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Mohammad Hureini of Youth of Sumud

Final Straw, Jan 28, 2024

This week, we’re featuring a conversation with Mohammad Hureini (twitter / instagram), a young activist from Masafer Yatta, an area in the hills south of Hebron in the occupied West Bank in Palestine. Mohammad is a member of a non-violent group called Youth of Sumud that struggles to hold on to the sites and lives of Palestinian villages despite displacement by the Israeli military occupation as well as the illegal zionist settlements (like the neighboring Havat Ma’on) and their routine violence and impunity. For the hour, Mohammad speaks about the work of Youth of Sumud, their recent report co-published with The Good Shepherd on increased settler violence entitled Indigenous Erasure: How the zionist movement is using state sanctioned violence to eliminate the Palestinian communities of the West Bank, the South African genocide case against Israel in the International Court of Justice and other topics. A transcript of this interview will be available soon.

Al-Addameer’s recent publication on prisons and repression of Palestinians since October 7th, 2023: https://addameer.org/media/5262

Organizations Mohammad names doing on the ground support:
– Defund Racism (https://defundracism.org/): follows NGO connections to settler projects recently published a report on Regavim, a pro-settler organization that pulls funding from the US, Canada and elsewhere to displace Palestinians
– Operation Dove /Operazione Colomba from Italy (https://www.operazionecolomba.it/)
– International Solidarity Movement (https://palsolidarity.org/) Community Peacemaker Teams (https://cpt.org/)

The Israeli Settlers Attacking Their Palestinian Neighbors

With the world’s focus on Gaza, settlers have used wartime chaos as cover for violence and dispossession.

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The family of Bilal Saleh, who was killed while harvesting olives. Since October 7th, the U.N. has recorded nearly six hundred attacks by settlers in the West Bank. Photographs by Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for The New Yorker

The sounds of destruction carried through the valley. It was October 28th, and I was standing on a rocky slope in the West Bank with Bashar Ma’amar, a Palestinian who records the aggressions of Israeli settlers. Ma’amar pointed a camera at a group ransacking a house below us. A couple of days before, the settlers had set fire to it; the house’s owner had gone to the police, but they had not intervened. As we watched, one settler kicked at the front door, and another tried to penetrate the charred walls with a board. Others tore a hole in the roof and slipped inside. On the hillside opposite us, three Israeli soldiers and a man with a rifle stood watching. Eventually, the settlers joined the soldiers to walk back to Eli, their settlement, where mothers pushed strollers down tree-lined blocks of red-roofed houses, people played tennis on courts with views of Palestinian farmland, and men and women carrying M16s and Uzis shopped in strip malls.

“Now is the time for them to implement their objectives,” Ma’amar told me. “All the attention is on Gaza.” Ma’amar is forty-one, tall and lanky. He drove his dilapidated car to Qaryut, his village of three thousand people, with winding alleys and olive groves that stretch in every direction. Qaryut, twenty miles north of Ramallah, is in the fertile central highlands of the West Bank, the twenty-two-hundred-square-mile territory that has been occupied by Israel since 1967. After Israel won the Six-Day War, fought against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, it took territory that included the West Bank, which most Israelis refer to as Judea and Samaria. Today, there are roughly half a million settlers in the West Bank, one for every six Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority, which nominally governs the territory, controls security—often with Israeli assistance—only in the urban centers. In the remaining eighty-two per cent of the territory, Israel is in charge. In Qaryut, Ma’amar operates a branch of the Red Crescent and administers message groups that monitor the actions of settlers and of the Israel Defense Forces. He is also a volunteer with B’tselem, an Israeli human-rights group.

One day when I visited Ma’amar, he piled up a dozen cameras on his desk—old mini-D.V. camcorders, point-and-shoot 35-mm.s—some broken by settlers. It was a collection built up during nearly twenty years of documenting settler violence and encroachment onto Palestinian land. “My cameras are my weapons,” he said. “I’m probably the person in Qaryut who has filed the most complaints to the police, to the Supreme Court.” There had been some moments of success. He’d helped a man get back half of the hundred and seventy acres that settlers had seized from him. Mostly, though, his cases went nowhere. “The Israeli legal system doesn’t work for the benefit of Palestinians,” he said.

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His obsession with documentation was inherited from his grandfather Ahmed Odeh, who served for some thirty years as mayor of Qaryut. Ma’amar keeps century-old land deeds and tattered administrative maps, which show that the surrounding settlements were built on private land.

When Ma’amar was born, in 1982, his village was next to only one settlement, Shilo, established on land seized from his grandfather. Eli was founded when Ma’amar was five, taking more land from Qaryut. Eli and Shilo, which each has nearly five thousand residents, subsumed three of Qaryut’s five springs. The village had to buy its water from Mekorot, Israel’s national water company.

The first time that Ma’amar witnessed settler violence was in 1996. It was in the wake of the first election to Prime Minister of Benjamin Netanyahu, who was intent on blocking any progress toward a two-state solution. Shilo took even more land from Qaryut, to make a vineyard. The village staged a protest, which Ma’amar filmed. The Army and settlers rushed in, firing shots into the air, and settlers beat people and tried to take cameras from anyone documenting the scene. An Israeli court ruled that the land should be returned to Qaryut, but Ma’amar said that settlers continued to attack people who approached, so the land was effectively lost.

In the years that followed, settlers put up tents, then mobile homes, on hilltops. Settlements are mostly considered illegal under international law, but these outposts were illegal even under Israeli law. Still, the government did little to dissuade the hilltop settlers, who viewed themselves as pioneers. The outposts were quickly connected to larger settlements by water systems, power lines, and paved roads. In time, a corridor of settlement took shape, slicing across the West Bank until the map looked more and more like the one envisioned by many settlers and political leaders, in which Palestinians would live in small and disconnected territories within an expanded Israel. Qaryut sat right in the corridor’s path; there were now eight official settlements and at least eleven smaller outposts in a five-mile radius of the village. “Without international and legal pressure on the Israelis, Qaryut will disappear,” Ma’amar said.

In November, 2022, Netanyahu won reëlection for the sixth time. To form a governing coalition, he allied with leaders of far-right parties, including Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who advocate for annexing the West Bank. Since then, the situation there has grown dramatically worse. In the first nine months of 2023, Ma’amar filed about seventy police reports of settler violence. In February, while he was driving an ambulance to pick up people injured in an attack, settlers smashed his windows and tried to burn the vehicle. In June, Palestinian gunmen killed four settlers near Eli; the next day, hundreds of settlers descended on Turmus Aya, a nearby village, shooting residents and burning cars and houses, some with people inside. By September, 2023, the United Nations was documenting around three settler-related incidents each day, the highest since it had started tracking the trend, in 2006, and eleven hundred Palestinians in the West Bank had been displaced.

Since October 7th, when Hamas-led fighters broke through the fence on Gaza’s border with Israel and killed some twelve hundred people and took some two hundred and fifty hostages, attacks near Qaryut have become routine. Settlers have burned cars and houses, blockaded roads, damaged electricity networks, seized farmland, severed irrigation lines, attacked people in their fields and olive groves, and killed, all without repercussion. Ma’amar told me that a thousand acres had been cut off from Qaryut. The U.N. has recorded five hundred and seventy-three attacks by settlers in the West Bank since the war began, with Israeli forces accompanying them half the time. At least nine people have been killed by settlers, and three hundred and eighty-two have been killed by Israeli forces. Five Israelis have been killed in the West Bank, at least one of whom was a civilian.

On October 9th, settlers sent a picture on Facebook to people in Qusra, a few miles from Qaryut, of masked men holding axes, clubs, a gas can, and a chainsaw, with text that read, “To all the rats in the sewers of Qusra village, we are waiting for you and we will not feel sorry for you. The day of revenge is coming.” Two days later, at the edge of the village, settlers lit utility poles on fire and tried to break into a house. For a half hour, a family huddled inside; then young men from the village arrived and threw rocks at the Israelis. Ma’amar drove over in his ambulance. At that point, the settlers started shooting. A man handed Ma’amar a six-year-old girl who had been shot. As the man walked away, he was shot and killed. When Ma’amar sped off, he said, settlers fired on his ambulance. Three Palestinians were killed, one of them the son of a man who had been killed by settlers in 2017. Then the Israeli Army stormed the village and killed a thirteen-year-old boy.

The next day, Hani Odeh, the mayor of Qusra, arranged for a procession to transport the bodies from the hospital to the village. Ma’amar took one of them in his ambulance. The I.D.F. dictated the route, then directed mourners to change course to avoid settlers. But dozens of settlers blocked the road and stoned the procession anyway. “I got out and talked to the Israeli commander, begging him to make the settlers leave,” Odeh said. “He told me to turn around.” The settlers killed a sixty-two-year-old man and his twenty-five-year-old son.

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Bashar Ma’amar, a Palestinian activist, films as Israeli settlers take over a spring that supplied water to his village of Qaryut.

“They can’t just continue to unleash the settlers on us like that,” Odeh told me. “My generation has always tried to reason with our youth, but they can no longer take it, so what am I to do? People like me, who advocated for peace their whole lives—we are not respected anymore. They say what did Abu Mazen”—Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority—“ever do for us? And they’re right. He keeps asking people to protest peacefully. Peacefully? There’s nothing peaceful about the situation we’re in.”

On October 29th, settlers showed up at one of Qaryut’s two remaining springs. They hung an Israeli flag and, with soldiers present, demolished one of the large concrete water basins that villagers had been using for irrigation for generations. Then the Army closed Qaryut’s access road to the spring. The road separated Shilo and Eli, and Ma’amar guessed that the aim of the settlers and the Army was to connect the two settlements.

For the next couple of weeks, settlers came to the spring frequently, accompanied by soldiers. Some wore shirts with the logo of Artzenu (“Our Land”), a subsidiary of a government-funded organization which is dedicated to farming land in the West Bank before “non-Jewish entities” do. (A spokesperson for Artzenu said, “Not everyone who wears the shirt in their free time represents the organization’s values.”) One day, Ma’amar filmed two soldiers in sniper costumes on the hillside above the spring and young settlers burning tires on the access road. One soldier, lying prone with his rifle balanced on a tripod, aimed straight at Ma’amar.

That day, I went down to the spring with Ariel Elmaliach, the mayor of Eli. Around ten young men and boys were working to turn one of the concrete basins into a swimming pool. “Come in another week with shorts and you can enjoy,” Elmaliach told me.

He asked the group why they were doing this work.

“To take more room around the settlement,” a boy of about fifteen said.

“For our homeland,” Nadav Levy, a bearded man in his early twenties, said. He added that he didn’t understand why people in Qaryut were upset about their project: “From my perspective, all of this is our land.”

Ory Shimon, twenty, said he felt that Israel was being unfairly scrutinized: “America came with ships and killed all the Indians and made them slaves. It’s terrible, but now America doesn’t say, ‘We’re sorry, take the land back.’ ”

Elmaliach told me I was not allowed to take pictures, but then reconsidered. “Let’s do a deal,” he said. “If you write in your media that the Jews always take a place and they make it better, I give you permission to take a picture.” He picked up a couple of discarded bottles. “See, this is Arabs,” he said.

The spring, Elmaliach said, belonged to them, not to Qaryut. I showed him a map from the Civil Administration, Israel’s governing body in the West Bank, showing that the spring was well outside settlement boundaries. Eventually, he said, “I will give you a real answer. If you are coming to a new land, and you are now the owner of that land, then you put in that land the rules that you want.”

In February, 2023, Netanyahu appointed Smotrich, the finance minister and the head of the Religious Zionist Party, to a governmental position that granted him sweeping powers over West Bank settlements. In 2005, Smotrich had been arrested as part of a small group in possession of seven hundred litres of fuel. The former deputy head of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security agency, accused him of plotting to blow up cars on a highway to protest Israel’s withdrawal from settlements in Gaza. (Smotrich denied the allegation and wasn’t charged with a crime.) Now Smotrich had the authority to legalize unauthorized outposts, to prevent enforcement against illegal Jewish construction, to thwart Palestinian development projects, and to allocate land to settlers.

Around the time of Smotrich’s appointment, a Palestinian gunman shot and killed two settlers. Smotrich said that the Army should “strike the cities of terror and its instigators without mercy, with tanks and helicopters.” Israel, he added, should act “in a way that conveys that the master of the house has gone crazy.” While the Army stood by, hundreds of settlers rampaged through Hawara, a village south of Nablus, killing one person and injuring about a hundred, and burning some thirty homes and a hundred cars. It was the worst outbreak of settler violence in decades. (The I.D.F. did not respond to a request for comment.)

Smotrich, who lives in a settlement, has become one of the most prominent settler ideologists. In 2017, he published his “Decisive Plan” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first step, he wrote, was to make the “ambition for a Jewish State from the river to the sea . . . an accomplished fact” by “establishing new cities and settlements deep inside the territory and bringing hundreds of thousands of additional settlers to live there.” Once “victory by settlement” was accomplished, Smotrich continued, Palestinians would have two options: stay in Israel, without the right to vote in national elections, or emigrate. “Zionism,” he wrote, “was built based on population exchange e.g. the mass Aliyah of Jews from Arab countries and Europe to the Land of Israel, willingly or not, and the exit of masses of Arabs who lived here, willingly or not, to the surrounding Arab areas. This historic pattern seems to require culmination.”

