Why the Huwwara pogrom was inevitable

Part of the aftermath of a “state-sanctioned” settler rampage in the West Bank village of Huwwara, 27 February.

Ilia Yefimovich DPA

In early January, as Israel was forming its most openly extreme right-wing government yet, Nadav Tamir, a former Israeli diplomat and current lobby group director, gave a prescient warning.

Tamir said that Zvika Fogel, a previously little-known figure who now chairs the Israeli parliament’s National Security Committee, openly “articulates the venomous truth” of Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power party, a key player in Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.

Where Ben-Gvir might wish to mask his extremist aims in the language of moderation, Fogel “has been proudly saying the quiet part out loud, and he is worth listening to,” Tamir said.

Fogel played that role on Monday, praising the “deterrent” effect after hundreds of settlers attacked Palestinian communities in the northern West Bank, setting fire to Palestinian homes and vehicles.

A 37-year-old Palestinian was killed during the hours-long rampage, organized by settlers after two Israeli brothers were shot dead in Huwwara, the epicenter of the vigilante mob’s violent rage.

While Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir made a show of calling on Israelis to refrain from taking the law into their own hands, Fogel embarked on a media campaign articulating his approval of the rampage.

“A closed, burnt Huwwara – that’s what I want to see,” Fogel said.

“That’s the only way to achieve deterrence. After a murder like yesterday’s, we need burning villages when the [Israeli military] doesn’t act,” he elaborated.

Fogel later walked back his comments and contradicted himself by saying, “I said the state is the one that should act to deter the terrorists, definitely not civilians.”

But by then, his party’s followers and the adherents of the supremacist ideology that it represents had already received the message, loud and clear.

“State-sanctioned violence”

Even if asking vigilantes “not to take the law into their hands” was the Netanyahu government’s line on Monday, it is belied by everything the ruling coalition has said and done until now.

Breaking the Silence, a group of whistle-blowing Israeli veterans, said on Monday that “the Huwwara Pogrom was state-sanctioned violence.”

Represented at the highest levels of the government, “settlers rampaged with impunity because they know they have the state on their side,” Breaking the Silence added.

And that includes Israel’s military, whose primary function in the occupied West Bank is to protect settlers living in Jewish-only colonies built in violation of international law.
B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, pointed to the “synergy” of cooperation: “the settlers carry out the attack, the military secures it, the politicians back it.”
Rejecting talking points suggesting that the Israeli government had lost control, B’Tselem said that “this is exactly what Israeli control looks like,” adding that “the Huwwara Pogrom was an extreme manifestation of a longstanding Israeli policy.”

Hebron precedent

For another bleak example of this policy, look to the West Bank city of Hebron.

One day and 29 years before the settler pogrom in Huwwara, Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler from the US, opened fire in the Ibrahimi mosque, massacring 29 Palestinian men and boys.

Goldstein was a follower of the genocidal rabbi Meir Kahane. Ben-Gvir, Israel’s minister of national security, is a “self-described disciple” of Kahane, as The Times of Israel put it, and looks up to Goldstein as a hero.

In the wake of Goldstein’s massacre, Israel escalated its repressive measures against Palestinians and partitioned the Ibrahimi mosque in favor of the settlers – a precedent that Israel may try to repeat at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque.

Settlers have since seized Palestinian properties in Hebron’s Old City, leaving its former commercial heart a shuttered ghost town.

On Monday, the parallel with Hebron was not lost on observers after the Israeli military shut down Palestinian shops in Huwwara.

Far from Israel disliking settler violence, it is a necessary means for achieving the state’s aim of emptying Palestine of its indigenous population so they may be replaced by foreign settlers.

Settler violence, including the massacres around the time of Israel’s founding in 1948, has been essential to the formation and maintenance of a Jewish state in Palestine.

Ben-Gvir’s “war”

On Monday, Ben-Gvir nodded toward this continuity of violence, which he described as an existential necessity for the Zionist project in Palestine: “This is not a war that began yesterday, not a war that’s going to end in one day, but it’s a war for our home, for our lives.”

Ben-Gvir was speaking to settlers at Evyatar, an outpost not sanctioned by the Israeli government.

Settlers established Evyatar on land belonging to the Palestinian communities of Beita, Qabalan and Yatma on Jabal Subeih near the northern West Bank city of Nablus in May 2021. Since then, several Palestinians have been killed during or in close proximity to protests against the settlement.

Netanyahu’s government plans to legalize Evyatar, which was co-founded by Zvi Sukkot, a far-right extremist from the notorious Yitzhar settlement who is also a lawmaker in Israel’s current government, taking Smotrich’s vacated seat.

Settlers from Yitzhar, which is located next to Huwwara and built partially on the village’s land, are notorious for attacking nearby Palestinian communities, with guards from Yitzhar even giving orders to Israeli soldiers during those attacks.

Opposition leader Benny Gantz said on Monday that he stood by the compromise that his government made to “legalize” Evyatar.

Gantz and fellow opposition leader Yair Lapid have been highly critical of the far-right government, saying that it has “lost control” and is leading Israel into a “security disaster.”

But criticism aside, Gantz and Lapid share the same vision of a Jewish supremacist state in Palestine, albeit one with a veneer of liberal democracy rather than the theocratic flair of Ben-Gvir and Smotrich.

The flames that engulfed Huwwara on Sunday are the logical conclusion of Israel’s supremacist ideology.

The state is today led by Zionism’s most extreme adherents, who, in the words of Palestinian commentator Muhammad Shehada, “won’t rest until all of the land is in flames.”



Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.