It’s Not Just the Settlers – or Israel – Responsible for the Torching of Huwwara

A sustained violent attack by hundreds of Jewish settlers on the Palestinian town of Huwwara last week – as well as the response of Israel’s new far-right government – has divided Jewish opinion in Israel and deeply discomfited Jews abroad.

The Board of Deputies, which claims to represent Britain’s Jewish community and is usually a reliable defender of Israel, felt compelled last week to issue a short statement condemning comments by a senior Israeli government minister, Bezalel Smotrich, after he called for Huwwara to be “wiped out”.

At the weekend, the distinguished British historian Simon Schama described the events in Huwwara as “absolutely, utterly horrifying” and urged fellow Jews to speak up.

He was joined by Margaret Hodge, a veteran Labour MP who was at the forefront of attacks on the party’s previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn, over his activism in solidarity with Palestinians. She said Israel was at a “dangerous moment” and British Jews could not just “stand by”.

Even Yehuda Fuchs, the Israeli army commander whose soldiers allowed the settlers to rampage, described the attack as a “pogrom”, a word with especially troubling connotations for Jews. It is historically associated with massacres and the ethnic cleansing of Jewish communities in eastern Europe that served as a prelude to the Nazi Holocaust.

But Palestinians don’t need very belated sympathy from Israel or its supporters, least of all from the Israeli army, any more than they need empty calls for “restraint” and “calm” from western capitals.

What they need is genuine solidarity and real international protections, all the more so as the appeal of overt religious fascism sweeps across Israel. Instead, much of the rhetoric in the wake of the attack, even if it is well-meant, misleads far more than it clarifies.

Reign of terror

On 26 February, a mob of several hundred settlers stormed Huwwara and spent several hours terrorising the local inhabitants, looting and burning homes and cars.

A Palestinian man was shot dead during the events, and some 100 other Palestinians were injured. Videos show that Israeli soldiers and armed police either stood by or assisted in the settlers’ attack.

The rampage followed the shooting of two settlers by a Palestinian gunman earlier that day. For many months, there has been growing unrest among Palestinians – both at the continuing failure of their leaders to secure any kind of diplomatic achievement, and at the steady rise in Israeli state and settler violence. Last year was the most deadly for Palestinians in the West Bank for nearly two decades.

Huwwara is especially vulnerable. It sits on a major intersection close to the large Palestinian city of Nablus. It is a critical artery for settlers because most traffic, whether Palestinian or Jewish, needs to pass through Huwwara to move between the southern and northern parts of the occupied West Bank.

It was close to this intersection, hours before the attack, that the two settler brothers were killed.

The settlers in this area are among the most extreme and violent in the occupied territories, the kind who vote solidly for the religious fascists who are now key partners in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. The Religious Zionism faction, led by Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, emerged from last year’s general election as the third largest in the parliament.

Nearly 30 years on from the signing of the Oslo Accords, with Israel still refusing to honour a process that was expected to lead to the dismantling of the settlements and Palestinian self-rule, Huwwara has found itself permanently trapped under Israeli military control.

Israeli soldiers are supposed to guarantee the security of the town’s Palestinian inhabitants. Instead, like so many other Palestinians in the West Bank, those inhabitants live under a reign of terror from unwelcome Jewish settler “neighbours” endlessly indulged by the Israeli army.

At the weekend, the United Nation’s rapporteur for the occupied territories, Francesca Albanese, told the BBC that Israel should be investigated for crimes against the Palestinian people.

‘Merciless attacks’

Smotrich, Israel’s finance minister, who has also been awarded unprecedented powers by Netanyahu to run the occupation, responded to the Huwwara attack by urging greater violence. He called for the town to be “wiped out”.

By Jonathan Cook
Source: Middle East Eye

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