backwards.”

      Filling in the gaps between isolated settlements and creating continuity across the Green Line, as Simowitz describes, means that if a peace agreement is ever reached, Israel will keep Gush Etzion, said Suhail Khalilieh, who heads up the settlement monitoring team at the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ), a Palestinian NGO.

      “This is playing a crucial part in the long-term claim to the greater Jerusalem area, and it will have a big effect on the geography and the demography of the area,” Khalilieh explained. “This has been planned, I think, since the Oslo Accords. It did not come out of the blue. The Israelis have been waiting for the perfect timing to fill in all the gaps. Everything is now coming into final play and everyone is revealing his own cards. The Israelis are looking to force facts on the ground that cannot be easily disputed.”

      Gvaot’s potential story, of a tiny, illegal outpost evolving into a densely-populated, red-roofed city, is not an unusual one. Since 1967, the tale of settlers striking out independently to set up tents that claim land for the Jewish state has been a narrative that’s shaped the West Bank. Ma’ale Adumim’s website, for example, is proud to state that the settlement was founded in 1975 by 23 families who worked “diligently” and without government authorisation to build a city in the newly occupied West Bank. Today, Ma’ale Adumim is a settlement of some 39,000 people, built on thousands of dunums of confiscated Palestinian land.

      “Gvaot is a military post that’s become civilised officially and they have plans that it’ll become a big city: this is the story across the West Bank,” Lior Amihai, at Peace Now’s Settlement Watch, said.

      The policy of allowing, and even encouraging civilians to set up outposts, Amihai explained, began in the 1990s, when the government decided to stop establishing new settlements. It was at that point that Ariel Sharon, then Foreign Minister, urged Israelis to “run and grab as many hilltops” as they could.

      “Everything we take now will stay ours,” Sharon said at the time. “Everything we don’t grab will go to them.”

      Many obeyed the call quite literally, establishing small, isolated caravan communities on the West Bank’s rugged hills: according to Peace Now statistics, 99 outposts are now home to over 4,000 settlers.

      “These outposts would be supported from the settlement regional councils with roads, water, electricity and so on,” Amihai says. “But the official policy was to disregard them: to say they’re illegal, they’re small, insignificant, they don’t have the power to change the political situation. So the outposts continue to grow. This begins with illegal construction, so the buildings have demolition orders, but they won’t actually be destroyed. On the contrary, they’ll be allowed to expand.” . . .

      SOURCE –

  4. Citizen on August 10, 2015, 12:27 pm

    Excellent article. I won’t hold my breath for Obama to take the bully pulpit & condemn Israel for its lebensraum policy, or drop aid.

  5. Rodneywatts on August 10, 2015, 12:41 pm

    Thank you Aaron for this good tragicomedy -like presentation of the situation, and which nicely compliments the longer article by Kate :

    As a Brit I increasingly appreciate the work that is done by JVP and MW et al. to help get a shift in understanding by Americans of the true horrors perpetrated by the government of Israel and their ‘offspring colonialists’ the settlers. Like @bintbiba I think there will be more ‘tipping points’ to come, but each one can be seen as a real contribution to moving public opinion and sanity in the right direction.

    Your mention of Ariel prompts me to remember that there has been major Christian zionist input into the settler movement too. And I am not just talking about John Hagee and CUFI! If you google Dr Robert Mawire, there is massive evidence in written and video form of his
    part in the life of Netanyahu and Ariel. As a Christian, I am appalled at the complicity of all zionists.

  6. brokebook on August 10, 2015, 1:13 pm

    Contrary to spellcheck I meant prescription, not proscription to violence. Judaism proscribes violence against outsiders only when the potential backlash warrants against it.

  7. on August 10, 2015, 1:40 pm

    Thank you very much – brilliant article – you are pointing out a very important concept – the Israeli government is the criminal. They support and guide the settlers.

