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Israel, settler violence and calculated differentiation

Settler-colonial violence has rarely prompted any condemnation from Israel and its institutions. Regularly dismissed as isolated incidents despite the constant phenomenon and its deleterious effects upon Palestinians, settler violence is sanctioned by the Zionist state. Its perpetrators are regaled with impunity for upholding the historical violence that facilitated the establishment of the settler-colonial state.


However, similar violence unleashed recently against the IDF evoked a firm condemnation. Following the army's demolition of dwelling structures in the West Bank, Jewish settlers stormed the IDF's headquarters, threatening the soldiers and vandalising military equipment and facilities. According to the Times of Israel, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz warned that failure to respond to "nationalist crimes" will threaten Israel's security.

"The nationalist crimes will develop into terrorism, and that would be a significant threat to the state of Israel." Gantz also reverted to common patriotic rhetoric, stating "I am hurt on the behalf of all the fighters in the field, who risk their lives for security, if this is the answer they receive. It is important for society to cherish the soldiers, these people make every effort to ensure [Israel's] security."

Gantz's comments are indicative of selectivity and differentiation with regard to settler violence and the state. Implicit in his condemnations is the disassociation between the Israel's settler-colonial terror and current manifestations of violence, which are inherent, condoned and sanctioned by the illegal state. By focusing solely on "nationalist crimes", Gantz has created an illusion of settler violence as constituting a problem solely for the guardians of the Zionist state.

The omission is necessary to induce oblivion against the multi-layered dynamics of settler violence which, for Palestinians, corresponds to a state-protected echelon that extends and implements relics of the Nakba against the remaining indigenous population. While various Israeli leaders have occasionally deemed it pertinent to issue a statement against settler violence, concretely addressing the provoked terror would entail a thorough rethinking of the history which Zionism enacted, culminating in the establishment and recognition of the illegal state.

According to the weekly reports issued in March by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), settler violence against Palestinians is increasing, citing physical harm including injuries suffered by children due to stoning, damage to property and assaults upon people documenting the violence. Predictably, military forces in the area failed to intervene, thus rendering settler violence a welcome component of the Zionist state's plan to allow for conditions that enhance the possibility of displacing the remaining indigenous population.

The vandalising of IDF facilities and the condemnation disseminated in the media has only served to isolate settler violence from its ramifications upon Palestinians. The permissible differentiation evoked by Gantz isolates the plight of Palestinians dealing with perpetual terror from organised groups originating within settler communities. Just as selective interpretation of violence frames security discourse with regard to Palestinians, the recent attacks on IDF outposts will serve to further the rhetoric of enforcing security, although there is no obvious reference as to the consequences of law enforcement upon perpetrators. Given the impunity granted to settlers involved in local organised terror, the application of security enforcement will remain a vague connotation.

Notwithstanding the contradictions in Gantz's comments regarding the hypothetical damage to Israel's security considering its historical dependence upon aggression for expansion, the recent incident is a sliver of testimony regarding the settler-colonial state's attitude towards the concepts of violence and complicity.

Primarily, the ostensible detachment between the state of Israel and settler violence is a contradiction. The concept of the settler-colonial state is imbued with excessive, premeditated violence aimed at ethnic cleansing and forced displacement of Palestinians in order to claim the myth of the barren land. Israel has perfected its oppression practices in order to conform to the imperialist expectations that designated the settler-colonial project as "the only democracy in the Middle East". Beneath the illusion, it has advocated for and fomented the continuation of local terror to maintain different and complementary forms of violence that are compatible with the bloodshed characterising the establishment of the Zionist state.

The compatibility between settler violence and the origins of the settler-colonial state is fundamental to the oppressive framework that allows state institutions to embark upon further acts which obliterate Palestinian memory. Just as the planned and committed atrocities described in the Plan Dalet were necessary to establish the settler-colonial state, the incorporation of further violence that emulates the historical oppression of Palestinians is indispensable. Setter violence confirms and extends the Nakba, in coordination with official policy that advocates for the elimination of Palestinian memory and existence in order to safeguard a demographic majority at all costs.

One major discrepancy echoed by Gantz is the dilution of the settler-colonial state as an inherently violent entity through a simplified analysis of its settler population. In his comments, Gantz asserts, "The dangerous and inadmissible extremism is very bad, but does not represent the majority of settlers in the West Bank." For Palestinians, the statement is dismissive of history and their experience of expulsion and massacres, as well as the enforced obliteration of memory through destruction of evidence and perpetual repression of remembrance activities.

However, just as the compatibility of settler violence and the Zionist state has been asserted, the existence of the settler-colonial state is a calculated act of violence against the indigenous population which renders the whole settler population complicit in varying forms of oppression. The lack of evidence regarding obvious criminal activity against Palestinians is irrelevant to the issue of settler-colonialism and its legacies. The appropriation of land and the theft of memory in order to construct an imaginary history necessitate an influx of willing accomplices whose sole presence is enough to act as a deterrent for Palestinian demands to reclaim territory. Settler terror may be personified by unbridled crime, violence and destruction. However, the allegedly peaceful majority performing the role of spectators can hardly be considered harmless or passive, considering the intrinsic role in maintaining demography, as well as hindering a proper and complete implementation of the Palestinian right of return.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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