An ugly, fringe phenomenon being falsely puffed-up to ‘balance’ the crimes of Hamas.

An ugly, fringe phenomenon being falsely puffed-up to ‘balance’ the crimes of Hamas.

There is no escalating or unprecedented wave of settler violence in Judea and Samaria under cover of the war in Gaza. I did my homework. I checked the numbers, at the the source. It is not true.

It is surreal that some feel the need to conjure-up a false moral counterweight to Hamas violence in the form of non-existent “surging settler violence.” Essentially, this is an effort to limit sympathy for Israel and to backhandedly excuse Hamas atrocities. The Harvard and MIT presidents might superciliously say they are “putting the violence of all sides into context.” How noxious.

To the Biden administration I say: Stop throwing “settler violence” in Israel’s face as it fights for its very life against the genocidal Hamas. At best, this is a red herring issue. At worst, it is an ugly attempt to discredit the righteousness of Israel’s war effort.

Published in The Jerusalem Post, December 8, 2023. Print-friendly copy

Everybody from US President Joe Biden to B’Tselem are propagating the myth that West Bank settlers are exploiting the war against Hamas to invade private lands and attack Palestinians in the West Bank at alarming, never-seen-before levels of violence.

When US Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Israeli President Isaac Herzog amidst Israel’s difficult war against Hamas she found it necessary to scold him about “holding extremist settlers accountable for violent acts.”

The State Department spokesman this week denounced “unprecedented levels of violence by Israeli extremist settlers targeting Palestinians and their property, displacing entire communities,” no less.

The situation is supposedly so bad, so spiraling-out-of-control, that the US this week announced visa bans on “extremist settlers.” Belgium has now done so too.

Except that it is not true. There is no escalating or unprecedented wave of settler violence in Judea and Samaria under cover of the war in Gaza. The frenzied focus on “settler terrorism” by the highest officials in Washington is based on fake news.

And why is such fake news being bandied about? Apparently, this is to ‘balance’ the crimes of Hamas, a way for wishy-washy friends of Israel or extreme left-wing Israelis to distance themselves from Israeli bad guys (settlers) while being forced, alas, to also condemn Palestinian bad guys (Hamas).

In other words, this is an attempt to uphold some degree of perverse moral equivalence between Israelis and Palestinians; to express equivalent condemnation of “all sides” for the proverbial “cycle of violence” that professional Mideast peace processors and hackneyed journalists like to babble about; for “fair-minded” international observers to make it clear that they are not, G-d forbid, fully on Israel’s side – even at a time when Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have committed the most atrocious crimes.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres and UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland are among the worst such offenders. As is their usual rotten wont, they regularly condemn, and this week too, the “continuing cycle of violence” in Judea and Samaria – as if Israelis and Palestinians each were cavalierly engaging in murder just for fun or out of comparable burning hatred. As if this sets an exculpating background for Hamas’ genocidal rampage of October 7 and its ongoing war crimes including the holding of civilians as hostages.

TO GET PAST the fog of war, lies, and misinformation I decided to investigate this matter by going straight to the source. I submitted a formal request for information to the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), which is the government arm responsible for tracking and countering violence in Judea and Samaria.

From the detailed and precise statistics I received, it is crystal clear that there has not been a significant increase in right-wing Israeli-Jewish violence against Palestinian Arabs in Judea and Samaria since the beginning of the current Gaza war compared to the period of January-July 2023. There certainly has been no uptick or “surge” in settler violence in October-November as compared to the same period in 2022.

(There was a noticeable decrease in such activity in August and September; the reason for this is not explained.)

Overall, the level of friction/violence in 2023 is about the same as that of 2022, totaling about 1,000 incidences of violence of all types over the course of the full year.

“Violence” in this context means many different things, from verbal altercations and rock throwing (what the ISA calls “frictions” or “harassment”), to spray-painting of anti-Arab slogans and other undercover vandalism including agricultural vandalism (“price tag activities”), to firebombing of homes or mosques (which are classified as outright “terrorist strikes”).