Plans for expulsion go back to 1937, when Britain proposed the partition of Palestine into two states and the transfer of about two hundred thousand Arabs out of territory slated for the Jewish state. Zionist pioneers attempted to expand their territory by building settlements outside the proposed boundary. David Ben-Gurion, the future Prime Minister of Israel, wrote, in a letter to his sixteen-year-old son about settling the Negev Desert, “We must expel the Arabs and take their place.” In the end, Ben-Gurion agreed to a U.N. partition plan that did not call for the expulsion of Arabs from Gaza and the West Bank, but he immediately began taking tactical steps toward expanding the territory. He and other leaders devised a military strategy called Plan Dalet, which aimed to “gain control of the areas of the Hebrew state” and “the areas of Jewish settlement . . . located outside the borders” through “operations against enemy population centers,” “control of frontline enemy positions,” and the “destruction of villages.” Should resistance be met, “the armed force must be destroyed and the population must be expelled outside the borders of the state.” The Haganah (the predecessor to the I.D.F.), destroyed Palestinian villages and carried out massacres. Three hundred thousand Arabs were expelled or fled before the British withdrew, in May, 1948. Then Israel declared independence, Egypt and Syria invaded the territory, and another four hundred thousand Arabs were driven out. By 1949, about eighty per cent of the Arab population had been removed from the territory claimed by Israel, now larger than what the U.N. partition plan—which was never implemented—had outlined, and hundreds of villages had been erased. Palestinians remember this as the Nakba, or “catastrophe.”

Smotrich’s desire to claim all of Palestine for Israel was held by many people in 1948, but his belief that such colonization is a divine commandment was marginal. Zionism was largely a secular movement, and most Orthodox Jews considered it a rebellion against God: if he had exiled the Israelites, then only he could determine when the punishment should end. Smotrich, like a third of West Bank settlers today, follows the teachings of a rabbi named Tzvi Yehuda Kook, who preached that Jews should play an active role in bringing about God’s forgiveness by gaining possession of the entirety of the Biblical Land of Israel. By establishing a state, secular Jews—“good sinners,” he called them—had unwittingly created a stepping stone to the “foundation of the throne of God in the world.” When Israel occupied the West Bank, in 1967, Kook’s devotees believed that it was a miracle.

Government officials disagreed about what to do with the West Bank. Maximalists, like Yigal Allon, a former special-forces commander, had been stopped short of taking the territory before borders were established, in 1949, and wanted to finish the job; other officials worried that incorporating nine hundred thousand Palestinians into Israel would upend the country’s Jewish majority. Levi Eshkol, the Prime Minister at the time, said, “We got a lovely dowry. The trouble is that the dowry comes with the wife.” Allon proposed a compromise: annex the least populated regions—a third of the territory—and give the rest back to Jordan. He proposed establishing settlements until the annexation was complete.

The difficulty was finding people to live in them: the younger generation of secular Israelis didn’t have the nostalgia for pioneering that older Zionists did. But Kook’s followers were more eager. As the government deliberated, Kookists announced that they were settling in Hebron. Allon, a one-time socialist, made common cause with the right-wing settlers, immediately guaranteeing them jobs and trying to procure weapons for them. Then he persuaded the Cabinet to grant permission for a settlement.

The Kookists learned an important lesson: if they took direct action and found sympathetic officials, the state would follow. They formed a movement, Gush Emunim, which tried to establish settlements on the densely populated mountain ridge south of Nablus, where Qaryut is situated. Yet the government, which, in accordance with Allon’s plan, had begun building settlements in less populated areas, repeatedly evicted them.

In 1977, the Labor Party, which had held power since the founding of the state, was defeated by the Likud Party. Like Gush Emunim, Likud advocated for complete Israeli sovereignty “between the Sea and the Jordan.” The government started building settlements throughout the West Bank, and put them under the management of Gush Emunim, which it funded. The state encouraged Israelis to move in, offering housing subsidies, lower income tax, and state grants for businesses. By the early nineties, there were some hundred thousand Israelis living in a hundred and twenty settlements in the West Bank.

On October 28, 2023, Bilal Saleh woke early to prepare for the olive harvest in the village of al-Sawiya. He knew it was risky. A couple of days earlier, farmers had returned from their olive groves in the nearby village of Deir Istiya to find flyers on their cars that read, “You wanted war, now wait for the great Nakba. . . . This is your last chance to escape to Jordan in an orderly fashion before we forcibly expel you from our holy lands, which were given to us by God.” Since October 7th, messages in settler chat groups had portrayed olive pickers as undercover Hamas operatives and as Nazis. Elmaliach, the mayor of Eli, which is a mile and a half from al-Sawiya, sent around a sign-up sheet calling for the “full mobilization” of his residents “to stand up to the Arabs who try to harvest around our settlements.”

Saleh, who was forty, kept his opinions to himself and avoided protests. But the land had been in his family for generations. He’d recently left his job at a hotel in Tel Aviv and had been selling herbs on the streets of Ramallah. Without the olive harvest, he’d be stretched thin. He and his friends and relatives chose a Saturday to pick olives, because it was the Jewish Sabbath, a day when the Orthodox settlers were likely to be in synagogue or resting.

Saleh loaded up his family’s donkey and walked with his wife and kids through their village, across from the road where Israelis-only buses took settlers to their jobs, and down to their plot of trees. The settlement of Rehelim looked down on them from less than half a mile away. They put a tarp down under a tree and started picking.

At around 10:30 a.m., Saleh’s friend Sami Kafineh was driving back to al-Sawiya from Nablus. Just before he reached the village, he noticed four men, dressed in white, walking from Rehelim toward the olive grove. He pulled over and shouted that settlers were approaching.

People who were in the grove told me that, as soon as Bilal Saleh realized that the settlers were coming, he hurried his wife and children to safety, leaving their belongings behind. As they walked to the road, Saleh, realizing he’d left his phone behind, turned back. He returned to the plot, picked up his phone, and was shot.

Kafineh was still on the road above. As soon as he heard the rifle crack, he started filming. The four settlers were in a clearing; one had an M16 and was walking along the edge of the terraced grove of olive trees. The settler fired again, and walked away. A video shows Saleh lying in the dirt, his chest and mouth bloody.

Then settlers rewrote the story. In a statement, Yossi Dagan, the head of the settlers’ regional council whose area of authority includes Rehelim, said that a combat soldier on leave had been “attacked by tens of Hamasniks.” The harvest around Israeli settlements had to be stopped, he said, because it was “being used as a platform for terrorism.” Settlers later shared an image from Saleh’s funeral, in which his brother, Hisham, is waving a Hamas flag. Shortly afterward, Israeli police arrested Hisham. Polls show that support for Hamas in the West Bank, where dissatisfaction with the Palestinian Authority is widespread, has risen from twelve per cent to forty-four per cent in recent months. Seventy-two per cent of Palestinians polled also said that they thought the October 7th attack was “correct.” (Ninety-four per cent of Israelis think that the I.D.F. is using either an appropriate or an insufficient amount of force in Gaza.)

“We don’t have any hope,” Bilal’s cousin Hazem Saleh told me. He pointed toward some new houses in the village. Their owners didn’t intend for them “to be demolished or bombed,” he said. “They are not calling for fighting, or killing, or war. But when they are afraid to go out, when they don’t have the minimum standard of living, when they are pressured, their reaction will be the same as the action.”

Hisham Saleh spent three months in jail, without charges, for waving the Hamas flag. The settler who shot Bilal was arrested, and released a few days later. “We are happy that the court decided from the beginning that that was self-defense,” his lawyer, Nati Rom, told me. The judge had cited the events of October 7th, writing, “The vigilance to which we are commanded by the blood of our brothers and sisters who fell for the sanctity of the land and the defense of the homeland is a real obligation.”

Rom said that, to his knowledge, no other settlers had faced charges since October 7th. Settler violence was “fake news,” he said.

Saleh’s shooter was back in the Army, so I visited one of his neighbors, a forty-six-year-old woman named Reuma Harari. At the gate of Rehelim, soldiers took my passport, then security escorted me to Harari’s house. Her back yard was a suburban idyll: a swing set on an AstroTurf lawn, an oak tree, a small dog; Tel Aviv was only forty minutes away, if the traffic was light. She offered me a seat under an olive tree. “Ironic,” she said, chuckling.

Harari was eager to tell me about the origin of her settlement. “It’s not a victim story,” she said. “It’s just the opposite.” In 1991, settlers were on a bus to Tel Aviv to protest peace talks taking place in Madrid. Palestinians attacked the bus, killing the driver and a settler from Shilo named Rachel Drouk. After Drouk’s funeral, twenty-five women set up a mourning tent on the spot of the killing. After three weeks, they issued their Feminist Manifesto. “We remain at this site demanding to found a settlement, for this is the only Zionist response to this criminal murder,” it read. Under Army protection, the settlers seized land belonging to Saleh’s village, and installed mobile homes on it.

Two years later, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, agreed on the first stage of the Oslo Accords. Israel and the P.L.O. recognized each other, and the Palestinians gained limited autonomy in Gaza and some of the West Bank, under the administration of the newly created Palestinian Authority. But major issues—the future of Jerusalem, the ability of Palestinian refugees to return, the settlements, and the border—were left for a final agreement to be made in five years’ time. That agreement never came to pass, and the hope for a two-state solution has steadily vanished.

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Settler youths at the Qaryut spring.

Under international pressure, the government mostly stopped building new settlements, but in 1998, ahead of the final status talks for Oslo, Ariel Sharon, then the foreign minister, urged settlers to occupy territory themselves. On the radio, he said they should “run, grab more hills, expand the territory. Everything that’s grabbed will be in our hands. Everything we don’t grab will be in their hands.” In the next nine years, roughly a hundred illegal outposts were created.

In 2001, during the second intifada, a popular Palestinian uprising against the occupation, Harari and her family decided to move from Jerusalem to Rehelim. She had asked herself, “What can I do for this country?” She knew that, wherever settlers go, “the Army will come,” she said. “Zionism for me is dreaming and doing.” Four years later, a government report revealed that the World Zionist Organization and a number of ministries had been secretly diverting millions of dollars to settler outposts with the active collusion of the military and the police. “It seems that the lawbreaking has become institutionalized,” the report said. The government declared that such outposts would be evacuated, but in the twenty-tens Netanyahu retroactively legalized many of them, including Rehelim.

Harari said that Rehelim’s stance toward its Palestinian neighbors had always been “If you live peace and quiet, we will live peace and quiet.”

When I mentioned the various attacks perpetrated by inhabitants of her settlement through the years, Harari responded with examples of settlers killed in other parts of the West Bank, or by discussing October 7th. “My neighbors, if they have the ability, will come and butcher me in my bed,” she said. She likened the Hamas attacks to Auschwitz, but she also said that they brought her a “shred of joy,” because “now we earned back our unity. Now it’s like ’48 again.”

Harari could understand why Palestinians might resent settlers. “Israel is an occupied territory from the river to the sea,” she said. If she were Palestinian, she went on, she “would probably think we are not supposed to be here and we should go.” She sometimes asked herself, “Is it worthwhile? Are the kids suffering? Is it normal?” Then she recovered. “We are not going anywhere,” she said. “ ‘Homeland’ is not a figure of speech.”

Ten miles east of Rehelim, the olive groves and crowded settlements and Palestinian villages give way to the caramel-colored expanse of the Jordan Valley. The valley stretches six miles wide, from the Jordan River to the hills of the central highlands, and fifty miles long, from the Dead Sea to the Israeli city of Beit She’an. Israel has eyed the region for annexation since Allon’s plan of 1967. Sparsely populated, it makes up about a quarter of the West Bank’s landmass. Since 2012, Israel has been building what Dror Etkes, a longtime authority on settlements, called its “biggest and most expensive infrastructure project” in the West Bank, piping water from Jerusalem to settlers’ date plantations throughout the valley. “They are building a project that costs a fortune,” Etkes said. “From their point of view, they are going to be here forever.” Any Jewish family that moves to the Jordan Valley is granted twenty acres of agricultural land.

The residents of the valley’s more than twenty settlements are a mix of Orthodox Jews and the secular descendants of early Labor Party settlers. In the “eco settlement” of Rotem, businesses offer acupuncture, natural cosmetics, and “holistic therapy.” People live in yurts, buildings made from hemp, and converted vehicles. One day, I sat under a thatched roof at a café where barefoot waitresses served vegan meals. Yet, as in other parts of the West Bank, violence is woven into the fabric of life. A family posed for a photograph looking over the valley, the man raising an M16 in the air. A small Palestinian sheepherding community sat on the valley floor. Rotem settlers had recently been showing up in the night, demanding that the Palestinians evacuate.

Many of the sixty-five thousand Palestinians in the Jordan Valley are the descendants of Bedouins who fled what is now Israel in 1948. Israel has long restricted their access to water and demolished their buildings. In the five months before October 7th, hundreds of Palestinians, the residents of three communities, left. Their exodus was prompted by a relatively new type of settler—the Orthodox Jewish shepherd.

In the northern part of the valley, I visited Moshe and Moriah Sharvit, whose sheep farm doubled as a bed-and-breakfast, with offerings including air-conditioned Bedouin-style tents and talks about “Zionism and the importance of settling on farms and the seizure of land.”

Moriah, who is twenty-eight, wore a daisy-print dress and a dark-green head scarf, and had a blond infant strapped to her back. Mountains rose in the west, and on the eastern horizon, beyond Palestinian villages, the Jordan Highlands were outlined faintly. All this, she believed, was given to her by God.

Moriah was born in New Jersey and grew up in West Bank settlements. After she and Moshe married, at nineteen, they wanted a different life. The settlements, with their fences, cameras, and security, were like “ghettos,” Moriah said. She invited me into their mobile home. A couple of M16s sat on a woodstove. Moshe, an olive-skinned man with a short black beard, ate in the kitchen. I recognized him. Israeli anti-occupation activists had documented him dispersing Palestinians’ sheep with his A.T.V., sending his dogs after them, and following with a drone.

Moshe had had a vineyard and an olive grove, Moriah told me, but that didn’t allow for the control of much land, so he turned to sheepherding. “When you have sheep, you go here, you go there, wherever there is food to graze,” she said. “You can protect more land.”

