In 2008, after having become aware of the situation of Palestinians in Israel, I traveled there and to the West Bank, to see things for myself. I wasn’t there that long, but I saw and learned a lot. And I also met and became friends with a number of Palestinians. After I returned home, I co-edited a book with one of my new Palestinian friends about the lives of contemporary Palestinians. The book, Letters from Palestine, was published in 2010. This is how it begins:
Early in February, 2008, I came into possession of a book about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people. Entitled Dark Hope, it was written by an American-born Israeli professor turned peace activist named David Shulman. Although I had long been distressed over the seemingly intractable nature of this conflict and dismayed by what I knew of Israeli practices and politics in relation to the Palestinians, this was the first book I had ever read on the subject. By the time I finished it, it had changed my life completely.
Shulman, a man about sixty, turned out to be a distinguished professor of Indology (he is also a MacArthur Fellow) on which subject he has authored many books. But Dark Hope of course was a book of a very different kind than those Shulman has written on the various areas of his own professional expertise. In it, he described, in hauntingly evocative prose, his work with an Israeli peace group called Ta’ayush in the West Bank. In summary, he and his colleagues would travel into the West Bank to help Palestinians with their agricultural work -- and to try to keep them from being attacked by Israeli settlers who would frequently harass, intimidate and often assault Palestinians as they tried to go about their work in the fields.
Shulman’s book begins with his forays into the hills south of Hebron where many of the Palestinians who reside there are actually cave dwellers and pastoralists who have lived there for generations. However, this area is now an embattled zone because of the presence of so-called settlements or outposts whose inhabitants are Jews of the most strident ideological leanings many of whom are prone to violence. These settlers, who are often armed, want the land the Palestinians have lived on for hundreds of years, and they are at war with them in skirmishes that never seem to end. The Palestinians, who are forbidden to use arms, are defenseless, except for the intervention of peace activists since the soldiers and police in this area are there specifically to protect and defend only the settlers.
The work of Ta'ayush and other peace groups is in effect to interpose themselves between the settlers and the Palestinians in an effort to fend off the former from attacking the latter. And since the peace groups are committed to non-violence, their members are often injured and suffer many other hardships in the course of their efforts to deter or deflect the settlers from their predations. Shulman himself has been beaten up more than once.
Although Shulman often writes in a restrained, unassuming and at times almost contemplative mode about the travails he and his comrades must endure in order to do this work, he is forthright when it comes to his depiction of the settlers he encounters who are well known to be among the most vicious in the country. At one point, after returning home from one typical day in the fields, he finds himself suddenly filled with fury, and writes:
What we are fighting in the South Hebron Hills is pure, rarefied, unadulterated, unreasoning, uncontainable human evil. Nothing but malice drives this campaign to uproot the few thousand cave dwellers with their babies and lambs. They have hurt nobody. They were never a security threat. They led peaceful, if somewhat impoverished lives until the settlers came. Since then, there has been no peace. They are tormented, terrified, incredulous. As am I. What black greed, what unwitting hatred, has turned Israeli Jews into the torturers of the innocent? … I rage in my well-appointed kitchen; I am inflamed, crushed, mad with pain.
I was shaken by Shulman’s book, which was a revelation to me. Although I certainly could not claim to possess anything like his exquisite sensibility, his reports did enable me to see, and to see clearly through his eyes for the first time, just what life was like for the Palestinians living in such conditions. And even a person with only the most rudimentary sense of empathy could easily identify with Shulman’s anguish, while admiring his bravery and commitment, and feel something of the same explosive grief and anger that he could no longer contain.
Shulman’s book opened a door for me, and once I looked inside, I had to enter.
I decided I needed to read more, to inform myself further, so I quickly found some other books that could tell me more about the life and situation of the Palestinians living under occupation -- that is, living under the military control of Israel either in the West Bank or Gaza. One of those books, Witness in Palestine, was written by a Jewish American woman named Anna Baltzer, and it helped to flesh out and provide an historical context for much of what Shulman had described in his book. Through reading Baltzer’s illuminating book, which allowed me to glimpse what daily life was like for many Palestinians, I was beginning to form a more definite impression not only of their suffering but the reasons for it.