In fact, the more serious type of incidents dropped by 50% as compared to last year (although the handful of incidents that did take place this year were of a more violent nature), and there were zero incidents of “terrorist strikes” over the past 60 days. There is no evidence whatsoever of the wild B’Tselem accusation that “600 Palestinians from 13 communities were forced to abandon their homes” due to fear of settler attacks.

B’Tselem, Yesh Din, the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry, and the fiercely anti-Israel UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), also have fed the international media with blatantly false statistics that allege more than 180 Palestinians have been killed by “Israeli forces and settlers” this year, making it sound, once again, as more innocent Palestinian civilians targeted by “settler violence.”

In fact, 99.9% of these deaths are Palestinian terrorists who were eliminated by the IDF in counter-terror operations against Hamas and Fatah hideouts and weapons factories in Jenin, Nablus, Hebron and elsewhere in the West Bank. These IDF counter-terror operations are the only thing that prevents the genocidal attacks of October 7 from repeating themselves in central Israel.

But that does not stop the PA or OCHA from pumping out more false allegations of “settler violence.”

It is unfortunately true that altercations and aggressions by settlers in 2022 (again, not 2023) rose sharply over that in 2020 and 2021. Perhaps this is because Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria, in fact all citizens of Israel, were subject to a wild wave of murderous Palestinian terrorist attacks in 2022.

In case officials in Washington and elsewhere have forgotten, here is a reminder. In 2022, there were more than 5,000 Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli Jews, including car-ramming, shooting, stabbing, and bombing of innocent men, women, and children. These attacks included over 500 Molotov cocktail attacks (firebombs), leading to the injury of more than 150 Israelis. There was a 210% rise in rock throwing incidents in 2021 over 2020, and a 156% rise in bomb throwing incidents in 2021 over 2020.

And in spring-summer 2023, Palestinian terrorists slaughtered close to 40 Israelis in and beyond the Green Line, with more than 3,640 recorded acts of Palestinian and Arab terror throughout Israel, including 2,118 cases of rock-throwing, 799 fire-bombings, 18 attempted stabbings, and six vehicular assaults.

So, is there Jewish violence in Judea and Samaria? Yes. This is unacceptable, and I hold no wellsprings of sympathy for the hilltop wild men involved. Israel must aggressively combat this lawlessness, while acting even more aggressively against exponentially greater and more deadly Palestinian terrorism.

But has there been an enormous, out-of-control surge in settler violence recently? No.

And is there a culture of Jewish violence in settler communities? Also no. In fact, attacks on Palestinian property and individuals committed by a few extremists at the fringes of a half-million-person strong and overwhelmingly peaceful community of Israelis who live over the Green Line calculates to a level of violence that is lower than the level of violence (by Israelis against Israelis) that afflicts greater Tel Aviv.

And without meaning to diminish the ugliness of extremist Israeli attacks on Palestinians, violence by some settlers also pales in comparison to the “regular” 5,000 Palestinian boulder, bomb, and shooting attacks a year aimed at killing Israeli civilians.

And of course, this super-pales in comparison to the 1,200 Israelis slaughtered by Hamas on Oct. 7 or the reign of terror inflicted on all Israelis by the more than 10,500 rockets and missiles fired by Hamas into Israeli civilian population centers over the past seven weeks.

So, at a time when Israel is reeling from the monstrous October 7 Hamas massacre and rightfully expects global support for its war effort against Hamas, it is surreal that some nauseatingly feel the need to conjure-up a false moral counterweight to Hamas violence in the form of non-existent “surging settler violence.”

Essentially, the straw man of “settler violence” is an effort to limit sympathy for Israel and to backhandedly excuse Hamas atrocities. The Harvard and MIT presidents might superciliously say they are “putting the violence of all sides into context.” How noxious.

To the Biden administration I say: Stop throwing “settler violence” in Israel’s face as it fights for its very life against the genocidal Hamas. At best, this is a red herring issue. At worst, it is an ugly attempt to discredit the righteousness of Israel’s war effort.

The serial truces Israel has accepted to obtain hostage releases from Hamas have run their course. At this point, their long-term disadvantage outweighs the immediate advantage achieved. Therefore, it is time to reengage the enemy in full-scale combat until its complete destruction.

The cost of “pause” in combat against Hamas is too high.

