The last thing you would expect of someone implicated in the killing of a young and innocent fellow human being is for him to have a constant grin on his face as he is brought into court for a hearing to decide whether his detention will be extended while police carry out further investigations.
But this is exactly what happened with Elisha Yered, a Jewish settler in the occupied West Bank who is implicated in the killing of 19-year-old Qosai Jammal Mi’tan during clashes between settlers and residents of the West Bank village of Burqa.
I must say that beyond the terrible loss of another young Palestinian life, once again at the hands of a group of settlers who have become a law unto themselves in the occupied West Bank, it was Yered’s wide grin that said even more about this growing group of Jewish supremacists, who represent the most repulsive side of the already ugly Israeli oppression of millions of Palestinians.
Most people suspected of involvement in a killing, possibly a murder, tend to look somewhat reticent or worried about what will happen to them next. They might even show regret about being in a situation in which another person has lost their life, regardless of their own level of culpability. Some might even show some degree of remorse.
That might all sound almost too obvious — but wait a moment, because none of it applies when one belongs to this particular group of settlers, who are arrogant beyond comprehension, defined by their racism, and who believe that this part of the world belongs to them and them alone.
In their distorted versions of Judaism and Zionism, they believe Palestinians deserve no rights and probably should not be there at all. These settlers are also condescending to any Israelis who disagree with them, bluntly dismissing them as “traitors.”
The “settler grin,” which demonstrates a complete lack of sympathy or empathy for the suffering of other human beings, especially those who do not belong to their own ethnic or religious group, is also the smirk of someone who thinks that the Almighty is on his side and knows that his country, including its government and security forces, is entirely in the hands of himself and his fellow thugs.
While I would hasten to question whether any merciful divinity could possibly be on the side of these hoodlums, I sadly have to agree with them that most of their fellow Israelis either support them or pay no attention to their actions.
Even those who are appalled by them will not put the issue very high on their agenda, nor are they sufficiently bothered to protest against the daily acts of brutality by settlers against their Palestinian neighbors, despite vigorously campaigning to save their own precious democracy.
You are probably unfamiliar with the names Elisha Yered, the one with the intolerable grin, and Yehiel Indore, but police suspect them of causing the death of Mi’tan, either on purpose or by negligence, a crime equivalent to murder without aggravating circumstances, as well as obstruction of justice. Several Palestinians were also arrested, suspected of assault and stone throwing during the clashes in which Indore was badly injured.
But you should ask yourselves what a group of religious settlers was doing on a Friday evening, close to the start of Shabat, when they left their illegal outpost of Oz Zion armed, according to some accounts, with pistols and an M16 rifle, and headed for the fields of Burqa, if not to provoke a confrontation.
They knew full well that the Palestinians there were not armed and that should Israeli security forces intervene, they would do so on behalf of the settler perpetrators of this incident, not to protect the victims, whose lives were in danger while their property was being damaged.
The international community must get off the fence and ensure there is accountability for those responsible for terrorizing innocent civilians.
The flagrancy and frequency of attacks such as this has led senior Israel Defense Forces commanders and Shin Bet security agency chief Ronen Bar to warn the public, and in this case also Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that settler terrorism is further fueling Palestinian terrorism. In other words, settler violence has become a security threat to Israelis, too.
But instead of supporting his security chiefs, Netanyahu preferred not to upset his ultra-right-wing coalition colleagues and remained silent. Meanwhile some members of his coalition embarked on a vitriolic attack against the security officials in the media, especially social media, accusing them of compromising Israel’s security, knowing very well that as public servants they cannot respond to such accusations, at least not in public.
Leading the pack was the ultra-nationalist religious fanatic and eight-times convict, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who described the provocateurs under police investigation as “heroes” who were defending themselves “from murder by Palestinians,” and therefore had his full backing. This government’s chutzpah knows no limits. It is simply mind-blowing.
It is time for those in Israel who still believe in peaceful coexistence and reconciliation with their Palestinian neighbors to remind Ben-Gvir, himself a settler, that even under Israeli law the so-called “Hilltop Youth” settler group has stolen Palestinian land while terrorizing Palestinians. It is about time that we stopped referring to their abhorrent activities as “settler violence” and instead call it out for what it is — terrorism, pure and simple.
The US State Department defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” It also describes it as an activity that “involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, property, or infrastructure; and (one that) appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” Can anyone dispute the fact that the actions of these particular settlers fall squarely under this definition?
This year we witnessed settlers descending first on the town of Hawara and then Turmus Aya, and committing what were nothing short of pogroms, acts of collective punishment inflicted on innocent Palestinians. And these are only two extreme examples of the hundreds of attacks on Palestinians this year alone. Politically motivated settler terrorism is not new, it has been going on for decades, but it has increased in its brazenness, intensity and magnitude, and more recently it has been happening with the explicit support of members of the Cabinet.
It is the responsibility of Israel’s government and security forces to eradicate this contemptible behavior. It is for the courageous protesters who campaign for democracy to add this to their list of causes. And it is for the international community to get off the fence and ensure there is accountability for those who are responsible when innocent civilians are targeted by squads of terrorists, whether it is the culprits themselves or the authorities who permit it to happen — or worse, encourage it.