By this time, I had started to share what I had been learning with my partner, Anna, and I remember one day I showed her a map in Baltzer’s book that depicted how many and how extensive were the Israeli settlements (they now number about 120, not including so-called temporary “outposts”) in the West Bank. Anna was shocked and appalled. And I remember her exact words, “I had no idea. We have to do something about this!”
By this time in my life, I was 72 years old, and had long been retired after spending nearly 35 years as a university professor and author. Although I had a passing interest in politics and world affairs, I had never been an activist, and I had no real desire to disrupt my pleasant life in Marin country, near San Francisco, where I was now living happily enough with Anna.
At this point, I should probably say a bit about myself, but mainly in order to show just why it was that by the time I read books like Shulman’s and Baltzer’s, I could scarcely do otherwise than walk through the door they had opened to me and begin to enter the world that their writings had unveiled.
I was born in San Francisco, grew up in the Bay Area, went to Cal-Berkeley with a major in psychology, got a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, became a professor and taught for many years at the University of Connecticut. My main area of research dealt with near-death experiences on which subject I wrote five books and probably almost a hundred articles. During those years, 1977-2000, I traveled widely and lectured on near-death experiences and similar subjects all over the world. After I retired from teaching, I still continued to work in this field, but also explored and wrote about other topics, such as classical music composers, and wrote some memoirs, too, but mostly about other people in my life, not myself.
As to what led to my strong response to Shulman’s and Baltzer’s book, it is necessary to go into my Jewish past in order to explain my Palestinian present.
My ancestors — both on my mother’s and my father’s side — came from Lithuania. But I mostly only know about my mother’s side of the family. Her father, who was a cantor, came to America in the early 1900s. He and his wife had five children, my mother being the last of them. However, all of these kids rejected the Jewish faith and almost all of its rituals, and I myself was raised in a completely non-religious, even anti-religious, environment. Unlike most Jews, we didn’t even live in a Jewish community. In fact, I don’t think I even knew that I was Jewish until I was about 6 or 7. And I scarcely even knew any Jews outside my own family until I got to graduate school — there they all were!
Still, in those days, even though I had no use for Judaism itself (and still don’t), I was nevertheless proud to be a Jew because of the fact that so many outstanding people in the modern world were of Jewish descent — Freud, Marx, Einstein, Oppenheimer, Mahler, and on into the night. Obviously, a lot of Jews were smart cookies, and even though we were a very small percentage of the world’s population (I think it’s now about 0.02%), our achievements as a people were vastly greater than our numbers alone could account for. And a lot of us were professionals, despite coming from humble backgrounds. For example, in my family, no one before me had ever gone to college. But in my cousinly cohort (four of my mother’s sibship had one kid each), I became a professor and author; my closest cousin, a cardiologist; another cousin a professor and outstanding jazz pianist; and a fourth cousin, a podiatrist, though he’s now internationally famous for some oddball research he does. In this respect, we are just typical Jews, though none of us cares a whit about being Jewish, and we virtually never talk about it.
But another reason I was glad to be a Jew was that American Jews had played a major role in the civil rights movement and were often found, again in disproportionate numbers, engaged in liberal causes — in causes on behalf of the underdogs in our society. My own family was not at all involved in activism of any sort, but we were liberal, and I had a Communist uncle who was very important to me when I was young, so I learned about the values Jews of this sort stood for at an early age.
