“What happened in Huwara was a pogrom carried out by law-breakers,” said Major General Yehuda Fuchs, who is in charge of the Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank. “We were not prepared for that many people, how they came, the scale, the force of the violence they used, and the planning they had carried out.”
Fuchs’s concern, however, is not the pogrom itself, but the fact that clashes between illegal Israeli settler-colonists and the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) would result in Israelis being killed and wounded. The message to Israeli society is that pogroms against Palestinians are acceptable, as long as there is no Israeli collateral damage in the process. Eight settlers were arrested for their role in the violent rampage in Huwara, but all have been released, confirming further the Israeli state’s approval of its settlers’ brutality.
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich was even blunter in his statement on what happened: “I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the state of Israel should do it.” And Israel still denies the Palestinians’ assertions that the Nakba is ongoing, even when a minister’s incitement is tantamount to a call for ethnic cleansing and even genocide.
Without any doubt, Israeli settlers can turn violent among themselves. Israel’s colonial enterprise thrives on violence; the concept of belonging in the settler colonial society is inseparable from the violence that created it. Indeed, Israel is dependent on violence and the current government is proclaiming its adherence to this truism overtly. Only when the violence is against Palestinians, though. The violence at Huwara forced Israeli officials to distinguish between what violence they consider acceptable and what is beyond the Pale, although this is a contradiction in itself, because creating and maintaining a violent society is never without violent repercussions. For Palestinians, it means a perpetual assault where collaboration between the Israeli state and its settlers results in various forms of colonial violence, all directed towards permanent dispossession.
Clashes between the IDF and Israel’s violent settlers, however, are not isolated events. For Israel, the reckoning may come later, but as long as violence remains an integral part of maintaining its colonial state, expecting there to be no repercussions is abominable. The culture of impunity, which Israel has been granted by the international community, is in turn bequeathed to both settlers and the military; the latter wins over the settlers in terms of its role as a state institution. Any threat to the IDF from within Israel’s settler society may be perceived as terrorism, yet Israel needs its settlers to carry out what it has so far not yet normalised.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have played a more cautious role in his last government, biding his time and normalising violence more gradually, in order to lay the groundwork for the annexation plans that were postponed — not cancelled — by the Abraham Accords. Such diplomatic caution is no longer the case with his current coalition government, as not only the rampage against Palestinians in Huwara has shown, but also the official rhetoric that attempted to safeguard the settlers and the IDF by issuing specific and selective caution. Indeed, Fuchs’s statement is also a call for collusion between the state and its settlers, and the message is clear: keep the violence directed towards the colonised, not the colonisers.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.