Moriah and Moshe set up the outpost in 2020. “It’s not like we bought the land from someone,” she said. “It doesn’t belong to us.” Yet she described their mission as preventing land theft. She pointed through a window toward some Palestinian farmhouses a half mile away. “All those houses that you see over there are Arabs who came from A land to C land and stole the land,” she said. “If we weren’t here right now, they would be here.”

The Oslo Accords sorted the West Bank into three areas, A, B, and C. Palestinian cities were designated Area A and put under the full control of the Palestinian Authority. The main villages—Area B—were left under Palestinian civilian administration, with Israel in charge of security. Together, Areas A and B make up forty per cent of the West Bank, but they are broken into a hundred and sixty-five islands. The sea they float in—Area C—remains under full Israeli control and includes not only settlements but also most of the West Bank’s agricultural land. The accords said that Area C, now home to half a million settlers and some three hundred thousand Palestinians, was to be “gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction,” but Israel has increasingly treated it as its own.

Israel requires Palestinians to obtain permits for any new construction in Area C, but it has rejected ninety-eight per cent of applications. Unpermitted structures are regularly demolished by the military—yet settlers believe that the government doesn’t do enough. Regavim, an organization co-founded by Bezalel Smotrich, takes aerial photographs of the West Bank twice a year in order to identify unpermitted structures, and it sues the government if it doesn’t demolish them. Naomi Kahn, Regavim’s international director, told me, “Area C should be annexed.” A poll from 2020 showed that half of Israelis supported this idea.

The sheepherding strategy started to take hold around 2018, pioneered by a settler organization called Amana. At a 2021 conference titled “The Battle for State Lands,” Amana’s secretary-general, Ze’ev Hever, a convicted member of the Jewish Underground terrorist organization, explained that traditional settlements had been an inefficient way to seize land. “It took us more than fifty years to get a hundred square kilometres,” he said. Sheep farms, on the other hand, control “more than double the area of built-up settlements.”

Avi Naim, the former director general of the Ministry of Settlement Affairs, said that herding outposts were helping “prevent Palestinian invasions” of Area C: “You take people who believe in that goal as a pioneering mission, and let them spearhead the work to keep control of land reserves.” By Dror Etkes’s count, there are now about ninety herding outposts in the West Bank. He estimated that together they control some hundred and thirty-five square miles, about ten per cent of Area C.

All such outposts are considered illegal under Israeli law, but Moriah said that she and Moshe had received a great deal of assistance from the state. They had “a gazillion meetings,” she said, with the Civil Administration, the Army, the Jordan Valley regional council, and other government bodies. Amana connected them to running water.

“Moriah!” Moshe shouted from the kitchen. He told her to be careful what she said.

Before the 2019 elections, Netanyahu announced a plan to annex twenty-two per cent of the West Bank, most of it in Area C, including the majority of the Jordan Valley. The Sharvits established their outpost inside the area slated for annexation, which has not yet occurred.

“I believe that everything is ours—but there is the law,” Moriah said. “We go by the law and what we’re allowed and what we’re not allowed.” Buildings on their outpost had been under demolition orders for two years, but Moriah said that no one had pressured them to leave: “Israel understands—either we’re here or the land’s gonna be taken away.”

On the living-room wall, a monitor displayed live footage from cameras that surveilled the surrounding area. Their farm acted as “eyes” for the Army, Moriah told me. “We could report on illegal buildings, on illegal hunting. . . . We work together.” On the screen, the angle of one of the cameras changed; Moriah said that it, like cameras at other outposts in the valley, was controlled by a soldier at a command center.

After October 7th, an Army unit stayed at their outpost for a month. Moriah said the Army told them that each herding outpost needed at least three long rifles, so it gave her an M16. “They are giving them out like crazy,” she said. The Army has distributed around seven thousand weapons to settlers since October 7th, on top of the ten thousand that the Ministry of National Security ordered be handed out to Jews across Israel and the West Bank. Like some fifty-five hundred other settlers, Moshe and his brother David were drafted into the Army’s “regional defense” battalions, the ranks of which have increased fivefold since the war began.

Moriah said that their issue wasn’t just with Hamas but with Palestinians in general. They weren’t “regular people,” she said. Violence was in “their DNA.” The October 7th attacks happened because Israelis “were too nice,” she said. “I think we need to do what we need to do to make this stop. I think we need to give an alternative to the Arabs who live here. . . . There’s Jordan, there’s Egypt, there’s Syria.”

Moriah drove me down a dirt road to the land below the outpost, where Palestinians grew wheat and potatoes. She pointed to some houses. “This over here—all on C land,” she said. (According to Civil Administration maps, most of the houses were in Area B.) Shortly after October 7th, she said, a curious thing had happened: “We saw everyone just leaving.” She continued driving down the dirt road. “They left,” she said. “They all left.”

Five days later, I visited David Elhayani, the governor of the Jordan Valley regional council. There are six such elected councils in the West Bank that provide services to settlers. Despite being outside Israel, they fall under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior.

Elhayani thought that Netanyahu had not been decisive enough in annexing territory. “We don’t have leadership anymore in this country,” Elhayani told me. If annexation went for a vote, he said, he was confident that two-thirds of the Knesset would approve it.

In the meantime, he was grateful that settler shepherds like Moshe Sharvit were “taking care of the area.” When I asked why the demolition orders on the Sharvits’ property hadn’t been carried out, he replied, “It’s not my job.”

Elhayani said that, if he could claim territory for Israel, he would do it, “even if it’s not legal.” He added, “The fight of 1948 is the same fight [today] in all of Judea and Samaria”—the fight over land. “You know what homa u’migdal is?” he asked.

It means “wall and tower.” During British rule, the government restricted the establishment of Jewish settlements, but during the 1936-39 Arab revolt more than fifty of them were founded, in order to claim territory for a future state. The British let them stand, given an Ottoman law that said authorities could not demolish a structure once a roof had been constructed. The Zionists “came at night, made a wall, a tower, and said, ‘We are here,’ ” Elhayani said. The herding outposts, he noted, “are the same.”

I told Elhayani that I had gone with some Palestinians to their now empty houses, near the Sharvits’ outpost. An elderly man told me that, a few days after October 7th, Moshe had beaten him, ransacked his home, and told him to leave. Others said he’d threatened to kill them. (Moriah Sharvit said, “Nobody on this farm has committed any offense.”) Twelve families had evacuated.

“They are lying,” Elhayani said.

“I can take you right now,” I said.

“I don’t believe you.”

“I’ll show you.”

“I don’t want you to show me.”

The next day, the photographer Tanya Habjouqa and I went to Wadi al-Seeq, a recently depopulated community in the hills above the Jordan Valley. The sun slowly sank, lighting up the skeletons of shacks clustered in the shallow valley. Forty-odd families had lived here since the nineties, but the last of them had fled a month before. Inside a school, overturned desks lay on the floor; lessons remained on the whiteboards.

As we drove down a gravel road, a pickup truck blocked our path. A suntanned man with a long ginger-brown beard and sidelocks stepped out. It was Neria Ben-Pazi, a settler shepherd who presided over a handful of outposts and had organized the expulsion of the Palestinian families. I had tried multiple times to interview Ben-Pazi, but he never responded. When settler shepherds appear, their friends are often close behind, so I turned the car around and we left.

Ben-Pazi grew up in Kohav HaShahar, six miles north of Wadi al-Seeq. By 2015, he had founded a rugged outpost called Baladim nearby. Shin Bet considered it a center of terrorism; some of its residents were dedicated to bringing down the state of Israel and replacing it with the Kingdom of Judea. At least two of them have been convicted of arson-related hate crimes, including the firebombing of a Palestinian home, in 2015, which killed an eighteen-month-old baby and his parents. After that attack, Baladim was evacuated by the Army. Ben-Pazi was arrested for establishing the outpost in a military zone, but he was soon released. Then the encampment was reëstablished.

In 2019, after Netanyahu announced his plan to annex part of the West Bank, Ben-Pazi’s relationship with the government changed. Within weeks, he established a new herding outpost outside Rimonim, a secular settlement that likely fell within the area targeted for annexation. A Civil Administration document shows that Ben-Pazi was allocated a hundred-and-thirty-five-acre plot. He was also given funds by the Ministry of Agriculture to pay for people to guard the outpost. Before long, Ben-Pazi and his men had taken over two square miles of Palestinian land. According to a settler publication, senior I.D.F. officers and political figures, including Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, regularly visited his farm.

One of the managers of Rimonim, a tattooed, motorcycle-riding secular man named Oz Shraibom, told me, “Those fanatic religious people are crazy. They come to fight.” Since October 7th, “there are people who think this is the time to make everything happen.” But, he added, “they are keeping the Arabs away. It’s really convenient for me.”

Ben-Pazi had established his Wadi al-Seeq outpost in February, 2023, just after Netanyahu gave Smotrich jurisdiction over the Civil Administration and the West Bank settlers. Almost immediately, young settlers started to graze their livestock on Palestinian fields. Before long, nearly all of Wadi al-Seeq’s wells were in the hands of the settlers, so the Palestinians had to truck in water. Unable to access their farmland safely, they stopped planting. They could no longer graze their animals in most of the surrounding hills, so they had to buy feed. A few families left.

A man I’ll call Suheil, whose home was just a few hundred yards from the outpost, told me that settlers had started to come by his house at night. One appeared in his doorway early one morning, and stared at him and his family as they slept. In August, settlers near the village tried to steal the sheep of two young men. Men from the village ran out to defend them, and a fight ensued. Dozens of police officers and soldiers arrived, confiscating three cars and arresting three Palestinians.

Image may contain Floor Flooring Wood Plywood Furniture Table Dining Table Architecture Building and Hostel
The school in Wadi al-Seeq, where some forty Palestinian families lived until recently.

That day, a video circulated on social media showing Suheil pleading with Ben-Pazi. A settler WhatsApp channel reposted the video, calling it the “last gasp” of the Palestinian community and referring cryptically to “the Deir Yassin effect.” (Deir Yassin was the site of the most notorious massacre of Palestinians in 1948; for many people, it represents the use of violence to instigate a broader exodus.) Arabs in Wadi al-Seeq, the WhatsApp channel said, were being “forced to leave their encampments because they cannot hold out against the Jews.”

The families remaining in Wadi al-Seeq asked Israeli activists to stay in the village, hoping that their presence might deter the settlers. The Palestinian Authority’s Wall and Settlements Resistance Commission organized Palestinian volunteers to stay as well. In charge was Mohammed Matar, better known as Abu Hassan, a forty-six-year-old activist turned official with a long history of civil disobedience against the occupation forces.

After October 7th, settlers started to drive through Wadi al-Seeq more often, now dressed in uniform and carrying assault rifles. They set up impromptu checkpoints at the entrance to the village, beat people, stole their phones, and visited families in their houses at night.

Most of the villagers decided that they couldn’t stay. On October 12th, they started piling onto trucks mattresses, sheep troughs, and the tin roofs of their homes. That morning, six pickup trucks of settlers arrived. Abu Hassan, his colleague Mohammed Khaled, five Israeli activists, and a number of villagers stayed behind; they called the Army to ask for help. The settlers tied up Abu Hassan and Khaled and started beating them. At one point, the two men recalled, a Civil Administration officer arrived. After talking to the settlers, he started to leave.

“Where are you going?” Abu Hassan asked.

“These men are Army,” the officer said, pointing to the men who had been beating them.

Three Israeli activists were hiding with a Palestinian family in a partially dismantled shack. They saw Ben-Pazi talking urgently on his phone; then an Army van arrived. Soldiers from the Desert Frontier unit emerged, largely youths recruited from shepherd outposts.

After the activists emerged, a soldier punched one of them in the face; they were zip-tied, and their phones and cameras were taken away. “Why aren’t you in Gaza!” another soldier shouted. “You are under arrest for helping the enemy during war.” The soldiers left them in another shack, guarded by settlers, and drove over to where Abu Hassan and Mohammed Khaled were being held.

While Abu Hassan was lying face down, one of the settlers pulled him up by the hair. “Do you remember me?” he asked. “I’m the shepherd from Biddya, near Salfit. A couple of months ago, you staged a protest there.”

“That wasn’t me,” Abu Hassan said.

He later identified the man as Eden Levi, who was establishing a chain of herding outposts with the aim, he told a settler publication last summer, of “creating an important territorial continuity in the entire region of Western Samaria.” Last February, Arabic media published a photograph of Levi, reporting that residents near his outposts said that he had shot and killed a twenty-seven-year-old Palestinian. (Levi could not be reached for comment.) According to Haaretz, the Israeli police had interviewed no witnesses.

Abu Hassan and Khaled said they were tortured for hours—beaten with poles, burned with cigarettes, sexually assaulted, urinated on, forced to eat sheep dung. Someone took a picture of them, stripped to their underwear, which was posted on Facebook. “Terrorists tried to infiltrate the Ben-Pazi farm near Kochav Hashachar,” the post read. “Our forces seized the terrorists.” They spent two days in the hospital.

Shortly after Wadi al-Seeq was depopulated, a new gravel road to Ben-Pazi’s outpost was laid down. The Israeli police have not interviewed any of the Palestinians or Israeli activists who were there. Eden Levi has since led another raid near his outpost, in which settlers burned cars and shot Palestinians, killing one.

On December 5th, the U.S. State Department announced that it was imposing visa restrictions on “extremist settlers” who have committed acts of violence or have restricted civilians’ access to basic necessities. The I.D.F. issued a restraining order barring Ben-Pazi from the West Bank, with the exception of the Ariel settlement, for three months. In an appeal, his lawyer, Nati Rom, wrote that Ben-Pazi’s “extensive ties with the security forces are the best evidence that there is no place for the order to be issued.”