Published in The Jerusalem Post, December 1, 2023; and Israel Hayom, December 3, 2023. Print-friendly copy

[Note: Early this morning, after Hamas violated the truce, the IDF resumed its offensive in Gaza.]

It is neither easy nor politically correct to say so, but the serial truces Israel has accepted to obtain hostage releases from Hamas have run their course. At this point, their long-term disadvantage outweighs the immediate advantage achieved. Therefore, it is time to reengage the enemy in full-scale combat until its complete destruction.

Every Israeli man, woman and child saved from the savagery of Hamas captivity is of course a joyous achievement, a moral priority that the State of Israel could not ignore even if it meant giving momentary victory to the barbarian captors. But the escalating cost of freezing the war against Hamas makes it imperative that Israel now revert to all-out assault on the enemy.

The repeat “pauses” in the war that Israel has agreed to are extraordinary dangerous on many levels. First, the IDF has lost momentum in prosecuting its ground campaign against Hamas, a crushing offensive that was grinding Gaza into rubble and throwing Hamas military forces off-kilter.

The senior-most IDF commanders in the field whom I met this week in the Gaza envelope are taking good advantage of the pauses for reequipment and reorganization but also are struggling with the challenge of keeping their troops sharp and focused.

Worse than this is the fact that the enemy is reorganizing and getting resupplied and refueled. Worse yet still, Hamas has risen from its underground bunkers to conduct detailed surveillance of IDF formations deep inside Gaza, marking every IDF nighttime depot, troop headquarters, supply route and so on.

There is significant reason to fear that at the moment the battle is reengaged, Hamas terrorists will pop-out of terror attack tunnels inside the operational bases the IDF has built in Gaza. They will attempt, G-d forbid, to capture more Israeli soldiers or kill as many as possible.

Furthermore, after losing control over northern Gaza and widely seen to be on the run, Hamas is now displaying renewed near-sovereign control over Gaza. It is again demonstrating management of Gazan civil affairs including distribution of the food, water, and medical supplies flowing in from Egypt.

It is openly flaunting its fighters in full uniform and black/green celebratory colors in the ghastly nightly torture show of releasing Israeli hostages, to the whooping adulations of hundreds of “innocent, uninvolved” Gazan civilians.

Instead of erasing Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip – which is a key goal of Israel’s war effort – the hostage negotiation horror show into which Israel has been dragged is reinforcing Hamas’ control. Instead of making clear that Hamas is not a “partner” for anything at all in Israel-Palestinian futures, the hostage release horror show is bolstering Hamas claims on a central role in Israel-Palestinian futures.

One outrageous, inflammatory example of this could be seen in videos of the 200-plus trucks of humanitarian aid that convoyed into Gaza every day this week. Somehow, wondrously, every single truck was draped with brand-new banners of the Hamas movement, proclaiming the splendid achievements of the current “Al Aqsa War” replete with pictures of the golden Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and Hamas leader Yihye Sinwar.

Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for Israel and the oh-so-concerned-about-Gaza-civilians international community that funded and provided the truckloads of aid – to prevent the glorification and fortification of Hamas in this way?

At the same time, Hamas is gaining military steam and deepening its sway in West Bank politics. The IDF indeed is operating aggressively every night in Judea and Samaria to interdict Hamas terrorist assemblies, seize armories and destroy weapons factories, and arrest or eliminate Hamas operatives – but by all accounts, the pauses in Gaza battle only add luster and motivation to Hamas fortunes beyond Gaza.

Then there is Qatar, the ferocious two-faced financial backer and patron of Hamas that now is adding to its swagger and stature as hostage-release mediator. Israel is making a gargantuan mistake by playing into Qatar’s game. Israel (and the US) never should have agreed to negotiations in Doha, only with representatives of Qatar in Israel or a third country.

Instead of sending the Mossad chief to indirectly negotiate with Hamas chiefs in Qatar, Israel should be sending Mossad operatives to assassinate Hamas leaders in Qatar. Instead of strengthening Qatar’s heft in the region, Israel (and the US) should be acting to crush Qatar’s hoist.

This again is an example of how the long-term disadvantages of truce and tortuous drip-drip hostage release outweigh the immediate advantages offered.

