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Jewish Violence Leads to Legal Equality

Settlers attacking soldiers treated same as Palestinians attacking soldiers

Marc Tracy
December 16, 2011
Palestinians survey a vandalized mosque yesterday.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)
Palestinians survey a vandalized mosque yesterday.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

“A disaster.” That is how President Shimon Peres, the closest thing Israel has to a consensual conscience, described the recent spate of right-wing Jewish violence against Muslim holy sites like mosques, in the West Bank and Israel proper, as well as against IDF bases and soldiers, partly in response to the destruction of illegal West Bank outposts. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s cabinet has come around, announcing that “administrative detention” would be used against these settlers much as it is used against violent Palestinian protesters. “Those who raise a hand against Israeli soldiers or Israel police personnel will be punished severely,” the prime minister said. “Those who rioted at the Ephraim Brigade base are like those who riot in Bilin.” Apart from the importance of responding properly to the vigilantism, vandalism, and violence of the settlers, many see this as an inherently positive step in that it will treat Palestinians and Israeli Jews the same. (Netanyahu rejected a proposal that would have labeled them a “terror group.”)

But is it too little, too late? Many have pointed to a past policy of tolerance, or at least kid-glove treatment, of restive and even violent settlers as partly to blame for the current epidemic. “The tendency of the military and the police is to see their own role as protecting the settlers, the Israeli citizens, from the Palestinians,” prominent intellectual Gershom Gorenberg said, “rather than to fulfill their proper role, which is being responsible for keeping order and public safety in territories under military authority.” Further complicating this dynamic is the large (in fact, outsize) presence of religious Zionists in the armed forces—and indeed, there is concern that some soldiers tipped off the settlers who stormed a base in the northwest West Bank earlier this week.

Hopefully this will be a wake-up call. Past coddling of religious Zionists for political purposes—and yes, they were also evacuated out of Gaza, it has not been a complete free ride for them, but more often than not state policy has reflected their wishes—enabled and even birthed this sort of activity, and now, as with price tag attacks generally, that chicken is coming home to roost. The majority of religious Zionists would no doubt repudiate these acts, which is all the more reason the law needs to continue to crack down on the Jewish criminals without bias or prejudice in their favor. You don’t want the proof that you’ve failed to be another Yigal Amir.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.