In apparent defiance of the order, Ben-Pazi hosted senior rabbis and hundreds of worshippers at his Wadi al-Seeq outpost for Hanukkah. Amichai Eliyahu, the minister of heritage, who a month earlier had said that the government should consider dropping a nuclear bomb on Gaza, spent the night at the outpost. (He later claimed that the comment was “metaphorical.”) Ben-Pazi, Eliyahu tweeted, was “the first line of defense against the enemy.”

On February 1st, President Biden ordered financial sanctions against four Israeli settlers. Abu Hassan said that the political pressure was important, but that sanctions should “include the political and financial institutions that support [the settlers], as well as the police chiefs and Army officers that conspire with them.”

In late December, Moshe Feiglin, the chairman of the far-right Zehut party, visited Ben-Pazi’s farm. “So you are the violent monster that managed to drive away the multitude of Arabs?” he asked. Feiglin looked around, taking in the landscape. “You are sitting here on an area that is three times the municipal area of Tel Aviv.”

“In the end, it’s the connection to the earth,” Ben-Pazi said. “If we want the land, we will get it.” ♦

Meanwhile in the West Bank

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The past days have been horrific for the residents of Majaz, one of the villages in Masafer Yatta, and inside the area claimed by Israel as firing zone 918.

Israeli soldiers, and settlers dressed as soldiers, invaded the village on the night of February 14.

The soldiers landed a helicopter and entered the village. Later after midnight armed Israeli settlers in uniform also arrived.

They destroyed homes, terrorized the people, slaughtered sheep and goats, destroyed kitchens, food, animal feed and sleeping areas and broke up household furniture.

They also entered and desecrated the mosque. Residents reported that that Israeli soldiers and settlers sang and danced inside the mosque as they destroyed the furniture and carpets. Residents found the Qur’an torn and scattered on the ground after the soldiers left.

 

Killing Palestinians in the West Bank with “near total impunity”

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The New York Times: Amnesty finds that Israli forces are killing Palestinians in the West Bank with 'near total impunity.' Read the latest report.

Under the cover of the relentless bombardment and atrocity crimes in Gaza, Israeli forces have simultaneously unleashed a new, brutal wave of unlawful violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank — including unlawful killings, unnecessary lethal force against protesters, and the denial of medical assistance to injured people in the West Bank.1

In our new report, Amnesty researchers investigated four cases that resulted in the unlawful killing of 20 Palestinians, including seven children:

  • In one case, two eyewitnesses told Amnesty that Israeli forces opened fire without warning on a crowd of at least 80 unarmed Palestinians peacefully demonstrating in solidarity with Gaza. A few minutes later, Israeli forces also opened fire in the direction of two journalists even though both were wearing vests clearly marked as Press.
  • On multiple occasions, Israeli forces hindered or prevented those seriously injured in demonstrations and raids from receiving critical medical assistance. In a recent incident, soldiers carried out a raid masquerading as medical staff. They also shot at people trying to help, including medics tending to the wounded.
  • Over the past four months, deadly raids have increased in the West Bank, with an unrelenting use of unlawful force that has spread fear in communities. Among those killed during the raid was 15-year-old Taha Mahamid, whom Israeli forces shot dead in front of his house as he came out to check whether Israeli forces had left the area. Evidence verified by Amnesty showed that Taha was unarmed and posed no threat. An eyewitness shared that Israeli forces then shot Taha’s father in the back when he tried to carry his son to safety.

'They did not give him a chance. In an instant, my brother was eliminated. There were no confrontations...there was no conflict.' - Fatima, Taha's sister

SEE THE FULL EXTENT OF THESE CRIMES

Massacring, targeting, and deliberately killing civilians are war crimes. The research in this investigative report further cements the fact that Israeli forces are committing widespread human rights violations and doing so with impunity.

The international community has a responsibility to take action to prevent war crimes — and Amnesty is doing everything we can to demand action that will save lives and end the suffering.

Thank you for showing up for people in need. Thank you for calling for a ceasefire. We’ll continue to keep you updated on our latest findings and share opportunities for you to take action.

In solidarity,

Elizabeth Rghebi
Advocacy Director, Middle East North Africa
Amnesty International USA

P.S. With increasing attacks and violations across the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Amnesty’s Crisis Evidence Lab is a powerful force for making sure that crimes do not go unchecked.

We count on supporters like you to ensure our research and advocacy remain strong. Will you make a donation today to help us continue to expose injustice and advocate for human rights?

We’re also continuing to urgently call for a ceasefire in Gaza — please, raise your voice with us today.

[1] https://www.amnestyusa.org/press-releases/shocking-spike-in-use-of-unlawful-lethal-force-by-israeli-forces-against-palestinians-in-the-occupied-west-bank/

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Don’t Let Us Feel Alone

Meet the settlers targeted by Biden’s sanctions — and their victims

Palestinians and Israelis who’ve experienced the settlers’ attacks first-hand see the move as a positive but wholly insufficient step toward accountability.

Oren Ziv, +972, February 8, 2024

Einan Tanjil (left) and another settler attack Palestinian farmers and Israeli activists in Surif, occupied West Bank. (Shay Kendler)
Einan Tanjil (left) and another settler attack Palestinian farmers and Israeli activists in Surif, occupied West Bank, Nov. 12, 2021. (Shay Kendler)

 
In partnership with
After years of toothless verbal condemnation of Israeli settler violence by successive U.S. governments, the Biden administration took the historic step last week of imposing sanctions against four settlers involved in recent attacks in the occupied West Bank. The executive order includes freezing the settlers’ assets in the United States and banning their entry into the country. Israeli banks have also frozen the accounts of two of the settlers on the list in compliance with the U.S. sanctions.

Settler violence has been on the rise for years, with perpetrators very often supported in the act by Israeli soldiers and enjoying near-total impunity in the Israeli justice system. The inauguration of the most far-right government in Israel’s history just over a year ago — with a man once arrested on suspicion of planning an attack becoming overlord of the West Bank, and a man once convicted of support for terrorism becoming national security minister — has further emboldened violent settlers: 2023 saw a sharp escalation in large-scale pogroms, including in Huwara, Al-Lubban ash-Sharqiya, Turmus Ayya, and many other locations.

These attacks are succeeding in their state-sanctioned goal of cleansing vast regions of the West Bank of their Palestinian inhabitants to enable the further expansion of Jewish settlements. And the situation has deteriorated even further under the shadow of war, with settlers forcibly displacing at least 16 entire Palestinian villages since October 7.

More

To try to assess the significance of Biden’s decision, +972 Magazine and Local Call spoke with Palestinians and Israelis who have been directly impacted by the violence of the targeted settlers — David Chai Chasdai, Shalom Zicherman, Einan Tanjil, and Yinon Levi — and their comrades in arms. Most welcomed the executive order but wondered whether it would have any effect on the ground; whether it would deter other settlers; whether sanctions would be extended to other settlers involved in the violence; and whether such sanctions would ultimately reach the leadership of the settlement movement, including those sitting in government.

‘These are organized groups that come to kill’

David Chai Chasdai was arrested for leading one of the worst instances of settler violence in recent memory: the pogrom in the Palestinian town of Huwara in February 2023, during which hundreds of settlers set fire to dozens of homes and hundreds of vehicles, wounding over 100 residents in the process. Sameh Aqtash, from the nearby village of Za’atara, was shot and killed during the attack.

Israeli settlers burn Palestinian homes, vehicles, and businesses during a rampage in the West Bank town of Huwara, Feb. 26, 2023. (Activestills)
Israeli settlers burn Palestinian homes, vehicles, and businesses during a rampage in the West Bank town of Huwara, Feb. 26, 2023. (Activestills)

Chasdai, who lives in the settlement of Beit El, is a familiar figure in the world of the “hilltop youth” — the generic term given to young Israeli settlers who routinely descend from illegal West Bank outposts to attack Palestinians. In 2014, then a teenager, he was described in the settler news outlet Makor Rishon as “the number one target of the Nationalist Crimes Division in the Judea and Samaria [police] district and one of the names that causes the greatest headaches for members of the Jewish Unit of the Shin Bet.”

In 2015, Chasdai was convicted of intent to unlawfully use hazardous materials after bottles filled with gasoline and other flammable substances were found in his car. Two years later, he was convicted of aggravated assault for attacking a Palestinian taxi driver with tear gas. In 2021, he was convicted of threatening a police officer.

Chasdai was one of only 18 settlers arrested after the Huwara pogrom (only one of whom was charged). He was soon released but then re-arrested and placed into three months of administrative detention — a tool Israel uses almost exclusively against Palestinians to detain whomever it wants without charge or trial. 50 Knesset members signed a call for his release.

“It’s a symbolic measure,” a resident of Huwara from the Awwad family, who asked that his first name not be published for fear of settler reprisal, told +972. “America says, ‘We also watch what’s going on in the [occupied] territories. It helps a little that the Israeli government knows that the Palestinians have good relations with the U.S. and are giving them material about what the settlers are doing.”

Awwad believes that although the sanctions are a good start, they are not nearly enough to deter settler violence. “It’s not just Huwara — it’s everywhere in the West Bank,” he said. “Settlers walking around in military uniforms and with weapons. These are not people who just shoot and run. These are organized groups that come to kill, and America should declare them terrorist organizations. They are part of the right [wing], and the right wing is responsible for them: it gives them orders, gives them lawyers and money, and supports their criminal behavior.”

Palestinian residents of Huwara walk among their burned homes, cars, and businesses the morning after Israeli settlers rampaged through their town in the West Bank, Feb. 27, 2023. (Oren Ziv)
Palestinian residents of Huwara walk among their burned homes, cars, and businesses the morning after Israeli settlers rampaged through their town in the West Bank, Feb. 27, 2023. (Oren Ziv)

Awwad also questions the effectiveness of this initial package of sanctions, as these settlers likely do not regularly — if ever — travel to the United States, and they almost certainly do not have American bank accounts. “We need the sanctions to be here,” he says. “The ones who need to act against the settlers are the government and the law enforcement authorities in Israel. Only if this happens will they begin to be afraid.

“The problem is that the government here doesn’t want to act against them,” Awwad continued. “The settlers are part of the government, so the government doesn’t want to deal with them because they’re afraid that the coalition will fall.”

Chasdai himself responded to the freezing of his bank accounts, telling Israel’s public broadcaster Kan that it was a “national disgrace,” all the more so because it took place under a right-wing government. “Throughout the generations we have seen many oppressors who have harmed the people of Israel,” Chasdai said. “We will also get through the persecution of Biden and his collaborators.”

‘It’s convenient to blame the small fish’

Another settler on Biden’s list is Shalom Zicherman, a resident of the Mitzpe Yair outpost. In June 2022, he threw stones through the window of a car belonging to left-wing Israeli activists. I was present at the scene and documented the attack, after which Zicherman was able to return to the outpost, despite the fact that the army’s Judea Area Brigade Commander Col. Yehuda Rosilio saw the attack and did nothing to stop or detain him. The IDF Spokesperson initially described the incident as “friction between settlers and protesters,” but Zicherman was later indicted, and his trial is ongoing.

The U.S. State Department notes that “according to video evidence, [Zicherman] assaulted Israeli activists and their vehicles in the West Bank, blocking them on the street, and attempted to break the windows of passing vehicles with activists inside. Zicherman cornered at least two of the activists and injured both.”

An Israeli settler throws a stone at the window of a car containing three left-wing Israeli activists, as another settler blocks their exit, outside the Mitzpe Yair outpost, occupied West Bank, June 10, 2022. (Oren Ziv)
Israeli settler Shalom Zicherman throws a stone at the window of a car containing three left-wing Israeli activists, as another settler blocks their exit, outside the Mitzpe Yair outpost, occupied West Bank, June 10, 2022. (Oren Ziv)

According to the order, Zicherman and another settler “directly or indirectly engaged or attempted to engage in planning, ordering, otherwise directing, or participating in efforts to place civilians in reasonable fear of violence with the purpose or effect of necessitating a change of residence to avoid such violence, affecting the West Bank.”

Yasmin Eran Vardi, a left-wing activist who spends most of her time in the West Bank doing “protect presence” solidarity work — whereby Israeli and international activists put their bodies in between Palestinians on the one hand and settlers and soldiers on the other — was wounded in the attack. “I’m in favor of sanctions being imposed, but these sanctions don’t mean a lot,” she told +972. “It’s clear that these four [settlers] did bad things, but there is a whole policy here that allows them to do whatever they want, under the auspices of the army and the government, all with American funding.”

Like Awwad, Eran Vardi wondered whether these sanctions would effectively deter other settlers, or whether they would even deter the four who were themselves sanctioned. “The question is whether anything will change, even a little,” she said.

Eran Vardi wants to see more significant sanctions, but she has no expectation that the U.S. will impose them. “These sanctions demonstrate Biden’s full cooperation with Israel’s needs,” she said. “It’s convenient to blame the small fish, especially because [the settlers] hurt Israeli citizens. Biden could stop funding the killing in Gaza if he wanted to.”

‘Why focus specifically on those who harmed Israelis?’

Einan Tanjil, a third settler named in Biden’s executive order, was documented in November 2021 attacking Palestinian farmers and Israeli activists who came to harvest olives in the village of Surif. The order states that Tanjil “was involved in assaulting Palestinian farmers and Israeli activists by attacking them with stones and clubs, resulting in wounds that required medical treatment.”

Israeli settlers assaulting Palestinian residents and solidarity activists during an attack on an olive harvest in the town of Surif, South Hebron Hills, occupied West Bank, Nov. 12, 2021. (Shay Kendler)
Israeli settlers assaulting Palestinian residents and solidarity activists during an attack on an olive harvest in the town of Surif, South Hebron Hills, occupied West Bank, Nov. 12, 2021. (Shay Kendler)

+972 and Local Call reported at the time that masked settlers descended from nearby outposts and, using stones and clubs, wounded at least three Israeli activists who subsequently needed medical treatment, including the veteran activist Rabbi Arik Asherman. Tanjil was charged with assault and causing bodily harm.