  8. a blah chick on August 10, 2015, 2:12 pm

    “The big crime gets a pass while the small crime is pinned on “extremists”.

    In his book “My People” Abba Eban refers to the Irgun and Stern gang members as “dissidents.” Anything to avoid using the “T” word.

    Also no arrests in the Duma attack. They’re not even trying to make the “hand wringing” look good.

  9. Eva Smagacz on August 10, 2015, 3:38 pm

    Sounds like suspects detained in connection with Duma attack (s) are released:

  10. annie on August 10, 2015, 5:55 pm

    great article!!!

    • Mooser on August 11, 2015, 10:41 am

      great article!!!”

      Well, there’s only one deficiency, but I am sure one of the bal toyrehs will be along to give us chapter and verse on the “blame the hand” covenant.

      • bintbiba on August 11, 2015, 1:56 pm

        Oh Mooser !!

        Before too long I shall be able to converse with you in the Yiddishe lingo !
        I hightail it to ‘definitions ‘ every time you utter your ‘ bal toyreh ‘ exclamations !

        Long may you reign …our lighthearted sage !
        Skol ! Santé! Cheers! Salud ! Sohtak !!


      • Mooser on August 11, 2015, 5:11 pm

        Thank you for the generous thoughts and kind words, “bintbiba”!

  11. a blah chick on August 10, 2015, 9:53 pm

    Concerning the picture above, why is Butcher Bibi constantly photographed with his bodyguards? I don’t think I have ever seen another Israeli leader routinely pictured with his muscle. What is the deal?

  12. RoHa on August 11, 2015, 7:33 am

    “Extremist settlers”?

    Is there any other kind of settler?

    • Mooser on August 11, 2015, 10:48 am

      “Is there any other kind of settler?”

      Sure there is! “Yonah” and “Jon s” have told us all about the “noraml” settler. After all, one man’s “illegal outpost” is another man’s inter-faith outreach.

  13. Kay24 on August 11, 2015, 7:37 am

    How many days has it been since the Jewish terrorists attacked, burnt, and destroyed, the home of an innocent family, resulting in the deaths of the Baby and Father?


    Seems the Israeli forces are strangely incompetent.

  14. RobertHenryEller on August 11, 2015, 9:56 am

    “Tipping points are many times seen in hindsight and the latest burning death of a Palestinian infant wakes up more and more Israelis – including on the right – to the reality of apartheid and the fact that different laws apply to different sets of people who reside on the same patch of land.”

    I cannot agree that Israelis on the left or right are waking up, Aaron. Perhaps they are tossing and turning a bit in their sleep, because they’re suffering a mildly disturbing dream, or the sheets and blankets have gotten a bit twisted.

    But when I hear about the hand-wringing, the “soul-searching,” I have to ask myself, and Israelis, “You are troubled by the burning death of one infant? Where were you last summer when hundreds of children were being murdered? Do you not even know what went on last summer? Do you just swallow your government’s propaganda and excuses whole?”

    No, the towering hypocrisy here is not about who is to blame, “the hand or the head.” The towering hypocrisy is that too many Israelis are trying to make out like the settler terrorism is the “bad kind,” which they won’t have anything to do with, or contenence – while the terrorism of the Israeli government – in the name of all Israelis – against Gazans and Palestinians in the West Bank, is the “good kind.”

    The hand-wringing, the “soul searching,” are even more bullshit than the photo op “humanitarianism” of the Nepal earthquake relief.

    • eljay on August 11, 2015, 10:25 am

      || RobertHenryEller @ August 11, 2015, 9:56 am ||

      Good post. When the soft-core Zio-supremacists aren’t overly-troubled by their country’s past and on-going (war) crimes – including on-going occupation, colonization and oppression, as well as periodic mass murders – it’s hard to believe that the hard-core Zio-supremacists lose any sleep over the deaths of a couple of “Arabs”.

    • diasp0ra on August 11, 2015, 11:31 am

      Great comment :)

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