At this point, the only additional hostage release deal that Israel should consider is a deal for the release of all Israeli hostages in one fell swoop, a deal that can and will come about only when Hamas is under the fiercest and most crushing weight of IDF attack. Only when Sinwar and his henchmen are truly on the brink of elimination and Gaza is about to be pulverized into oblivion for eternity – only when Israel truly threatens real “humanitarian disaster” in Gaza – might Hamas be willing to make a grand deal.

(What the price of that deal might be, in terms of letting Sinwar and his gang flee Gaza alive or in terms of letting the worst Palestinian terrorists out of Israeli jails and expelling them en masse to, say, Turkey – well, that is another, difficult discussion.)

THIS IS THE PLACE to reassert Israel’s legitimate war goals, which have been badly undermined, alas, by this past week of horrifying Hamas hangdogging and hesitant, humiliating (although humane) Israeli responses.

Israel legitimately seeks to eliminate Hamas rule in Gaza, to kill or expel all Hamas fighters and their supporting administrators from Gaza, to destroy all components of military threat in and from Gaza, to reduce Gaza neighborhoods from which Hamas operated to rubble (as a matter of principle and not just for military advantage – and no, this is not a war crime), to create a new security buffer zone inside Gaza and along its entire perimeter (including the Philadelphi corridor on the border with Egypt) which Israel will control indefinitely, and of course to facilitate the return to normal, peaceful life of the 40+ Israeli farming villages and cities in the Gaza envelope/northern Negev.

And yes, Israel also seeks to secure by force the release of all Israeli hostages held by Hamas and its terrorist allies. As many as possible, without any more poisonous pauses or tortuous truces.

Arming Israel’s citizenry is part of a broader struggle to reshape Israel’s strategic realities.

Arming Israel’s citizenry is part of a broader struggle to reshape Israel’s strategic realities.

Published in The Jerusalem Post, November 17, 2023; and Israel Hayom, November 19, 2023. Print-friendly copy

Over the past month, more than 200,000 (!) Israelis have filed applications for gun licenses, permits to always own and carry a firearm. Given the spike in Palestinian terrorism over the past 18 months, and the Hamas massacres of October 7, this is not surprising, and is even welcome. I think that every Israeli grandmother should now pack a pistol.

In saying so I am shocking myself, because I grew-up in Western liberal society where gun toting was rare and frowned-upon. If anything, it was the passion of far-right rednecks who were viewed from afar as irresponsible. The Americas are plagued by too much gun violence, with regular shotgun and machine gun shootings by deranged people in malls, schools, campuses, playgrounds, and even occasionally churches and synagogues.

Furthermore, in this country to which I immigrated many decades ago, guns were considered the province of the military, to which we send our sons and daughters to serve. Soldiers coming home for the weekend with their sophisticated and scary-looking rifles are a regular sight, and troops in the streets to secure major holiday pedestrian traffic and tourist sites are commonplace (and necessary), especially in Jerusalem.

In other words, this country is seemingly well protected by its large citizen-based army, police force, para-military forces, and penetrating intelligence forces. It not necessary for the average citizen in Israel, men and women, to be personally armed. Or so it seemed.

The time when every Israeli working in agricultural fields or walking to work in Tel Aviv needed to have a loaded gun is over, or so we thought. The time when every Israeli needed to display instant readiness to repel attack had passed, or so we thought.

Israel’s War of Independence was over, so we thought. Back then, the battle was for every living room and nursery room. But today, the IDF with its Hellfire missiles, Iron Dome anti-missile defenses, and crack commando units suffices to secure our security. Or so we thought.

But now the second War of Independence is upon Israel. The battle for basic security is underway not just in the towns of the Gaza Envelope but in every border area, and frankly this country is so small that everywhere is a border zone.

Israeli Arabs and Arabs from Judea and Samaria are so integrated in Israeli commerce and industry that the potential for terrorist attack is viscerally felt everywhere, rightfully or wrongly. After all, quite a few Palestinians from Gaza who seemingly worked peacefully in Beeri, Reem, and Kfar Azza apparently provided precise intelligence on Beeri, Reem, and Kfar Azza to the Hamas butchers who invaded on Simchat Torah.