Netta Ben Porat, an Israeli human rights activist, was wounded during the incident. “There were eight of us Israelis,” she recounted. “Einan and his friend attacked us with clubs, and another activist stood between me and them, and then he beat me.

“He was only charged with assault, not even aggravated assault or politically-driven assault [which would carry a more severe punishment],” Ben Porat continued. “They omitted that he attacked more people. The indictment does not clarify why he attacked us. He claimed self-defense, even though I was standing to the side and filming while he hit me.”

To Ben Porat, the sanctions appear “ridiculous.” “Out of all [the settlers], the one the U.S. imposes sanctions on is a 19-year-old who attacked Israelis once or twice? It’s irrelevant,” she said. “They could have tried a little harder — what about the military security coordinator who was armed and who brought the settlers [to where we were] and watched from above [as they attacked us]? Or the farmers responsible for expelling entire communities? If the problem is settler violence and its impact on Palestinians, then why focus specifically on those who harmed Israelis?

“Maybe this is a harbinger of things to come,” she continued. “I hope this is a first step, that sanctions will be imposed on [Bezalel] Smotrich and [prominent settler leader] Yossi Dagan.”

‘We hope this will help us return to our lands’

The final settler targeted by the sanctions is Yinon Levi, who helped found the Meitarim Farm outpost. According to Kerem Navot, an NGO that tracks the dispossession of Palestinian land, Levi owns an earthworks company that has been hired by state authorities to carry out demolition orders in Palestinian villages in the West Bank.

Last November, violence emanating from Meitarim Farm led to the expulsion of the Palestinian community of Khirbet Zanuta — 27 families, totalling around 250 people — from their homes near the Meitar checkpoint in the southern West Bank. At the beginning of the war, Levi’s company also blocked roads leading to the entrance of the Palestinian village of Susiya — an apparent attempt to intimidate the village residents.

Palestinian residents of Khirbet Zanuta pack their belongings and house materials as they flee their homes following a spike in Israeli settler violence during the Gaza war, West Bank, November 1, 2023. (Oren Ziv)
Palestinian residents of Khirbet Zanuta pack their belongings and house materials as they flee their homes following a spike in Israeli settler violence during the Gaza war, West Bank, November 1, 2023. (Oren Ziv)

A petition filed on behalf of the Palestinians expelled from Zanuta states that Levi headed a group of settlers who, accompanied by two soldiers, came to the village on Oct. 12, beat village residents, threatened to kill them, smashed solar panels, and destroyed a car. According to the petition, Levi drove a bulldozer and “began extensive and massive demolitions of buildings, infrastructure, olive trees, and other agricultural crops belonging to the villagers.”

Levi differs slightly from the other three settlers on the American list in that he is not merely a hilltop youth activist, but rather the leader of a settler farm. In recent years, dozens of such farms have been established in the West Bank, and they are at the heart of the effort to expel Palestinians from their land. Although most of them were not established legally, they receive government support and protection from the military.

“I didn’t believe this would happen,” Fayez al-Tal, the leader of Khirbet Zanuta, told +972 in response to the announcement of sanctions against Levi. “We read the decision and were overjoyed. Yinon Levi is in charge of the outpost: he is one of the people who came at the beginning of the war and threatened us. We hope this will help us in our lawsuit requesting to return to our lands, and we hope that the court will see that the Americans are imposing sanctions. But Israel is not doing anything.”

According to al-Tal, it is important to remember the broader context of settler violence: “The settlers don’t do it alone. They serve the government, and the police do nothing when they attack us. They know that no law applies to them. They are not afraid of anything. The Americans can’t say a word about Gaza, because Hamas is there — but there is no Hamas here, so they can ask why there are violent attacks by settlers.”

Like other interviewees, al-Tal hopes that the order will later be extended to other settlers, including Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, and that “the U.S. Consulate and Embassy will pressure the Civil Administration or the police to prevent the attacks and bring us back to our land.”

+972 and Local Call contacted Chasdai’s lawyer, but he did not respond. We also contacted Levi, but he didn’t respond. Levi told other media outlets that the accusations leveled against him are “false.” Tanjil’s lawyer referred us to the Honenu legal organization, which said that it does not represent him on the issue of U.S. sanctions. Zicherman could not be reached for comment.

A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

Oren Ziv

Oren Ziv is a photojournalist, reporter for Local Call, and a founding member of the Activestills photography collective.


Our team has been devastated by the horrific events of this latest war – the atrocities committed by Hamas in Israel and the massive retaliatory Israeli attacks on Gaza. Our hearts are with all the people and communities facing violence.

We are in an extraordinarily dangerous era in Israel-Palestine. The bloodshed unleashed by these events has reached extreme levels of brutality and threatens to engulf the entire region. Hamas’ murderous assault in southern Israel has devastated and shocked the country to its core. Israel’s retaliatory bombing of Gaza is wreaking destruction on the already besieged strip and killing a ballooning number of civilians. Emboldened settlers in the West Bank, backed by the army, are seizing the opportunity to escalate their attacks on Palestinians.

This escalation has a very clear context, one that +972 has spent the past 13 years covering: Israeli society’s growing racism and militarism, the entrenched occupation, and an increasingly normalized siege on Gaza.

We are well positioned to cover this perilous moment – but we need your help to do it. This terrible period will challenge the humanity of all of those working for a better future in this land. Palestinians and Israelis are already organizing and strategizing to put up the fight of their lives.

Can we count on your support? +972 Magazine is the leading media voice of this movement, a desperately needed platform where Palestinian and Israeli journalists and activists can report on and analyze what is happening, guided by humanism, equality, and justice. Join us.


January 25, 2024
Madison Antiwar Film Series Presents Two Films about Israel and Palestine

The Occupation of the American Mind and My Neighborhood

 

Central Library, 201 W. Mifflin Street, Room 302
5:30 pm social time
6:00 pm screenings

Discussion following the films.
Free popcorn. RSVP if you can to warabolition@gmail.com
Trailers: Occupation of the American Mind and My Neighborhood.
If you can’t make the event, you can watch the films for free online.

Co-sponsored by Madison Veterans for Peace – Chapter 25, Madison for a World BEYOND War,  Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, and Jewish Voice for Peace – Madison. 

More Information

Palestinian residents of West Bank being driven out by Jewish settlers


NBC News, Dec. 26, 2023

In the village of At-Tuwani in the West Bank, residents say Jewish settlers have become far more aggressive since Hamas’ October 7 terror attacks in their long campaign to drive Palestinians from this land. NBC News’ Richard Engel visited the area and reports on the high tensions among the two groups.

How Israeli settler violence is forcing Palestinians to flee their homes

Bethan McKernan, Kyri Evangelou, Mariam Dwedar and Temujin Doran, The Guardian, 14 Dec 2023

Masafer Yatta, the most rural and desolate area in the West Bank, is home to about 1,000 Palestinians. The community are mostly herders who raise goats and sheep, and have steadfastly refused to leave their homes despite the mounting difficulties posed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers on the one hand and radical Israeli settlers on the other.

But after weeks of intense settler violence in the aftermath of the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October – and despite the decades-long fight to remain in their homes – these communities are now being forced off their land. Some have described it as “a new Nakba.”

The Guardian’s Bethan McKernan travelled to Masafer Yatta and heard from Palestinian families how armed settlers – some in reservist uniforms, others covering their faces – have begun breaking into their homes at night, beating up adults, destroying and stealing belongings, and terrifying children. These West Bank settlements are illegal under international law.

Click here for the latest on the Israel-Gaza war

Escalation in Israel’s occupation tactics in West Bank

 

CNN’s Nima Elbagir reports from Hebron in the West Bank, which remains under Israeli occupation in the shadow of the war against Hamas in Gaza. Elbagir and her team witnessed how settlers and the Israeli military are working together and creating a culture of fear amongst Palestinian families, despite calls from President Biden for Israel to sanction “settler extremists.”

‘They Came in the Dark’: Settler Violence Intensifies in the West Bank

Matthew Cassel, Mark Boyer and Santiago García Muñoz, New York Times, November 30, 2023

Since the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel, extremist settlers in the West Bank have been emboldened, displacing more than 1,000 Palestinians, according to the United Nations.

“Since 7th of October, the soldier came and sit down under this tree. And they put the Israeli flag here. And right now, if we try to cross 10 meters, the soldier will start to run, chasing us to go back here. And if we say, ‘This is my land,’ they start to shoot live.”

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel, violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank has intensified. Extremist Israeli settlers have been emboldened in what Palestinians say is an increased effort to seize their land with support from the Israeli Army.

On Oct. 13, Sami Hourani’s cousin Zacharia al-Adara was shot and wounded by an Israeli settler in the Palestinian village of at-Tuwani. It happened just a hundred meters from Hourani’s home.

“The settler was holding a gun and he was clearly with civilian dress coming towards my village, he was attacking a house. The settler started to walk towards Zacharia and just shot him. Zacharia is since the 13th of October in the I.C.U. in the hospital. And the most scary part now is that if this will be the new reality that they want to do after the war.”

Since Oct. 7, the U.N. has recorded more than 280 attacks by settlers in the occupied West Bank, opening fire on Palestinian villagers, destroying their farmland and setting fire to their businesses and homes. Observers say the attacks are part of the campaign for settlement expansion.

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“The closed house is here in front of us. Here is the village of Tuba, and that up there, there is the settlement of Ma’on.”

Across the West Bank, there are more than 700,000 Israelis living in settlements that most of the world considers illegal. The Israeli Army says that it takes the violence very seriously and that it’s taken action to apprehend those responsible. However, human rights groups say arrests are rare, and soldiers have been seen accompanying settlers during some attacks, including the man who shot al-Adara on Oct. 13.

Zvi Sukkot is a member of Israel’s Parliament representing the far-right religious Zionist party. He’s become a prominent voice in the movement to expand Israeli settlements. Sukkot first started making headlines more than a decade ago as a member of the hilltop youth, young Israelis who would squat areas of the West Bank with the hope of claiming the land for eventual new settlements.

In 2012, Israel’s Security Agency accused him of leading covert and violent activity against Palestinians, and he was temporarily banned from entering the West Bank. But after Oct. 7, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed him to lead a committee handling security issues in the territory.

Reporter: “What changed for you after the Hamas attacks of October 7?”

Reporter: “Do you condemn the acts of violence being committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinians?”

But for Palestinians that claim to the land means displacement. In the past seven weeks alone, the U.N. says more than 1,000 villagers have been forced to leave their homes due to settler violence across the West Bank.

Dalal al-Awad and her family are farmers from a village called Tuba. They’ve survived multiple attacks by settlers who told them to leave. For now, the family has little choice but to pack up and move to the hills every night, sleeping outside, away from their home.

TAA Statement on Palestine: “A Call for Palestinian Liberation”

 
TAA Statement on Palestine: “A Call for Palestinian Liberation”

The following statement was written and approved by the general membership of the TAA on November 15th, 2023.

A Call for Palestinian liberation

WHEREAS The Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA; AFT [American Federation of Teachers] Local 3220) recognizes that the Zionist Israeli state is a reactionary tool of Western imperialism, funded for their own cynical aims. Israel can accurately be described as an apartheid state, as documented by many human rights experts and organizations, including UN officials, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International agree with this description.

WHEREAS Israel’s response to Hamas’ attack has been indiscriminate and disproportionate violence toward Palestinians. As of November 13, 2023, Israel has murdered over 11,000 Palestinians, nearly half being children. Upon his recent resignation, the Director of the New York Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Craig Mokhiber, stated that Israel’s actions are “a textbook case of genocide.”

WHEREAS Israel’s bombing campaign has been carried out without regard for the lives of hostages, further exposing the cynicism of justifications based on the October 7 attack. Similarly, American liberal and progressive politicians continue to cry crocodile tears for the victims of Hamas and remain silent on the victims of Netanyahu.

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WHEREAS Israel’s genocidal attacks are exacerbating the inhumane living conditions and mass unemployment in Gaza. The civilians of Palestine deserve fundamental human rights, including, but not limited to, security, freedom from foreign occupation, access to housing, clean water, healthcare, and employment. 

WHEREAS The October 9 press release from AFT National, titled, “US Education Leaders Condemn Hamas Attack, Stand with Israeli People,” and the resolution recently adopted by [American Federation of Teachers]–Wisconsin (AFT–W) inadequately condemn Israel’s colonialist regime and fail to acknowledge colonialism as the root cause of the current conflict. These statements fail to use the terms, “colonialism,” “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing,” and “genocide” to characterize Israel and its actions, which is out of step with several human rights experts/organizations and undermines the severity of Israel’s oppression. Furthermore, these statements fail to call on the US government to halt the sale and funding of arms for Israeli forces. Unless we address the core of this conflict and end our support for the Israeli offensive, the US will remain complicit in the occupation and genocide in Palestine. Given the status quo of US support for Israel’s oppression of Palestine, the shortcomings of AFT’s statements make them pro-Israel and anti-Palestine by default. Therefore, be it;

RESOLVED The TAA considers Israeli and Western imperialism ultimately responsible for the recent violence.

RESOLVED The TAA condemns Israel’s settler colonialism, apartheid, occupation, ethnic cleansing, and genocide in Palestine. We condemn Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, which has been a death sentence for thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians and has displaced over a million more. This collective lethal punishment breaks international law and constitutes war crimes.

RESOLVED We call for the collective liberation of the Palestinian people from Israeli oppression. 

