Just as we must mourn Hallel Yaffa Ariel as a human being and a slain child, we must also mourn her as a settler — because all Israelis are responsible for her presence in the West Bank.
Superlatives are inadequate to tell the sorrow of recent weeks. Thirteen-year old Hallel Yaffa Ariel was stabbed to death in her bed in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba Thursday morning. Forty-four people were blown up in Istanbul’s airport, nearly 50 shot to death in Orlando. Mahmoud Badran, a 15-year old Palestinian boy, was killed by Israeli forces, “by mistake,” coming back from the pool with his friends.
I can’t keep up enough to write about each one, but nation, identity and politics mean little to me when faced with innocent deaths.
Some think the Israeli and the Palestinian killings are different, somehow less innocent than the others. Mahmoud was mistaken for a stone-thrower, as if this justifies his death. Hallel was a settler. Yet she was a civilian and a child — no more guilty than Mahmoud.
I’ve written in the past that Israelis on the left must sympathize with such victims as human beings. Now I want to emphasize that we must also mourn Hallel as a settler, for her presence in the West Bank is the responsibility of all Israelis.
The Left blames much on settlements. Many view the settlement enterprise as the heart of the occupation – those who live in settlements actively choose to steal land and resources from Palestinians, to enforce apartheid rule over people living next door, through military law.
After all, settlements are a tangible, visible manifestation of occupation. Just look at those perfect new housing units in tidy rows, perched on hills overlooking vast and underdeveloped Palestinian cities or parched clusters of tents and shacks.
Getting outraged is rewarding because it lets the outraged party off the hook. If it weren’t for those darn wild-eyed-religious-messianics, many on the Left feel, Israel would transform into a Jewish and democratic state and all would be right with the world.
But people who think like that are actually sitting on an outrageous hilltop of their own. From their perch they look down on the settlers and say, we’re the good guys. We’re not complicit.
For some Israelis, settlers are becoming the main — or maybe the only — thing about occupation they actually oppose. I think there are some left-wingers for whom empathizing with settlers threatens their very identity. But reducing the occupation to settlements and settlers enables forgetting about the rest of it, which is a convenient tool because it’s very inconvenient to fathom how to fight the rest of it.
How does one even begin dismantling the impenetrable system of military law, stop or reverse the revocation of residency permits, keep track of the land in Area C being seized under the guise of declared military training zones, thereby blocking Palestinian development? Occupation is families in Gaza being cut off from the West Bank, and the Israeli army denying them permits to attend family funerals in time. Occupation is statelessness, it is refugees still living in Lebanon’s refugee camps. It is spying on Palestinian lives and conversations, by Israel’s crack intelligence units with the world’s most sophisticated technology, to blackmail them. Occupation is collective punishment. When you start looking closely, or perhaps when you take a step back, occupation is so much more than settlements.
To change those, it isn’t enough to oppose settlements and settlers, we must change the policy of whole institutions: the army, the defense establishment, the housing and infrastructure ministries, the propaganda that tries to sell these policies both to ourselves and to the world, and our revered intelligence systems. Most of all, it means we must change the government and our political parties – those that represent settlers, but also those that support and sometimes quietly enable their agenda.
We, regular Israelis, must take responsibility as the people who make these things tick. We pay taxes, we serve in these army units and agencies, we vote, and we benefit from the system that suppresses Palestinians. All of us.
Getting really mad at settlers doesn’t count as opposing occupation. Mainly, it leads to blanket hatred of a whole group and dismissal of those among the settlers who may think differently – including potential partners for change. It leads us to believe that whacky religious fanatics are the main problem, when regular people – “quality of life” and “moderate” settlers – comprise far larger numbers. Regular, moderate politicians nurture them, and we regular citizens support those politicians.
In fact, the only real difference between an Israeli in the West Bank and one in Tel Aviv is that inside the Green Line we can close our eyes in order to not see the effects of occupation on Palestinians.
The problem is less about where I live, but how our Palestinian cousins live. Any Israeli who is not actively opposing the mechanisms that destroy Palestinian lives is complicit. In that sense, we are all settlers.