By Ramzy Baroud
Seven-year-old Tariq Zabania from Al-Khalil (Hebron) was killed on the spot when an Israeli settler ran his car over him on July 15. A photograph of little Tariq, lying face down on the road, was circulated on social media. His untimely death is heart-breaking.
Tariq’s innocent blood must not have been spilled in vain. For this to happen, we are morally obliged to understand the nature of settler violence, which cannot be viewed in isolation from the inherent racism in Israeli society as a whole.
We are all often guilty of perpetuating the myth that militant Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories are a different and distinct category from other Israelis who live beyond the so-called “Green Line.” Undoubtedly, the violent mentality that propels Israeli society, wherever it is located, is not governed by imaginary lines but by a racist ideology, of which disciples can be found everywhere in Israel, not just in the illegal Jewish colonies of the West Bank.
Israel is a sick society and its ailment is not confined to the 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
While Palestinians are imprisoned behind walls, fences and enclosed regions, Israelis are a different kind of prisoner. “A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness,” wrote Nelson Mandela.
It is this racism and bigotry that makes Tariq invisible to most Israelis. For them, Palestinian children do not exist as real human beings, deserving of a dignified life of freedom. This callousness is a defining quality, common among all sectors of Israeli society — right, left and center.
An example is the terrorist attack carried out by Jewish settlers against the Palestinian Dawabsheh family in the village of Duma, in the northern West Bank, in July 2015. Parents Riham and Sa’ed and their 18-month-old son Ali were killed. The only member of the family spared that horrific death was four-year-old Ahmad, who was severely burned.
The cruelty was accentuated in the episodes that followed this criminal incident. Later that year, Israeli wedding guests were caught on camera dancing with knives, chanting in celebration of the death of the Palestinian baby. And, three years later, as Dawabsheh family members were leaving an Israeli court, accompanied by Arab parliamentarians, they were greeted by a crowd of Israelis chanting “Where is Ali? Ali’s dead” and “Ali’s on the grill.”
The only survivor, Ahmad, was punished thrice: Losing his whole family; his severe burns; and when he was denied compensation.
Although the Dawabshehs were killed by Jewish settlers, the Israeli court, army and political system all conspired to ensure the killers were protected from any form of accountability.
There were similarities in the case of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who, in 2016, killed an unconscious Palestinian man in Hebron. In his defense, Azaria insisted that he was following army manual instructions in dealing with alleged attackers, while top Israeli government officials came out in their droves to support him.
When Azaria was released following only nine months in jail, he was hailed by many Israelis as a hero. In fact, he was courted by Israeli politicians to help them garner more votes in April’s elections.
Condemning solely Jewish settlers while sparing the rest of Israeli society is equivalent to political whitewashing — it would present Israel as a healthy society prior to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This view also presents Jewish settlements as a cancerous disease that is eating up the otherwise proud and noble achievements of early Zionists.
It is convenient to classify Jewish settlers as right-wing extremists and to link them with Israel’s ruling right-wing political parties. But history proves otherwise. It was Israel’s Labor Party that originally created the settlement projects, soon after the colonization of the West Bank. Neither is the “settler” a new phenomenon. Historically, the early settlers who preceded the establishment of Israel in 1948 were idealized as true Zionists, celebrated as “cultural heroes” — the Jewish redeemers who eventually ethnically cleansed historic Palestine of its native inhabitants.
Protecting the settlements is now the overriding task of the Israeli occupation army. The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, which monitors the conduct of the Israeli army and Jewish settlers in the West Bank, explained the nature of this relationship in a report published in November 2017. “Israeli security forces not only allow settlers to harm Palestinians and their property as a matter of course — they often provide the perpetrators escort and back-up. In some cases, they even join in on the attack,” it said.
Jewish settler violence should not be analyzed separately from the violence meted out by the Israeli army, but seen within the larger context of the violent Zionist ideology that governs Israeli society in its entirety. This violence can only end with the end of the racist ideology that rationalizes murders like that of little Tariq Zabania.