RESOLVED We stand in solidarity with the following people:

  1. The people of Palestine, who have suffered at the hands of US, British, and Israeli imperialism for over 100 years;
  2. Palestinian trade unions who have called on the international working class to take action in the face of Israel’s assault on Gaza and the mass killing of the Palestinian people;
  3. Israeli workers and unions who break with their ruling class to stand unconditionally on the side of the oppressed;
  4. The many Jewish workers around the world who condemn Zionism and stand steadfast with Palestinians;
  5. Victims of oppression on the basis of religion or ethnicity around the world including victims of rising islamophobia and antisemitism.

RESOLVED We demand the US government and the Biden administration use all available diplomatic means to end the genocide of Palestinians, including but not limited to ending all funding and arms sales to the Israeli government. We must immediately end our moral and material support for Israel’s human rights abuses and war crimes.

RESOLVED We condemn the US veto of a ceasefire resolution brought forward by Brazil to the UN Security Council to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. We are appalled that the US was the only country to veto the resolution. Although a ceasefire doesn’t go nearly far enough, this is the bare minimum that we expect from the UN.

RESOLVED We call on workers in the US to organize to halt any production and shipment of weapons to Israel. Organized action and the building of mass movements by the international working class will be necessary to end the occupation. We should take inspiration from the two Intifadas, as well as the American workers who have already physically obstructed the shipment of arms to Israel from ports in the Northwest.

RESOLVED We demand that the University of Wisconsin system direct the State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB) to divest the ~$512 million (as of 2021) that the UW system has invested in BlackRock, the massive US-based asset manager that owns large portions of weapon manufacturers and military contractors such as Boeing ($5.42 billion), Lockheed Martin ($5.13 billion), Northrop Grumman ($3.06 billion), and General Dynamics ($2.47 billion). These US companies manufacture the weapons, jets, and surveillance systems that the Israeli government uses to kill Palestinians.

RESOLVED We demand that AFT retract its endorsement of genocide enabler Joe Biden for US president in 2024 given his administration’s complicity in war crimes. He is a particularly ruthless cheerleader of Israeli war crimes, even among the American ruling class. The same should be done for all endorsements of anti-Palestine politicians.

RESOLVED The TAA action commits to the following actions:

  1. Mobilize our membership to participate in rallies, protests, and marches in support of Palestine, including but not limited to: hosting events, amplifying Palestinian voices (including by supporting SJP events and by supporting the demands of the BDS movement in a reiteration of the TAA’s existing position), and to contact representatives in support of a ceasefire in Gaza and for collective liberation for the Palestinian people.
  2. Continue to recognize that an injury to one is an injury to all, and that the American working class will never be free while Palestine is in chains;
  3. Refuse to support politicians and parties that oppose Palestinian liberation;
  4. Call on the labor movement as a whole to mobilize its resources to fight American imperialism on all fronts.
  5. Protect and support all workers and organizations (such as Students for Justice in Palestine and Madison for Palestine) who face retaliation due to their support for Palestinian liberation.

Sources:

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/11/10/israel-revises-death-toll-from-october-7-hamas-attack-to-1200-people

https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/27/threshold-crossed/israeli-authorities-and-crimes-apartheid-and-persecution

https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2023/10/un-expert-warns-new-instance-mass-ethnic-cleansing-palestinians-calls

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/liveblog/2023/11/13/israel-hamas-war-live-gazas-two-largest-hospitals-shut-amid-nonstop-raids#:~:text=More%20than%2011%2C200%20Palestinians%20have,stands%20at%20more%20than%201%2C200.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/oct/31/un-official-resigns-israel-hamas-war-palestine-new-york

https://www.aft.org/press-release/us-education-leaders-condemn-hamas-attack-stand-israeli-people

https://progressive.international/wire/2023-10-16-an-urgent-call-from-palestinian-trade-unions-end-all-complicity-stop-arming-israel/en

https://www.wisconsin.edu/trust-funds/download/UW-System-Trust-Funds-Fact-Sheet-As-Of-December-31,-2021.pdf

https://money.cnn.com/quote/shareholders/shareholders.html?symb=BA&subView=institutional

https://money.cnn.com/quote/shareholders/shareholders.html?symb=GD&subView=institutional

https://money.cnn.com/quote/shareholders/shareholders.html?symb=LMT&subView=institutional

https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-sped-delivery-of-1000-bombs-to-israel/

https://www.lockheedmartin.com/en-il/who-we-are.html

https://www.berkshireeagle.com/news/local/pittsfield-general-dynamics-israel-hamas-palestinians-war-berkshire-communists-activists/article_ec204d1c-6ee4-11ee-8e1e-cb6121da994b.html

https://www.timesofisrael.com/liveblog_entry/israel-officially-asks-us-to-send-over-25-more-f-35-fighter-jets/#:~:text=The%20additional%2025%20aircraft%2C%20to,US%20military%20aid%20to%20Israel

https://money.cnn.com/quote/shareholders/shareholders.html?symb=NOC&subView=institutional

https://www.thedrum.com/news/2023/11/10/activists-boycott-pro-israel-brands-what-should-marketers-do-next

Three Views of Bernie Sanders and the Palestine-Israel Conflict

The three articles below, Bernie Sanders essay in the New York Times, the letter from Sanders’ former staffers urging a peaceful resolution to the war, and Norman Finkelstein’s response to Sanders’ refusal of a ceasefire, are intended to provide needed context for the war. We do not agree with all the views and opinions expressed.

 

Bernie Sanders: Justice for the Palestinians and Security for Israel

A rose left on a post at the funeral of a husband and wife at the cemetery in Kibbutz Palmachin, Israel, on Oct. 29. The couple were killed in the Hamas attacks on Kibbutz Be’eri on Oct 7. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Sen. Bernie Sanders, New York Times, November 22, 2023

There have been five wars in the last 15 years between Israel and Hamas. How do we end the current one and prevent a sixth from happening, sooner or later? How do we balance our desire to stop the fighting with the need to address the roots of the conflict? For 75 years, diplomats, well-intentioned Israelis and Palestinians and government leaders around the world have struggled to bring peace to this region. In that time an Egyptian president and an Israeli prime minister were assassinated by extremists for their efforts to end the violence.

And on and on it goes.

For those of us who want not only to bring this war to an end, but to avoid a future one, we must first be cleareyed about facts. On Oct. 7, Hamas, a terrorist organization, unleashed a barbaric attack against Israel, killing about 1,200 innocent men, women and children and taking more than 200 hostage. On a per-capita basis, if Israel had the same population as the United States, that attack would have been the equivalent of nearly 40,000 deaths, more than 10 times the fatalities that we suffered on 9/11.

Israel, in response, under the leadership of its right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under indictment for corruption and whose cabinet includes outright racists, unleashed what amounts to total war against the Palestinian people. In Gaza, over 1.6 million Palestinians were forced out of their homes. Food, water, medical supplies and fuel were cut off. The United Nations estimates that 45 percent of the housing units in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed. According to the Gaza health ministry, more than 12,000 Palestinians, about half of whom are children, have been killed and many more wounded. And the situation becomes more dire every day.

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This is a humanitarian catastrophe that risks igniting a wider regional conflagration. We all want it to end as soon as possible. To make progress, however, we must grapple with the complexity of this situation that too many people on both sides want to wave away.

First, Hamas has made it clear, before and after Oct. 7, that its goal is perpetual warfare and the destruction of the state of Israel. Just last week a spokesman for Hamas told The New York Times: “I hope that the state of war with Israel will become permanent on all the borders, and that the Arab world will stand with us.”

Second, Israel has done nothing in recent years to give hope for a peaceful settlement — maintaining the blockade of Gaza, deepening the daily humiliations of occupation in the West Bank, and largely ignoring the horrendous living conditions facing Palestinians.

 

Needless to say, I do not have all of the answers to this never-ending tragedy. But for those of us who believe in peace and justice, it is imperative that we do our best to provide Israelis and Palestinians with a thoughtful response that maps out a realistic path to addressing the reality we face today. Here are my thoughts as to the best way forward and how the United States can rally the world around a moral position that moves us toward peace in the region and justice for the oppressed Palestinian population.

To start, we must demand an immediate end to Israel’s indiscriminate bombing, which is causing an enormous number of civilian casualties and is in violation of international law. Israel is at war with Hamas, not innocent Palestinian men, women and children. Israel cannot bomb an entire neighborhood to take out one Hamas target. We don’t know if this campaign has been effective in degrading Hamas’s military capabilities. But we do know that a reported 70 percent of the casualties are women and children, and that 104 U.N. aid workers and 53 journalists have been killed. That’s not acceptable.

There must also be a significant, extended humanitarian pause so that badly needed aid — food, water, medicine and fuel — can get into Gaza and save lives. If Wednesday morning’s deal — in which 50 Israeli hostages are to be freed in exchange for a four-day pause in fighting — is honored, it is a promising first step that we can build upon, and hopefully work to extend the pause. Meanwhile, the United Nations must be given time to safely set up the distribution network needed to prevent thirst, starvation and disease, to build shelters and evacuate those who need critical care. This window will also allow for talks to free as many hostages as possible. This extended pause must not precede a resumption of indiscriminate bombing. Israel will continue to go after Hamas, but it must dramatically change its tactics to minimize civilian harm.

If long-suffering Palestinians are ever going to have a chance at self-determination and a decent standard of living, there must be no long-term Israeli re-occupation and blockade of Gaza. If Hamas is going to be removed from power, as it must be, and Palestinians given the opportunity for a better life, an Israeli occupation of Gaza would be absolutely counterproductive and would benefit Hamas. For the sake of regional peace and a brighter future for the Palestinian people, Gaza must have a chance to be free of Hamas. There can be no long-term Israeli occupation.

To achieve the political transformation that Gaza needs, new Palestinian leadership will be required as part of a wider political process. And for that transformation and peace process to take place, Israel must make certain political commitments that will allow for Palestinian leadership committed to peace to build support. They must guarantee displaced Palestinians the absolute right to return to their homes as Gaza rebuilds. People who have lived in poverty and despair for years cannot be made permanently homeless. Israel must also commit to end the killings of Palestinians in the West Bank and freeze settlements there as a first step toward permanently ending the occupation. Those steps will show that peace can deliver for the Palestinian people, hopefully giving the Palestinian Authority the legitimacy it needs to assume administrative control of Gaza, likely after an interim stabilization period under an international force.

Finally, if Palestinians are to have any hope for a decent future, there must be a commitment to broad peace talks to advance a two-state solution in the wake of this war. The United States, the international community and Israel’s neighbors must move aggressively toward that goal. This would include dramatically increased international support for the Palestinian people, including from wealthy Gulf States. It would also mean the promise of full recognition of Palestine pending the formation of a new democratically elected government committed to peace with Israel.

Let’s be clear: this is not going to happen on its own. Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party was explicitly formed on the premise that “between the Sea and the Jordan [River] there will only be Israeli sovereignty,” and the current coalition agreement reinforces that goal. This is not just ideology. The Israeli government has systematically pursued this goal. The last year saw record Israeli settlement growth in the West Bank, where more than 700,000 Israelis now live in areas that the United Nations and the United States agree are occupied territories. They have used state violence to back up this de facto annexation. Since Oct. 7, the United Nations reports that at least 208 Palestinians, including 53 children, have been killed by Israeli security forces and settlers. This cannot be allowed to continue.

Mr. Netanyahu has made clear where he stands on these critical issues. So should we. If asking nicely worked, we wouldn’t be in this position. The only way these necessary changes will happen is if the United States uses the substantial leverage we have with Israel. And we all know what that leverage is.

For many years, the United States has provided Israel substantial sums of money — with close to no strings attached. Currently, we provide $3.8 billion a year. President Biden has asked for $14.3 billion more on top of that sum and asked Congress to waive normal, already-limited oversight rules. The blank check approach must end. The United States must make clear that while we are friends of Israel, there are conditions to that friendship and that we cannot be complicit in actions that violate international law and our own sense of decency. That includes an end to indiscriminate bombing; a significant pause to bombing so that massive humanitarian assistance can come into the region; the right of displaced Gazans to return to their homes; no long-term Israeli occupation of Gaza; an end to settler violence in the West Bank and a freeze on settlement expansion; and a commitment to broad peace talks for a two-state solution in the wake of the war.

Over the years, people of good will around the world, including Israelis, have tried to address this conflict in a way that brings justice for Palestinians and security for Israel. I, and some other members of Congress, have tried to do what we could. Obviously, we did not do enough. Now we must recommit to this effort. The stakes are just too high to give up.

Bernie Sanders is the senior senator from Vermont and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and the longest-serving Independent member of Congress in history. He was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and 2020.


 

“We Need You to Stand Up”: Bernie Sanders’ Former Staffers Call on Him to Back Cease-Fire in Palestine and Israel

Hundreds of former staffers of the democratic socialist senator have signed a letter urging him to back a peaceful resolution to the war in Palestine.

ELOISE GOLDSMITH, IN THESE TIMES, OCTOBER 24, 2023

Former staffers of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are calling on him to endorse a cease-fire and stop U.S. military aid to Israel. (PHOTO BY JENS KALAENE/PICTURE ALLIANCE VIA GETTY IMAGES)

More than 365 former campaign staffers for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have signed a letter urging the nation’s most famous democratic socialist to introduce a Senate version of the House resolution that calls for an immediate cease-fire and de-escalation of violence in Israel and Palestine. That resolution, backed by more than a dozen House progressives, has gainedsupport throughout the past week. The letter also asks that Sanders support lifting the blockade of Gaza and advocate for the United States to stop providing military funding to the Israeli government that helps further the occupation and violence.

“Throughout your career, you have spoken with moral clarity on the issues in Israel and Palestine,” the signees wrote to Sanders. “Today, we’re asking you to use your power, the respect you have across the United States and globe, to clearly and forcefully stand up against war, against occupation and for the dignity of human life.”

