Hard Questions, Tough Answers: Violence: past, present, future (January 24, 2022)


Yossi Alpher is an independent security analyst. He is the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, a former senior official with the Mossad, and a former IDF intelligence officer. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

Q: Past violence. We are well aware that violence is part and parcel of the history of Middle East conflicts, including between Israel and Palestine. So what’s new in the record of violence from the past?

A: A few of the surviving IDF soldiers from the 1948 Alexandroni Brigade, who fought a battle at Tantura on the Mediterranean coast south of Haifa, have now at age 90 come clean about their role in a massacre of unarmed Palestinian villagers back then. Nobody seems to remember definitively whether dozens or hundreds were slaughtered. There is apparently a mass grave underneath the parking lot where Israelis today innocently leave their cars when they go to one of Israel’s nicest beaches, now known as Dor Beach.

Some years ago a University of Haifa MA student wrote a thesis revealing this massacre, based on archival records he dug up and Arab testimony. At the time, the Alexandroni vets vehemently denied the deed. The student was forced to withdraw his thesis. Now those same vets are unburdening themselves . . .


Q: Present violence. Give us a blow-by-blow of the last few days.  

A: The list is long. And ugly. Young West Bank settlers, religious-messianists, last week attacked and bloodied Israeli human rights activists, one aged 78, who were trying to protect and assist Palestinians harvesting olives in their olive groves. Needless to say, the settlers attacked the Palestinians too.

Minister of Public Security Omer Bar-Lev says it’s difficult to collect evidence against the perpetrators. Of course it is. Neither the violent settlers nor their Palestinian neighbors like to cooperate with the IDF, some of whose officers and soldiers patrolling the West Bank are themselves settlers.

The settler attackers, incidentally, hail from any of 70 settlement outposts, some on Palestinian land and some on ‘crown’ land, that are illegal under Israeli law but are rarely removed by the IDF. The very existence of these outposts is an act of violence. But note: the ‘legal’ veteran settler establishment lately has taken to calling them “the young settlement” to whitewash the violation posed by their very existence.

Still in the West Bank, soldiers from the IDF’s Haredi battalion, Netzach Yehuda, recently bound, blindfolded, beat, gagged and abandoned an 80 year-old Palestinian-American at 3 a.m., outside in freezing winter cold near Ramallah, until he died of a heart attack. Now the United States wants answers.

Message to the State Department. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the IDF to investigate. And try to imagine the human rights education the Haredi youth receive in their yeshivas.


Q: The perpetrators are only extremist religious Jews?

A: Hardly. Anti-vaccine Jews of all persuasions are regularly threatening Israel’s health professionals and research scientists. “Bibistim” regularly threaten civil society activists and the attorney general over their legal treatment of ex-prime minister Netanyahu’s alleged crimes.

In the Arab sector--20 percent of Israel’s population--seven gangland-style murders have been registered since January 1, 2022. This means we are more or less on track for another year of over 100 cases of Arab criminals murdering fellow criminals or, in wild shootouts, innocent civilians.

Nearly 60 percent of all Israeli women murdered in incidents of domestic violence are Arab women. Many of  these are so-called honor killings condoned by many in Arab society.

Gun-violence and attacks on vehicles perpetrated by criminal elements among the 300,000 Bedouin in the Negev have created a reality where drivers are travelling in convoys for self-protection. Even Jewish National Fund tree-planting on government lands in the Negev is greeted by violence on the part of Bedouin who believe they have grazing rights on the land and that JNF tree-planting is an act of violence.

Then there is the issue of popular attitudes regarding settler violence in the West Bank. True, there are settlers who condemn settler violence. But there are lots of settlers and non-settlers who support or condone it.

Last month, Tel Aviv University’s Peace Index survey asked Israeli Jews about their attitude toward West Bank incidents in which settlers attack Palestinians. About one-third of Israeli Jews oppose any punishment at all for the settlers; nine percent “don’t know”. Indeed, 75 percent of those surveyed believe it is necessary to “protect the settlers from Palestinians”. Note that the settlers, even those settling ‘illegally’, are all legally armed. For ‘self-protection’.

To which sector of Israeli public opinion does the Council of Settlers belong when it piously intones that it is “shocked” by the photos of human rights activists bloodied by settlers, and that the perpetrators must be prosecuted “to the full extent of the law”?


Q: Future violence? How can you know what the future will bring?

I think the best predictor of the near future is the recent past. Operation Guardian of the Walls last May was not merely another Israel-Hamas fight involving rockets from Gaza. The violence, perpetrated by both Arabs and Jews on one another, encompassed Jerusalem, Israeli mixed-cities like Ramla, Jaffa and Acre, hostile Arab roadblocks in the north, and even Palestinian and Israeli diaspora communities.

One message for the future is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now on a slippery slope toward widespread and frequent intercommunal violence. Another is that Israeli establishment neglect of Arab communities inside Israel increasingly means Bedouin violence against Jews and ‘Arab-against-Arab’ violence that morphs into all-Israel gang warfare.

Yet another conclusion is that inside Israel, we need a lot more police. Smart police.


Q: Bottom line?

A: We need some comic relief. A few weeks ago, Member of Knesset Idit Silman of Prime Minister Bennett’s Yamina party, confronting all the violence around her, suddenly ‘remembered’ that two weeks earlier she had been accosted and pushed at a gas station by someone who didn’t like her politics. She had neglected at the time to report the incident to the Israel Police or the Knesset security authorities.

Now she did. There was a big ruckus: a female member of Knesset has been attacked! But now we are informed that the General Security Service investigated and found no evidence of such an incident. This appears to be a case of allegations of violence as an attention-getter: how else will voters notice you?

On a more serious note, it’s time Israeli Jews--West Bank settlers, the IDF that protects them, Jewish National Fund tree-planters--understood that in Palestinian/Arab Israeli/Bedouin eyes, encroachment on land they consider rightly or wrongly to be Arab land is in itself an act of violence. It begets violence and is met with violence. Israelis dealing with Arab violence in the West Bank and the Negev--and it must be dealt with--have to educate themselves as to where this is coming from.

Here it bears note that, for most of the settlers and many other Israelis, the land of the West Bank--Judea and Samaria--is by biblical definition “Jewish”. Why is anyone surprised when some settlers treat Palestinians and Israelis harvesting olives on Palestinian-owned land (for centuries) as trespassers?

Yes, when it comes to domestic violence, honor killings and gangland-style violence, Palestinian society may be deemed violent. Israeli society--IDF occupiers, ‘hill youth’ settlers--is violent too. Look at Tantura, where an Israeli massacre was part of a bloody and massacre-filled war between Jews and Arabs more than 70 years ago. This didn’t start yesterday . . .

Bottom, bottom line. In conclusion, as I write this, I have to pinch myself to remember that, perhaps surprisingly, most of us Jews and Arabs are not violent people.