In any case, I had my life and career, and though in the course of it I had met many Jews, that’s about as far as it went until one day a few years ago, I happened to read a book by an author, now deceased, I admired very much — W. G. Sebald, a marvelous, highly original writer. He wasn’t Jewish, and he only wrote about the Holocaust rather elliptically, but his books got me wondering about my own Jewishness and Jewish history. So all of a sudden, I found myself delving into my Jewish past, individually and collectively. Over the course of a year or so, I must have read easily at least three dozen books on the subject, including several on Lithuanian Jewry, which I found fascinating. And through this immersion in Jewish history I learned a great deal about what had formed the Jewish people as well as what shaped the contours of my own psyche that I had never known or had only dimly appreciated.
Necessarily, I read a lot about what the Jews had suffered — the history of Jews, after all, is, with some notable exceptions, such as in medieval Spain, pretty much a history of suffering, humiliation, horror and of course violent displacement and mass murder — not only during the Holocaust but at earlier times, too.
But then I found myself wanting to read about other people who had suffered similar fates, so after a while I turned my attention to the genocide of the Armenians by the Turks (who deny it to this day). I read four books alone on that topic. And then I started digging into the literature of other peoples who had endured similar terrible tragedies and genocides — the extermination of the Australian aborigines, for example, or that of the American Indians (of course I had read about that much earlier), the treatment of the Chinese by the Japanese in the 20th century, the recent genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda, then other books on ethnic cleansing, on World War I and II, the history and treatment of homosexuals, etc. — reading about the most vile, heinous, unspeakable cruelties, all in an effort to understand how people could do such things to other people. How they could act like beasts, not humans, worse than any animal, by engaging in collective acts of such barbarity and savagery that you could barely keep from vomiting when reading about it? In reading these books, I wound up taking a long trip through human-induced hell, always asking “Why?” How could people do such things to one another?
It was at this point in my life that I came across David Shulman’s book.
I had long detested Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians, but I never had had an inclination to go to Israel (in fact, had an aversion to doing so), so I had never taken an active interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But, as I had said, it was this book that first opened my eyes and shocked me into a realization.
In a nutshell, this is what I saw immediately. First, all the terrible crimes against various peoples I had read about had already taken place; they were matters of history. This crime — that the Israelis were guilty of toward the Palestinians — was happening now, and was on-going. Second, it was being committed by Jews — of all people! How could they adopt policies against non-Jews that were so unmistakably suggestive of those used against Jews in Nazi Germany of the 1930s? (Of course, as a psychologist, I could understand this, but as a human being, I could not countenance it.) Third, it was already clear to me that it was principally the support of the United States that was making all this possible. Americans, and especially many American Jews, were Israel’s best friend and its bank.
I felt ashamed to be a Jew, if this is what Jews had become. Furthermore, this was an injustice I could do something about now. Had to do something. I couldn’t stand the thought that some of the people of whom I had once been proud to be member had sunk to this level of depravity. I thought it was up to American Jews especially to speak out against this, and to do more than speak out — to stop it. (Subsequently I realized that it was not up to American or other Jews to “stop it,” but to support Palestinians in doing so -- but here I am only speaking of what I felt then.)
At that point, I became a Palestinian in my heart.
So when Anna said “we have to do something about this,” I was ready. Shulman’s book was the trigger, Baltzer’s made me pull it, but clearly the gun had been loaded for some time.
“Let’s go,” I said.
Fourteen years have passed, and the situation of the Palestinians is no better. In fact, in many ways it is worse. And David Shulman, who is now about as old I was when I went to Israel, has continued to document and bear witness to the atrocities that are still being perpetrated by the fanatical Jewish settlers in the South Hebron hills. Below is his most recent article on the subject, which also features a review of a recent book that tells the same story, only with more detail. So here is Shulman’s update for you.
the French by William Rodarmor.
Other Press, 360 pp., $27.99
November 10, 2021: Twenty Israeli settlers, armed with guns and clubs, their faces masked, descend upon the hamlet of Halat al-Dab’ in the South Hebron hills. They attack the Palestinians who live there, smash windows, cars, and whatever else they find. Six Palestinians are wounded, at least one from gunshots. There are Israeli soldiers nearby who make no attempt to interfere and who leave the area while the pogrom is going on. I use the word deliberately. What happened that day in Halat al-Dab’ is not different in kind from the pogrom in Nikolayev, in Ukraine, in the early years of the twentieth century, when my grandmother’s brother was killed by Cossacks.
