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The occupation and Jewish values

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Tuesday, 18 July 2023

Since 1967, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has largely been seen and discussed from the prism of the various conflicting issues over territory, security, Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees, the settlements, and historic rights. On each of these issues, Israel's actions have blatantly violated the Palestinians' basic human rights, creating humanitarian crises on every level. Israel's actions and their devastating impacts are completely inconsistent with Jewish values. Had these values been followed in every encounter and sincere efforts were made by both sides to reach a peace agreement, the conflict might have been resolved decades ago and the humanitarian disasters inflicted on the Palestinians could have been averted.

The intensifying violent encounters between the two sides since the beginning of the year have claimed the lives of 147 Palestinians and 23 Israelis. The vicious cycle of violence which has been escalating, as we have seen in recent days in Jenin in the West Bank, will continue to fester, especially because of the sense of entitlement which the current Israeli government in particular and the settlers have in spades.

The recent killing of four innocent Israeli settlers by a Palestinian terrorist cannot be justified under any circumstances. But for the perpetrators, this was an act of revenge that was taken as vengeance for the killing of several Palestinians in the days prior. The Palestinian attackers felt that they had no choice left but to fight for their freedom – for their dreams and aspirations – preferring to die as martyrs with honor rather than live in servitude for the rest of their lives.


Defying Jewish values

Although the pogroms committed by the settlers that followed were condemned by Netanyahu and the leaders of the opposition, the settlers have been listening all along to the likes of ministers Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, to whom the life of any Palestinian is dispensable and have said as much publicly time and again. In February, following the killing of two Israeli brothers and the settler-led pogrom that ensued against the village of Huwara, Israeli Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich stated, "I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the state of Israel should do it."

Thus, dispossessing the Palestinians of everything they have, setting fire to scores of houses and cars, and wanton destruction of properties while Israeli soldiers watch with equanimity makes a mockery of these Jewish values that Israeli officials pretend to uphold so high.

The irony here is that while some officials condemned the pogroms because such horrendous acts defy Jewish values, they have conveniently forgotten that for decades Israel has regularly been violating these values by acting inhumanely against the Palestinians in the name of national security. Successive Israeli governments ignored the historical account of the Jews' survival throughout the centuries, which was attributed to their collective adherence to these values and their commitment to never forsake them, as they constituted the religious and ethical foundation of the Jews' continuing survival.

These Jewish values include caring for and being compassionate toward other human beings, not turning away from people in need, loving one's neighbors, forgiving and having mercy, clothing the naked, upholding the right to justice and ownership of property, freeing the oppressed, sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and respecting the right of every person to life. Finally, there is Tikkun Olam, which translates to 'repairing the world,' to restore it to how its creator made it, or make it better for all.

How do Israeli governments square these values to the uprooting of olive trees that deprive the owners of their main source of income and force them to live on handouts with humiliation; to the horrifying practice of incarcerating mostly young men often for months without being charged with any crimes; to the frequent night raids that terrify the young and kidnap fathers and eldest sons, not to be seen again sometimes for months?

And how do you square Jewish values to the routine forcible eviction of Palestinians from their homes and cruel acts of demolishing houses under the pretext of being built without a permit, or because the government decided to rezone the area for some obscure reason, leaving them homeless and despairing; or annexing more land for military training, leaving many families without the land which was the source of their livelihood?


Do these horrifying acts of cruelty that happen routinely and are hardly criticized pass the litmus test of Jewish values? Indeed, successive Israeli governments led by Netanyahu in particular have egregiously and shamelessly violated every single value the Jews have held for centuries. But then, leave it to the avid right-wing Israelis and officials to justify these punitive measures on the grounds of national security. In fact, these inhumane measures are designed not only to force Palestinians out of their land but to deliberately instigate Palestinian violent resistance, which in turn the government uses as a pretext to take retaliatory measures against the Palestinians and justify the continuing occupation.

Inviting violence

The Netanyahu government has continued its sinister scheme to make the Palestinians' lives unbearable so that they leave their homes and communities out of despair and hopelessness-an effort to clear the land of all Palestinians for Israelis to move in. These officials and millions of staunch right-wing Israelis quietly condone these pogroms and gross violations of the Palestinians' human rights simply because they serve their long-term goal of controlling all the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

Conversely, had Israeli successive governments truly applied Jewish values, they would have ended the ruthless measures they take that precipitate massive humanitarian crises. Every Palestinian, wherever they may live, feels each tragic event as if they have experienced it themselves, which only strengthens their resolve to counter the Israelis' brutality and ruthlessness by taking revenge through acts of terror.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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