The notion that one can comfortably invite Arab construction workers into one’s home or neighborhood has been seriously undermined. The notion that Modiin, Raanana, or Emek Hefer cities and industrial zones can go without armed civilian guards at checkpoints at every entrance has been genuinely destabilized. Israelis are rightfully afraid, and correctly arming up.

AT LEAST 20 YEARS AGO, Major General (res.) Gershon Hacohen told me that every grandmother in this country should pack a gun. Every citizen should be armed and ready to defend the country. This is a matter of both mental and operational readiness, he told me. Israeli society, he long has argued, has grown too comfortable, too middle class, too bourgeoisie, too blind to the dangers that surround Israel.

If most (sane, responsible) citizens in this country were armed, the signal to our enemies would be clear: Israel is never asleep, and it is ready to defend itself vigorously at any moment – Hacohen has argued. And to prove his point, he will show you the pistol he has permanently strapped to his lower leg underneath his pants.

General Hacohen long has been a mentor to me in strategic and defense affairs. He is an out-of-the-box deep thinker. Throughout his 41-year military career, he was widely considered to be the “thinking intellectual” of IDF generals, although not all his colleagues understood what he was driving at. He is messianic and impulsive in some of his prescriptions, ideologically precise and visionary in others.

I always have liked the revolutionary fervor inherent in Hacohen’s approach. He wants to bring back a Zionist discourse on pioneering, redemption, and settlement – taking themes from the dynamic worldviews of Berl Katznelson, Ben-Gurion, and Rabbi AY Kook.

His book, What’s National in National Security (Hebrew: Ministry of Defense Publishing House, 2014), is essentially a discourse on the importance of faith, vision, and religious-ideological aspirations in the crafting of national security doctrine. It should now be mandatory reading.

Hacohen’s central insight is this: Those who view Israel as a stepping-stone for redemption and as the Jewish national spiritual homeland will act differently in responding to Palestinian attack than those who view Israel merely as a safe-haven state. If the former, the government should do more than just approve security operations against Palestinian terrorists. It should act to crush Israel’s enemies and approve renewed building in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria.

Hacohen’s message is that Israel must reacquire sufficient ideological determination to repulse and overwhelm its adversaries. When enemies such as Hamas-ISIS and Iran are resolutely motivated by revolutionary ideologies, Israel can’t get by with leaders bereft of ideological zeal; stuck in a holding pattern or management mindset.

IN THE CURRENT CONTEXT, Hacohen is relevant for another reason. Over the past decade, he has overseen the IDF’s major war games exercises. The central-most takeaway from the simulations he designed and ran was that Israel must be prepared with massive ground forces to fight a two-front or even three-front war – exactly the scenario that may be developing right now.

Furthermore, Israel must be proactive, rather than, reactive. “Restoring calm” to Israel’s southern and northern border areas, or “maintaining calm” in Jerusalem and the West Bank (through occasional anti-terrorist operations, plus fences and roadblocks, etc.) is akin to putting a derailed train back on track – no more, Hacohen argues. It is a technical solution, not a goal-oriented chess move that drives a new reality.

The Zionist movement always sought to, and today too should seek to, reshape Israel’s strategic reality according to its preferences. This means maneuvering, expanding, building, and forcing the enemy on the defensive, says Hacohen, in Gaza and the Galilee, in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria.

Underlying Hacohen’s weltanschauung is the notion of ongoing struggle, and deep faith in the righteousness of the Jewish return to Zion.

This first part of this thought-process is somewhat Bolshevik in approach: Israel is engaged in a permanent revolution. Consequently, Hacohen says, Zionism must constantly seek to re-shape and shake-up the strategic environment, never giving up on its ideals despite strategic and tactical difficulties.

Even if Israeli leaders can’t see where the struggle will ultimately lead, they are nevertheless mandated to push forward. So, you shuffle the cards and create game-changing facts on the ground. In Gaza too.

And then, drawing on passionate commitment that comes from true belief in your cause – religious-nationalist faith in the justice of the Jewish People’ return to Zion – you express confidence that the Heavens will help stickhandle the helm of state.

All this starts with getting a gun. Today, I downloaded an application from the Ministry of National Security website.

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David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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