September 28, 2021, Simchat Torah, the end of the Sukkot holiday: Dozens of masked settlers storm the tiny Palestinian encampment of Mufagara, also in the South Hebron hills, wreaking havoc. Basil al-Adraa, an activist from the nearby village of at-Tuwani, reported that the settlers
went from house to house, and broke windows, smashed cars with knives and hammers. A large stone they threw hit a 3-year-old boy, Mohammed, in the head, who is now in the hospital. The soldiers supported them with tear gas. The residents fled. I can’t forget how the villagers left their houses, terrified, the children screaming, the women crying, while the settlers entered their living rooms, like they were possessed with violence and wrath.
September 17, 2021: A convoy of activists from the Israeli-Palestinian NGO Combatants for Peace and other organizations is bringing a water tanker to a village near at-Tuwani, which has no access to running water. The army violently attacks the convoy with tear gas and stun grenades. Six activists and a journalist are wounded; one of the activists is thrown to the rocky ground by the senior officer in command and has to undergo surgery on his eye. Seven Palestinians are arrested.
No one should think that these events—a random selection—are aberrations or exceptions to the rule. They are now the norm in the occupied Palestinian territories. Settler violence, backed up by Israeli soldiers, happens every day. Government ministers and high-ranking officers, including the army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, make bland statements condemning the violence but do nothing to stop it. Some of them actively support it. The goal, by no means a secret, is to expel Palestinians from their homes and lands and, eventually, to annex as much of the West Bank as possible to Israel.
Any means to achieve this goal is acceptable. The minister of defense, Benny Gantz, has recently outlawed six Palestinian human rights organizations on the pretext that they are connected to Hamas.* The vehemence with which the government and the security goons have defended this pretext is evidence that they know it is false—yet another attempt to stamp out Palestinian protest and dissent. Some readers might be reminded of the days when the ACLU was attacked by Joseph McCarthy as an alleged Communist front organization.
All of this is Israel in 2021. So what is a onetime liberal Zionist like Sylvain Cypel supposed to make of it? His father, Jacques Cypel, was an outstanding leader of labor Zionism in France and also the editor of the world’s last Yiddish-language daily newspaper, Unzer Wort. (It closed down in 1996.) The young Sylvain, bilingual in French and Yiddish, grew up in Bordeaux and Paris, where he was a member of a labor Zionist youth group. He went to Israel after high school, served as a paratrooper in the Israeli army, and studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. After living in Israel on and off for twelve years, he returned to France, where he eventually became a senior editor at Le Monde and then editor in chief of Courrier International.
In The State of Israel vs. the Jews, Cypel describes the change that came over him in the years following the 1967 war:
I had always thought that when Israel was founded as a refuge for the persecuted Jews of the world, justice had been on the Israeli side…. But I was gradually discovering that the expulsion of the Palestinians and the seizing of their land had been deliberately brutal.
By the time he left Israel, he was an anti-Zionist, hence ostracized by some former friends. He clearly couldn’t tolerate the cognitive dissonance that so many of us in the Israeli peace movement have to live with. As he puts it, “Israel was evolving into something no idealist could stomach: a racist, bullying little superpower.” The raison d’être of his book lies in documenting and substantiating this thesis.
Cypel’s trajectory is not unusual. I know quite a few originally left-oriented, idealistic Zionists who have been similarly disillusioned and who have given up on the Jewish state. Some of them think that from the very beginning, the Zionist movement was caught up in, indeed defined by, a teleology of increasingly violent crime against the Palestinian “other” who inhabits the same small chunk of land on the Mediterranean coast. I don’t subscribe to this overdetermined view.