The signatories of the letter to Sanders, including In These Times’ executive director Alex Han, join a growing chorus of concerned former political staffers making similar demands of other powerful elected officials. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and John Fetterman (D-Pa.) both received open letters from former campaign staff last week urging them to support a cease-fire. Fetterman and Warren have also recently been the targets of efforts by Jewish groups and anti-occupation activists calling for the same action to be taken.

Throughout your career, you have spoken with moral clarity on the issues in Israel and Palestine,” the signees wrote to Sanders. ​Today, we’re asking you to use your power, the respect you have across the United States and globe, to clearly and forcefully stand up against war, against occupation and for the dignity of human life.”

In These Times reached out to Sanders’ office for immediate comment shortly after the letter went public but has not yet received a response.

The former staffers wrote to Sanders with the hope that he can influence President Joe Biden’s administration to rethink its nearly unequivocal support of the Israeli government.

Former staffers of Bernie Sanders say he wields significant influence and sway with President Joe Biden’s administration. They’re demanding he use that influence to stop the violence in Israel and Palestine and curb continued military aid to Israel. (PHOTO BY ANNA MONEYMAKER/GETTY IMAGES)

President Biden clearly values your counsel, as is shown by the ways you’ve managed to shape the outcomes of his presidency,” the former staffers wrote. ​Cooler heads must prevail and prevent further suffering and bloodshed.”

The letter comes as a dire humanitarian crisis has worsened dramatically in Gaza — and appears to be steadily getting worse as an Israeli ground invasion into Gaza appears imminent. The enclave has been pummeled by Israeli forces for the past 18 days after a surprise attack by Hamas on October 7. Hamas killed roughly 1,400 people in Israel, and the vast majority of those who died were civilians, according to the United Nations, which cited official Israeli sources. At the same time, more than 200 hostages are being held captive. The latest available numbers show that the death toll in Gaza is nearing 6,000 people, including more than 2,000 children. ​The Israeli government is deliberately deepening the suffering of civilians in Gaza” by cutting off water, electricity and access to fuel, medicine and food, according to Human Rights Watch.

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Protestors have taken to the streets worldwide to stand in solidarity with Palestinians, decry the Israeli government’s actions and call for a cease-fire.

So far, Sanders has responded to the violence by criticizing the Israeli government’s targeting of civilians as a violation of international law and advocating for humanitarian aid for Gaza — but he has also voted with the rest of his Senate colleagues to reaffirm support for the Israeli government and military. 

On October 19, Sanders added his name to a resolution that pledged U.S. support in assisting Israel ​both during the immediate crisis and in the near future, including by accelerating delivery of defense articles and systems.” That same day, he blocked a bill spearheaded by Republican lawmakers that would have effectively stopped the U.S. from providing humanitarian aidto Gaza.

Former staffers recalled the ​moral clarity” Sanders provided on the campaign trail during his presidential runs, writing, ​We saw you bring the truth of the Palestinian reality under military occupation to the forefront in both the 2016 and 2020 elections, and in doing so, change public attitudes on these issues across the country.” During his 2020 Democratic primary campaign for president, Sanders called for a more radical foreign policy realignment than his peers. On the campaign trail, he called Jewish settlements on Israeli land illegal and criticized far-right Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a reactionary racist.” In 2020, Sanders earned praise from many anti-occupation organizers and activists around his positions, and the progressive Jewish group IfNotNow — who have helped organize mass protests against the Israeli government’s assault on Gaza in recent weeks — even formally endorsed him for president in 2020.

During his 2020 presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders was popular with many anti-occupation activists and organizers and even received the endorsement of the progressive Jewish group IfNotNow. That endorsement earned headlines in major newspapers. (ELIAS NEWMAN/COURTESY OF IFNOTNOW)

But his actions over the past two weeks echo a stance he’s taken in the past. In 2021, Sanders signaled his support for an additional one billion dollars in aid to support the Israeli military’s Iron Dome antimissile system after securing a promise from Democratic leadership that the U.S. would send additional humanitarian aid to Gaza. Palestinian rights advocates criticized the move, calling it an insufficient fix for ending the causes of suffering in Gaza.

While he sometimes faces criticism for not going far enough, Sanders is still the Israeli government’s most consistent critic in the Senate. He has continuously opposed the unconditional flow of aid to Israel. In 2021, during a previous bombardment of Gaza, Sanders introduced legislation to block a $735 million arms sale. He also endorsed a cease-fire then: ​The United States should be urging an immediate cease-fire. We should also understand that, while Hamas firing rockets into Israeli communities is absolutely unacceptable, today’s conflict did not begin with those rockets.” Earlier this year, Sanders and congressional progressives sent a letter to Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking that taxpayer money not be used to expand illegal Israeli settlements. The lawmakers also urged the administration to investigate whether aid has been used in violation of domestic law that regulates the use of U.S. weapons, citing concerns about escalating violence in the occupied West Bank.

In urging him to support a cease-fire, Sanders’ former staffers invoked his historical willingness to go against the status quo. ​You taught us to always speak the truth, and to be on the right side of history, even when it is lonely and especially when it is difficult.”

ELOISE GOLDSMITH is a freelance fact-checker and journalist. Her work appears in In These Times, Jacobin, and Strike Wave. She tweets @Eloise_Gold.


 

Norman Finkelstein Responds to Bernie Sanders Opposing Gaza Ceasefire

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN, NOV 6, 2023

After seeing Senator Sanders’ appearance on CNN from the morning of November 5, Norman Finkelstein decided it was necessary to publish an open video reply to the Senator. The clip in question is shown in the video, followed by Norman’s response, which was recorded last night, the evening of November 5 2023.

The Sanders tweet referred to at 36:27.

(There is a brief echo during the first ten seconds of Norman’s section, which we hope viewers will disregard.)

alternate link for download/viewing (4K + volume normalized a bit)

RUSH TRANSCRIPT

My name is Norm Finkelstein. I heard Bernie Sanders’ statement this evening opposing the ceasefire. I had planned to spend this evening reading, as I’ve fallen dreadfully behind in my reading and unless I keep reading, I can’t bring anything fresh and important to what’s happening now. I was so furious at that remark of Bernie’s, when he said he opposed the ceasefire and my innards started to writhe and I decided I had to respond. Now this is wholly unrehearsed. There are no special effects — make my remarks more effective. I’m just speaking it, as my words go from my brain out into the cyberspace. Now, Bernie said in this interview that he opposed the ceasefire. And his grounds for opposing the ceasefire were that Hamas wanted to destroy Israel, and therefore Hamas has to be destroyed. So let’s look at the facts. I’m not going to go all the way back into history. I’m going to just start with 2006.

In 2006 there was an election in the West Bank in Gaza, parliamentary elections. Those elections were urged on the Palestinian people by the US administration was that now forgotten moment in the Bush administration called “democracy promotion.” And part of this package called “democracy promotion” was the Palestinians were supposed to participate in those wonderful democratic experiences. And Hamas was urged to participate in those elections, and it reversed itself. Hitherto, it opposed participating in any elections in the occupied territories, because those elections were a consequence of the Oslo Accord. And since Hamas opposed the Oslo Accord, it opposed participating in the elections. But it reversed itself. It ran in a civilian political party. And, much to the surprise of Hamas and everybody else, it won the election. Those were, according to former US President Jimmy Carter, “completely fair and honest elections,” and Hamas won. What did the US and Israel do? It immediately imposed a brutal blockade on Gaza, which brought economic life in Gaza to a standstill. Now that’s not all it did, but we’ll get back to that in a moment.

First of all, remind listeners, what is Gaza? It’s 25 miles long, it’s five miles wide, it’s a tiny parcel of land. It’s among the most densely populated places on God’s earth. Half of the population of Gaza consists of children, to which I’ll return. 70% of Gaza consists of refugees from the 1948 war, that is, Palestinians who were expelled from the area that became Israel and ended up in Gaza and have remained refugees for 75 years henceforth, living in refugee camps like Jabalia camp, which I’ll also return in a moment. For about 20 years — two years shy of 20 years.  Nobody can go in, nobody can go out. Unemployment in Gaza is about 50% among the population in general, 60% among the youth. It reportedly has the highest rate of unemployment of any area in the world. It suffers from what humanitarian organizations call “extreme food insecurity.” Nobody can go in, nobody can go out. What is Gaza? Well, one of Israel’s senior officials, or in layperson’s terms, certified lunatics, named Giora Eiland, E-I-L-A-N-D for those who want to look it up. In 2006, Giaora Eiland, who still is, incidentally, in the inner circle of Benjamin Netanyahu right now as I speak. He described Gaza as, quote, not my words, as “a huge concentration camp.” That’s Gaza.

Euphemistically, even Bernie who’s ever so politically correct, will acknowledge that, well maybe, he says, it can be described as an open-air prison. Open-air prison, the euphemism, or Giora Eiland “a huge concentration camp.” Or maybe Baruch Kimmerling, the former senior sociologist at Hebrew University, quote, “the largest concentration camp ever to exist.”

Now, as a matter of law. Richard Goldstone, who authored the famous or infamous, whichever you prefer, Goldstone Report after Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9, he said that the blockade of Gaza likely likely qualifies or rises to a crime against humanity. That’s a crime against humanity that’s endured for two decades. Not a momentary crime against humanity, say dropping a bomb on a hospital or dropping a 2,000-pound bomb on a densely populated refugee camp. Not a momentary crime against humanity, but a crime against humanity that’s endured for nearly two decades.

But bear in mind, it’s Hamas that must be defeated because it wants to destroy Israel, not Israel that must be destroyed, because it wants to incarcerate an entire population, half of whom are children, in a concentration camp, which constitutes a crime against humanity. No, Israel doesn’t have to be destroyed – only Hamas has to be destroyed.

Well, first of all, is it true? I’m asking you, Bernie, I don’t know if you know the facts, and I will grant you that, focused as you are on domestic issues, I will grant, you probably don’t know the facts and you’re entitled not to know them. You know, Build Back Better, better than me. And that was your priority. That’s always been your priority. And I have to respect that. I saw your speech with the United Auto Workers during the strike, and as much as I’ve soured on you, I have to acknowledge it was a great speech. I talked to Dr. Cornel West shortly after that speech, and I said it was really a brilliant speech. And he said to me, well, Bernie was in his element. Workers’ strikes, workers’ rights, unions, it’s Bernie’s element.

 Fine, and I’ll grant that in your element, you’re good — actually you’re as good as they get. But, and here I’m going to quote Clare Daly from the European Union, when Ursula von der Leyen, when she decided, without any mandate, to go over and embrace Israel and say, “we all stand by Israel,” Clare Daly, the Irish representative in the European Union, she said, quote, — referring to von der Leyen — she said, quote, “if you have nothing constructive to say, shut up.”

So, here are the facts. When Hamas was elected, it repeatedly sent out peace feelers to try and resolve the conflict with Israel. It presented on its own, or as speaking for itself, the terms of the international consensus for resolving a conflict, namely two states on the June 1967 border. Now it’s true, because I have no quarrel with facts. I’ve always been of the opinion that there’s no contradiction between truth and the struggle for justice. And if there were a contradiction between the two, it would probably cause me a moral crisis, but at the end of the day, I would come out on the side of truth.

Hamas, yes, it’s true. There were areas such as its demand for the full implementation of the right of the return of Palestinian refugees to the homes from which they were expelled in 1948. I’m saying, even though that is the law, that is the law, I recognize that as part of a settlement that particular aspect of international law would probably have to be negotiated. I’m rendering a, as it were, third-party judgment from afar. But there is no question that Hamas was attempting to reach some sort of settlement with Israel. The record is ample in that regard. The documentation irrefutable and impeachable.

What was the Israeli reaction? Well, time won’t allow me to go through the entire record. But I will briefly go through it. I have to go through it, because my innards writhe at the despicable thing you said in the interview today – whether it was moral idiocy, whether it was exemplary of being a moral monster, or whether it was cynical opportunism because you’re too much of a coward to break ranks with President Biden. I don’t know which it is, but here’s the record. The record can be summarized in a phrase that became very popular in the Israeli administration. It’s called “mowing the lawn.” It happens that this “lawn” called Gaza, 1,100,000 blades of grass in that lawn are children.

So, whenever that satanic government, and I choose my words carefully, and with premeditation, refers to mowing the lawn, we should bear in mind that 1,100,000 blades of grass in that lawn are children. But, Bernie Sanders the senator from Vermont he says, Israel must destroy Hamas because Hamas wants to destroy Israel. Yes, Bernie, you’re so right. You are so right, Bernie. Until October 7th, Israel didn’t want to destroy Gaza. It just wanted to mow the law. You’re so right, Bernie. I am so appreciative of your moral niceties and nuances. Hamas must be destroyed because it wants to destroy Israel. But Israel, does it have to be destroyed? No, because Israel doesn’t want to destroy Gaza, or at least until October 7th. It just wants to mow the lawn. That’s your moral calculus, Bernie. Your sick, ill, morbid moral calculus. So, Hamas, that terrible, evil organization, it wants to destroy Israel, and that’s why Hamas has to be destroyed.

So in June 2008 there was a ceasefire arranged between Israel and Hamas. That evil Hamas, oh my goodness gracious, as Cornel Dr. West would say, my goodness gracious, that evil perfidious Hamas, it negotiated a ceasefire. And then what happened? The ceasefire held, it held in June, it held in July, it held in August, it held in September, it held in October, and it held the first four days in November. And then November 4th came along. When those people whose memories are short, that was election day. when everybody’s attention was riveted on the presidential election and the first black president being elected in our country’s history. And Israel used that moment — when all the cameras were diverted from it — it used that moment to attack Hamas in Gaza and broke the ceasefire. Not evil, perfidious Hamas, but beautiful, wonderful Israel.

