For the extreme right, violence against Palestinian civilians is not solely a result of racism — it is, first and foremost, a form of control.
The vast majority of settlers are not violent, although different levels of violence toward the Palestinian population in the occupied territories have accompanied the settlement enterprise since its inception. These acts of violence are never an outlier, but as a direct consequence of the situation in the West Bank.
The public turns a blind eye to this fact whenever these events happen. The responses to the murder of the 18-month-old baby Ali Dawabshe, are a sign that we will continue to ignore the bigger picture.
The defining characteristic of the occupation is that it includes two civilian populations living alongside one another, which are subject to two different legal systems. The Palestinians live under a military regime, while every Israeli who lives or even visits the settlements “brings” the Israeli law with them, including all the legal protections she or he is granted.
The second defining characteristic of the occupation is the Israeli desire to slowly expand the territory and resources for the Jewish public, while slowly lessening Palestinians’ territory. This combination — a military regime with civilian settlement — is what causes the Israeli occupation to look and feel a lot like colonialism or apartheid, even if there is not an exact overlap. This is the essence of the regime, regardless of the question of whether or not this is our forefathers’ land, or who was here first.
Colonialism always goes hand-in-hand with racism, and extreme racism is always accompanied by violence. Even if the original motivation that brings about a colonial situation is not racist, at a certain point the ruling group must somehow justify its own privileges, which inevitably leads to racist worldviews. For example, that the occupied population is not “ready” to have all their rights, or that it is inherently weak and violent; that it doesn’t appreciate life as we do; that it prefers to live in close, dirty quarters, etc. The struggle against racism in Israel — to the degree that it even exists — will fail as long as the occupation exists, since we will always need racism in order to justify the occupation.
But racism cannot fully explain the violence toward Palestinian civilians. Some of the more infamous attempts to harm Palestinians — the Jewish Underground, which carried out a murderous attack on a seminar in Hebron and attempted to blow up five Palestinian buses, was the most well known of them — were not exceptionally racist. The Jewish Underground’s goals were first and foremost political: to prevent the possible evacuation of settlements while strengthening Jewish rule over the local population through fear, intimidation and “punishing” leading figures, as was the case with their attacks on Palestinian mayors. The excuse is always the “weakness” of the central regime — what is seen as hesitancy to implement Israeli sovereignty vis-a-vis the Palestinian population. The violence was and remains a form of control.
The history of colonialism is rife with such examples. One of the most famous ones was the Organisation de l’armée secrète, a far-right paramilitary group that used terrorism to try and prevent Algeria’s independence from French colonial rule. At one point the group began targeting French citizens, such as Sartre — who supported an end to French rule — and even President De Gaulle himself.
A similar pattern has taken shape here. The central idea behind the so-called “price tag” attacks is political — tightening control over the Palestinians through “punishment” (of innocents) whether as a response to attacks on Jews or what is seen as the weakening of Jewish grip on the West Bank, usually after demolition of structures in outposts or settlements. The most minor harassment to Palestinians are usually accompanied with talks of “the need to teach them a lesson,” “to teach them respect,” and so on.
During my army service in the occupied territories, I encountered many of these kinds of remarks, especially in Hebron, where the friction Jews and Palestinians was and remains the most intense. Sometimes it resulted in breaking car windows or sun-heated water tanks atop of Palestinian homes. In other cases it was a slap to the face or spitting in the direction of a passerby. In Gaza and the Nablus region, the incidents usually took place near the checkpoints. I remember a few instances in which armed settlers exited their cars (especially when there was a long line, or the junction was blocked for some reason), berated and threatened the Palestinians in the very same lordly tone. It is hard to even think about that same Israeli citizen leaving his car in a traffic jam in Haifa, waving his weapon at the other drivers and yelling at the police to do their job, at least without it ending in his arrest. Why does the same person act differently on the other side of the Green Line? The difference lies in the occupation, and everyone involved knows it.