But Cypel’s story has a particularly French, or rather French Jewish, dimension, spelled out in a chapter of his book subtitled “The Blindness of French Jews.” France was the first European country to emancipate the Jews (in 1791; their rights were confirmed and expanded in the following decades), and the Jews of France had good reason to identify with the liberté, fraternité, and égalité of the French Revolution, even if these slogans were often honored in the breach. But with the influx of more than 300,000 French-speaking Jews from Algeria and elsewhere in the Maghreb during and after the Algerian War of Independence of 1954–1962, the French Jewish community underwent significant changes. Many of the new immigrants to France carried with them bitter memories of their formal status as dhimmis, a tolerated but humiliated minority, under Islam. They took vicarious pride in the rise of Israel and even felt a slight taste of revenge on their Arab oppressors.
And while French Jews are by no means uniformly “Israelized”—the term used by the historian Pierre Birnbaum to refer to an unthinking commitment to the ethnonationalist program of the Israeli right—Cypel has only harsh words for the community and especially for the organization that claims to speak for it, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France. He also mocks French Jewish intellectuals for their public silence when it comes to Israel.
There is another element in the transformation of this former Zionist into a ferocious critic of Israel. Cypel remembers from his childhood the war the French fought to maintain their colony in Algeria. As a student in Jerusalem in 1969—only seven years after Algeria achieved independence—he was shocked to hear Israeli students who “talked about the Palestinians exactly the same way French settlers there [in Algeria] used to talk about the Arabs.” French Jews on the left had mostly, sometimes passionately, opposed the French colonial war in Algeria. Now it was all happening again in Palestine, even if the historical parallel was inexact. (The French colonists in Algeria had, at least in theory, a home country they could return to, unlike nearly all Israeli Jews.)
For Cypel, just out of the Israeli army and haunted by recent memory, the result was the discovery of the “yawning gap between the promise and the reality of Zionism.” But for people like me, who still remember the late 1960s and early 1970s in Israel, before the settler movement began, those years call up memories of the old, moderately humanistic, mildly socialist Israel. Make no mistake: the underlying project of dispossession, or “thinning out” the Palestinian population, as it was then euphemistically called, was very much underway. And the occupation had clearly taken root. Israel was no utopia, yet it was utterly unlike the shameless hyper-nationalist state we have today. Cypel shows us, in strident but truthful tones, the dystopian world of an ethnocratic polity immersed in systemic repression, institutionalized hatred toward Palestinians, and quotidian criminal acts in the occupied territories, where a colonial settler regime is firmly in place.
He also gives us chapters on other kinds of transgressions, like the sale of sophisticated Israeli spyware to the world’s most cruel and despotic states, among them South Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Myanmar, for use against their own citizens—a business, he writes, that earns “Israeli companies an amount estimated by various sources at between $1 billion and $3.4 billion a year.” He describes the increasing attacks on Israeli human rights activists by the state security forces; the rehabilitation and relegitimation of Kach, the overtly racist party of thugs founded by Meir Kahane, now once again represented in the Knesset by the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party; and the antidemocratic legislation initiated by the Israeli right, such as the “nation-state law” that enshrines inequality among Jews and non-Jews within the state. Jewish privilege—and the concomitant discrimination against Israeli Arab citizens—are now no longer a latent, though widespread, Israeli dream but a legal reality. All of this leads Cypel to quote with approbation—as the book’s epigraph—the late Tony Judt’s statement in 2003 that “the depressing truth today is that Israel is bad for the Jews.”
