If Israel’s National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, can find excuses for the hilltop youth’s colonial violence, how much more is the concept of settler-colonial presence as a form of violence normalised?
During a meeting called by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ben-Gvir described the hilltop youth as “sweet boys” forced into adulthood through administrative detention. In February this year, the Shin Bet’s Chief, Ronen Bar, blamed setter violence in the Occupied West Bank on the hilltop youth. “The settler community in Judea and Samaria are super normative and law-abiding,” Bar had stated, while acknowledging that “a very small percentage of hilltop youth that are harming the whole settler enterprise.”
Ben-Gvir and Bar may be at odds, but not in terms of promoting impunity for colonial violence. The question is – what is considered as extremism in a settler-colonial framework which is already extremist in its foundations, when considering the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian towns and villages for Israel’s establishment?
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), for example, was revealed to have been recruiting the hilltop youth into a military unit called Desert Frontier, purportedly to “rehabilitate” the settlers into soldiers. Yet the IDF’s origins can be traced back to the Zionist paramilitary gangs that terrorised and massacred Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba and before. Presumably, the institutionalisation of violence allows the IDF to distinguish between its violence and that of the hilltop youth.
While the bickering between Israeli officials continues, the root of settler-colonialism in Palestine remains unchallenged, as does the violence of settler-colonial presence in Palestine. The persistent dissociation between different forms of violence erodes acknowledgement of Israel as an inherently violent settler-colonial enterprise, and facilitates the differentiation between settlers engaging in violent acts and the settlers whose presence in Palestine is a form of violence directly related to the Nakba. The latter is normalised and legitimised for the sake of detracting attention away from settler-colonialism, while the hilltop youth emerge as a violent, extremist entity that are either coveted or demonised by Israel, depending on which narrative best suits the political agenda. Yet neither would exist without the other, as all forms of colonial violence are necessary for Israel’s survival.
Ben-Gvir’s comments escalate impunity for colonial violence, both for the hilltop youth and for the settler-colonial population. Such rhetoric – and Ben-Gvir is no stranger to inciting violence – gives all participants in the settler-colonial enterprise ample opportunity for expanding and normalising violence against Palestinians. So does the IDF, with its talk on integrating the most violent groups of Israel’s settler-colonial society into its ranks, while moving a step further from the usual state and settler collaboration in attacks against Palestinians on their territory.
There is no justification for the hilltop youth violence, in the same way as there should be no justification for colonial presence in Palestine. Israeli officials swaying the narrative in favour or against the hilltop youth should not provide the premise for narratives of the Palestinian anti-colonial resistance. Settler-colonists are not law-abiding; all are transgressors of the colonised people’s political right to live on their land.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.