Now that’s not my word. Go back and read what Amnesty International said. In fact, even the official Israeli publications which I cite in my book, state the ceasefire held until Israel broke it. And then Israel proceeded to do what it does best. It proceeded to commit a high-tech massacre in Gaza, killed about 1,400 people. Of those 1,400, 350 were children. It systematically devastated the infrastructure of Gaza, and it was guilty of, according to the Goldstone Report, multiple war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.

Now, here’s a point for you, Bernie – I barely can say that name anymore without being filled with contempt and disgust. I worked very hard in that 2016 campaign and I worked very hard on that 2020 campaign and I was by a wide margin among the oldest people who was going in advance out of state to canvas for you. And now it’s a bitter memory when I hear your statements. So here’s a fact for you Bernie: As I mentioned to you, about 1,400 people were killed in Gaza. The estimates are four-fifths were civilians, one-fifth or 20% were combatants. If you look at what happened on October 7th, the numbers are roughly the same. About 1,400 civilians were killed after the prison breakout or concentration camp breakout in Gaza. The numbers I’ve seen are about 400 were combatants among the Israelis killed. killed, but roughly speaking, the numbers balance out.

So here’s my question to you, Bernie, and I’m dead serious. This ain’t a joke. I’m not talking about scoring debating points. It’s about people, to quote the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance song. It’s really the partisan song, but the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance song. And one lyric goes, “‘T’was a people amidst the crashing fires of hell.” That’s the people of Gaza now, Bernie. T’was a people, or now ‘tis a people, amidst the crashing fires of hell. And Bernie Sanders is on record saying it should continue.

So here’s the question, Bernie. You say that because of what Hamas did on October 7th, they proved that they can’t be lived with and they have to be destroyed. Now, if that be the case, and if I’ve accurately rendered the historical record, as I’m very confident that I have, then, if the numbers are roughly the same, and it’s undisputed that Israel broke the ceasefire, why don’t you conclude on the basis of just Operation Cast Lead, just in that one operation, that one “mowing of the lawn,” why don’t you conclude that Israel must be destroyed? You came to the realization after October 7th that Hamas had to be destroyed. So, logically, if roughly the same numbers of people were killed, then Israel has to be destroyed.

But you’re going to say, no, no, no, no, you’re going to shake your head. I already know every one of your facial gestures. I listened to you in 2016 and 2020 every night, every debate listen to you again and again. You gonna say no, no, no, you’re gonna shake your head, it’s different Because Hamas wants to destroy Israel Israel doesn’t want to destroy God no, you’re right Bernie up until October 7th You were right. Israel didn’t want to destroy Gaza, it just wanted to leave the 2.3 million people, half of whom are children, immured in the concentration camp to languish and die. You’re right Bernie, it’s different. Hamas wants to destroy Israel. But all Israel wants to do, I mean, it’s not really a big deal. Let’s be for real. All Israel wanted to do was immure 2,300,000 people in a concentration camp and leave them there to die. So that’s, you know, there’s Bernie’s moral subtlety. You know how philosophers love nuance. They love complexity. They love nicety. Evil Hamas, it wants to destroy Israel, whereas Israel, all it wants to do is lock 2.3 million people in a concentration camp for life.

If you go to Operation Pillar of Defense, it happened, and I don’t have time to go through the details now, it happened that after Operation Cast Lead, there was a slight relaxing of the brutal blockade of Gaza. And it enabled, it was probably just a temporary blip, that’s what Sara Roy has written, the Harvard economist. And of course I defer to her judgment. She’s the world’s leading authority in Gaza’s economy. She said it was probably just a temporary blip, but the fact is the Gaza economy did show some signs of recovery. And there was also money starting to pour in from Qatar. The head of state of Turkey, Erdoğan, was planning on a visit to Gaza. And this annoyed the heck out of Israel because Gaza was not supposed to prosper, again, relatively speaking when I speak of prosperity. It wasn’t supposed to prosper.

So what did it do? The record is clear. It assassinated a senior Hamas official. It happened that this senior Hamas official named Jabari, he was the main contact with the Israeli government. He was the one responsible for negotiating the ceasefires with Israel. And at the moment he was assassinated he was in the midst of negotiating a longterm ceasefire.  You hear that Bernie? Those evil, perfidious, devilish, Hamas leaders. They were so perfidious that they were planning to negotiate a longterm ceasefire with Israel. So what did Israel do? They killed him, and then began Operation Pillar of Defense.

And then in 2014, it’s time to “mow the lawn” again. Without going into the details, by the end, Israel killed — not 1,400 Palestinians as Israelis were killed on October 7th — they killed 2,200 Palestinians, of whom 550 were children. They demolished 18,000 homes. Peter Moore, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose job is to tour war zones. That’s his resume, his CV, to tour war zones. After he toured Gaza, he said never in his professional life had he seen destruction of the magnitude that he witnessed in Gaza.

But it’s Hamas that has to be destroyed because it doesn’t, it wants to destroy Israel. It doesn’t recognize Israel. Hamas is the problem. Hamas. Let’s not talk about destroying the State of Israel. That’s sacrosanct. That’s not even a conceivable concept. But destroying Hamas, because they’re evil, they’re evil incarnate, they’re so evil that they negotiate ceasefires, they stand by ceasefires, they attempt to restore the devastated economy in Gaza, that’s pristine, distilled, evil incarnate.

And then comes October 7th. I’ve spoken about it at length to the point of tedium, so I’m not going to repeat myself in this response to you, Bernie. But I have to say, with all due respect, the things you’ve been saying since October 7th, you’re positively ill. Now I know you’re thinking, well, I’ve heard some of the things you said, and I think they’re ill. Fair enough.

 However, we can disagree on that, and we can disagree forcefully on that, but when you say you oppose a ceasefire, you’ve crossed a red line. You’ve become a moral monster. I’m going to say that again. You’ve become a moral monster. I read yesterday your tweet. Now you’ll forgive me for not getting it verbatim correctly, but you said, not me, you said Israel is indiscriminately bombing hospitals, bombing schools, killing civilians. You said that, and I’ll ask the people who are recording this video to post it, right as I recite these remarks, which I acknowledge are a paraphrase of what you said yesterday.

https://twitter.com/BernieSanders/status/1720845234135765305

Now, when you oppose a ceasefire at this point, you are in effect, And in fact — you are in effect, and in fact, giving Israel carte blanche to continue to indiscriminately target the civilian infrastructure and the civilian population of Gaza, 1 million of whom, or 1,100,000 of whom, are children. You have become a moral monster. And don’t say, of course I oppose that. Of course you oppose that. And you think Israel will stop doing that because Bernie Sanders tells them to? You think all of a sudden now they’re going to cease targeting, hospitals with the plural, hospitals, do you think they’re going to cease targeting ambulances? Do you think they’re going to cease targeting civilian dwellings? The housing, the homes of these people, 70% of whom and their descendants already lost their homes in 1948 and now lost them again. The 50% who are children no longer have a roof over their head. The little toys that they had, the family pictures that they kept, everything now in rubble. And buried beneath the rubble, there are still thousands of children, and you just gave the green light to continue the destruction of Gaza. T’was a people amidst the crashing fires of hell, and now ‘tis a people amidst the crashing fires of hell with the stamp of approval from Bernie Sanders. What a pitiful shame.

Thank you.


Contact Bernie Sanders:
202-224-5141 (Senate Office)
Contact Form: https://www.sanders.senate.gov/contact/contact-form/
#ceasefirenow #stoptheblockade


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Many West Bank Palestinians Are Being Forced Out of Their Villages. Is My Family Next?

A woman wearing a dress and hijab walks in front of a small building, surrounded by a mostly barren, dusty landscape.
Zuhour Muhammad Awad, the author’s grandmother, walking in the village of Tuba in May 2021. Ms. Awad says she was born in Tuba in 1948. She has spent her life caring for herds of sheep and making cheese and yogurt. (Emily Glick)

Mr. Awad is a Palestinian writer living in the West Bank.

I was born in February 1998 in Tuba, a rural shepherding community of 80 Palestinian residents in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank, where my family has lived for generations. Over the years we have suffered repeated attacks by Israeli settlers, part of an ongoing campaign to remove us from our land. Still, nothing prepared me for what our life has become since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. In the last six weeks, the raids and harassment by settlers have become so intense that I do not know how much longer I and the other members of my community will be able to live here.

Under the cover of war, settlers have been storming villages in the West Bank, threatening Palestinians and destroying their homes and their livelihoods. International attention has been mostly focused on the atrocities in Israel and in Gaza, including the internal displacement of more than half of the population of the Gaza Strip.

In the West Bank, increasingly violent assaults on villages have forced at least 16 Palestinian communitiesmore than 1,000 people — to flee their homes since Oct. 7. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, settlers have attacked Palestinians in more than 250 incidents in the West Bank. So far, 200 Palestinians have been killed, eight by settlers and the others during clashes with Israeli forces.

More

In my village and in other villages around us, settlers have been raiding homes and harassing us relentlessly, sometimes multiple times a day. Less than a week into the war, according to a video published by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, an armed settler came into At-Tuwani village in the South Hebron Hills, approached a group of unarmed Palestinians walking after Friday Prayers and shot one of them in the abdomen from point-blank range. Ten minutes down the road, in Susiya, villagers said that settlers threatened to shoot residents if they did not evacuate their homes within 24 hours. On Oct. 30, settlers set fire to several homes in Khirbet a-Safai, a village less than a mile east of Tuba. And residents in the neighboring village to the west, Umm al-Khair, told human rights activists that armed settlers in uniform held people there at gunpoint and forced them to condemn Hamas and promise to raise Israeli flags in the village or they would be murdered.

For those of us in Tuba, this wave of attacks is part of a long string of attempts to force us to leave our homes. And it’s not only the settlers who want us out: Successive Israeli governments have also tried to get rid of us over the last decades.

The author, Ali Awad, hands his 3-year-old cousin a baby sheep in January.

In the early 1980s, our village, along with a group of others in an area called Masafer Yatta, was designated by the military as Firing Zone 918, land that Israel decided it wanted for training its forces (A government document indicates that there was an intention to displace residents living in the area). We have been fighting for the right to remain on our land ever since. We live in Area C of the West Bank, which means the Israeli military has complete civil and security control over our lives. Israel has tried various tactics to get us to leave, including enacting policies that prevent us from building homes in our own village and not allowing us to be connected to the main electrical grid or water infrastructure.

Sometimes it’s been much less subtle: In November 1999, when I was a year old, the Israeli military loaded all of Tuba’s residents and livestock onto trucks and dumped us on the side of the road several miles away. We spent the following months crowded in makeshift tents, fighting to shelter ourselves and our livestock from the cold winter rain. We were eventually allowed to return to our village “temporarily,” pending a final court decision.

Settlers from the illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on — built near Tuba and partly on private Palestinian land not long after we returned — have done their share as well. In 2002, they cut off the main road that connected Tuba to the surrounding villages, including the children’s closest school and the city of Yatta, where we buy all of our food and medical supplies.

Settlers have also resorted to violence, some directed at my own family. We believe it was nearby settlers who stabbed my uncle, attacked my cousins with stones, and, as I’ve written before, set fire to a year’s worth of food for our flocks of sheep.

Throughout it all, we had been awaiting the final ruling from the Israeli high court about whether the Israeli military could force us to evacuate. Then, last year, the court ruled in favor of the state, allowing Israel to evict about 1,200 Palestinians, including those in my village. We have remained steadfast in the face of this pressure and refuse to abandon our land and our traditional way of life. But in recent weeks, attacks by settlers have rattled our resolve.

We have always felt that the work of the military, which demolishes our houses and prevents our ability to move freely, was intimately intertwined with and reinforced by harassment from settlers. However, since the war started more than a month ago, the settlers and soldiers in the region seemed to have fused into one entity, ending whatever semblance of distance existed between these two violent systems. Settlers whom we recognize from years of harassment in our villages have suddenly become soldiers, as reservists or as part of Itamar Ben-Gvir’s civilian security teams. Army reservists who are new to the area are apparently now taking their orders from local settler-soldiers or security teams. Together they patrol our communities with their M16s and threaten anyone who tries to bring his flock to graze or leave the village for work or errands.

In Tuba, as in nearby villages, settlers have also targeted the water systems and solar panels we have built and are entirely dependent on, as if to remind us of our vulnerability. They are clearly taking advantage of this moment to make our lives unlivable, and we have no reason to believe that, especially during a state of war, any of the violence we are experiencing in our communities will slow or stop soon. Local Israeli authorities say they are investigating some of the more violent attacks, including the killings, but they are showing no signs of being able to control them, and in fact, government ministers are fanning the flames.

In the last five weeks alone, residents from five other villages in the South Hebron Hills have been forced to pack up and flee from their homes. If the situation doesn’t change, I worry that Tuba will be next. As a letter signed by 30 Israeli human rights NGOs recently stated: “The only way to stop this forcible transfer in the West Bank is a clear, strong and direct intervention by the international community.”

Since I can remember, life in Tuba has been difficult, but it has also always been full of beauty and calm. It is the life my family has known for generations, and the traditional lifestyle we live is deeply connected to the land around us and the animals we care for. The hillsides are stamped with our footsteps and those of our flocks, the rocks on the top of the hill neatly arranged so we can watch the sunset over the desert. But the fear we feel, in Tuba and across Area C, now hangs heavy over this landscape. I don’t know if we will be able to stand it.

    More on Israel and Palestinian territories

    Opinion | Serge Schmemann
    Violence by West Bank Settlers Cannot Be Ignored
    Nov. 11, 2023

    Opinion | Michael Sfard
    Israel Is Silencing Internal Critics
    Nov. 2, 2023

Ali Awad is a community organizer and journalist living in Tuba, in the Masafer Yatta region of the West Bank.

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