This seems a lot like saying that Italy is bad for the Italians, which may well have been true, in some sense, from the 1920s through the early 1940s but can hardly be an enduring theorem; or that the United States under Trump was bad for the Americans. Most states, especially ethno-nation-states, are quite often bad for their citizens, and it sometimes, indeed often, seems that a self-destructive telos is built into the very notion of an ethnocratic nationalist polity. But Judt’s statement, and Cypel’s citation of it, smack of Jewish exceptionalism. For centuries the Jews, with good reasons to habitually fear the worst, have viewed any event in light of the question “Is it good or bad for the Jews?” Now they have a state of their own, and the question is still there. It might be better to ask if Israeli policies are good for Israeli citizens and for the Palestinians who share with them the land west of the Jordan River. To the extent that Jewish communities throughout the world support current Israeli policies, they, too, bear some responsibility for the evils of the occupation. On a good day, I sometimes manage to believe that a time will come when Israel will revert to its roots in the humane side of the Jewish tradition and the universal values articulated by the Hebrew prophets. That day seems far away.
There is not much point in rehearsing here the well-known litany of state terror and abuse that define the Israeli occupation. The information is there for all to see, in Cypel’s eloquent J’accuse and elsewhere (the website of the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem, for example). The disjunction between the ethical vision of the biblical prophets and the reality of life in the West Bank and Gaza has already opened up a fissure between Israel and some progressive Jewish communities in the Western world, especially in America (not yet, perhaps, in France, if Cypel is right). That gap, I believe, will widen. It also exists in the liberal, younger wing of the Democratic Party in the US. That doesn’t mean that the Judt-Cypel axiom is acceptable to these critics of Israeli policy. It does mean that new and perhaps more effective forms of pressure on Israel are beginning to take practical form.
It is important to note, however, from an internal Israeli perspective, that the days are over when presenting the crimes in the occupied territories to the Israeli media, and thus to the wider public, might have some positive, constraining effect. Put simply, no one really cares. More precisely, judging by the results of the four recent elections, something like a third to half of the population ardently support the policy of repression, expulsion, and escalating violence directed at Palestinians. Many among the other two thirds or so are unhappy with this policy, but only a tiny minority are prepared to do anything to stop it.
That passivity and/or indifference constitute the heart of the problem. They are far worse and infinitely more consequential than anything the settlers or soldiers can do. Without the compliance of the vast majority of Israelis, state-sponsored terror on the West Bank could not continue to run wild. One can sometimes hear the clucking of tongues—not much more than that. Perhaps the great defender of human rights Michael Sfard is right when he says that someday, when the occupation has finally ended, nearly everyone in Israel will claim retroactively that they were against it from the beginning.
A form of mass protest did develop in Israel over the last two years with the aim of removing Benjamin Netanyahu from office—certainly a worthy goal. For months, many thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, came to Jerusalem every Saturday night to demonstrate outside the prime minister’s residence. Ultimately, they succeeded, at least for now. But Netanyahu was an easy target. How much mendacity, venality, and sheer selfishness on the part of a leading politician does it take to get a decent citizen into the streets? However, it was not the occupation that moved many of these protesters. They wanted to rid themselves of a prime minister who, in order to remain in power, was undermining the entire fabric of state institutions, including the courts, and who had cultivated a culture of rabid hatred for any opponent, from within or from without, along with a personality cult such as one sees in authoritarian regimes.
Urgent ethical quandaries remain to torment those of us who live in Israel. What about the minimal moral basis of statehood, and the social contract rooted in some notion of decency, that political theorists from Locke to Rawls and Walzer have posited? What happens to a state in which moral abominations serving utilitarian considerations become routine? Does such a state forfeit its legitimacy? Can it redeem itself, and if so, how? Or is sheer force, in the end, immune to ethical considerations? Cypel quotes Netanyahu:
In the Middle East, and in many parts of the world, there is a simple truth—there is no place for the weak. The weak crumble, are slaughtered, and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive. The strong are respected, and alliances are made with the strong, and in the end peace is made with the strong.
I’d like to bring such questions down to a concrete, more personal perspective. There is, unfortunately, no lack of instances we could examine. Here is one not atypical of the Israeli-Palestinian situation—the case of Harun Abu Aram, twenty-four years old, from the village of al-Rakiz in the South Hebron hills.
On January 1, 2021, Harun’s neighbor Ashraf was fixing a roof over his sheep pen. Five soldiers, apparently summoned by the settlers of the nearby illegal outposts of Avigail or Chavat Maon, came to the village, invaded Ashraf’s house, and discovered there, horror of horrors, a small electric generator. (Al-Rakiz is not attached to the electrical grid.) The soldiers seized the generator. Ashraf protested. A scuffle developed. Harun’s father, Rasmi, came running to help his friend and, like Ashraf, was beaten and kicked by the soldiers. Harun, hearing what was happening, rushed to the scene. For a few minutes, there was a tug-of-war between the soldiers and the Palestinians, and the generator changed hands several times. Then one of the soldiers, standing to the side and in no danger, shot Harun at point-blank range, hitting him in the neck. He fell to the ground, his spinal cord severed between vertebrae six and seven.
The soldiers, now the proud owners of the generator, set up a roadblock at the main road in and out of the village. Here comes the worst part of the story. Rasmi and Ashraf managed to get Harun into a car in order to drive him to a hospital, but the soldiers, including the one who shot Harun, stopped the vehicle and shot at its tires, puncturing one of them. Miraculously, Ashraf managed to drive the car on three wheels past the roadblock and into the village of at-Tuwani, where Harun was transferred to another car, which, after running into another military roadblock, finally got him to a hospital. The doctors said that if they’d come ten minutes later, Harun would have died.
Harun is paralyzed from the neck down. After many months in hospital, he can again breathe without assistance. He is now in a specially equipped house in the town of Yata and requires twenty-four-hour care. His life is ruined. Before the incident, he was about to be married. The army demolished the house his father had built for the young couple, one of many recurrent demolitions in al-Rakiz. The soldier who shot Harun has not been punished, and the State of Israel has refused to take any responsibility for Harun’s fate or to cover any of the enormous costs of his hospital stay.
This is a single instance among thousands. The essential point is that whatever the soldier who shot Harun was thinking—maybe he panicked, maybe he was taught to hate Palestinians—the incident illuminates the inner logic of the Israeli occupation as a whole. A Palestinian should not have a generator, nor should he fix his fence or sheep pen. A Palestinian must never protest or disobey a soldier. A Palestinian can be killed by settlers or soldiers with impunity. A Palestinian will never receive justice in the military courts that operate in the territories. And so on. Given that logic, what happened to Harun, and to countless other Palestinians over the past decades, was natural, in fact inevitable. It is wrong to class it as a tragic mistake. Once the soldiers entered the village on their ugly mission, all the rest unfolded along familiar lines. The ultimate malice, no doubt a decision on the part of those same soldiers, took place at the two roadblocks.
Charles de Gaulle, reelected president in 1958 to keep Algeria French, came to realize that the very survival of France as a civilization among the nations of the world required that it extricate itself from Algeria. Israel has yet to achieve a similar understanding about the occupied Palestinian territories. Even one Harun vitiates the state’s claim to common decency and indelibly stains its ethical core. And Harun is by no means alone.
I don’t believe in a statistical calculus of morals. Any evil act has its own intrinsic horror, its own lurid integrity. We will never be able to tally up the number of crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians and weigh them against the crimes committed by Palestinians against Jews, as if one side could “win” in the giant sweepstakes of victimhood. Ultimately, the two sides will either lose everything together or win together, despite their shared belief that the conflict is a zero-sum game.
What we can say is that the Israeli side is still, after fifty-five years, maintaining in the Palestinian territories a system that ruthlessly causes the death or wounding of innocents in large numbers, just as it continues to steal more and more Palestinian land with the backing of the Israeli courts. It would also be fair to say that the situation is deteriorating from day to day. Those who know that situation firsthand also know that there is no possible way to justify it or to make sense of it without resorting to a claim that eternal Israeli supremacy over all Palestinians is a worthy and attainable aim.
—January 12, 2022
This is what you should know about Israel.