When Baruch Marzel’s son and his three friends walk the streets of Tel Rumeida, Hebron, armed with sticks and looking to pick a fight, it is considered provocative to film them with a video camera, as soldiers tried to explain to Human Rights Workers after two of them were physically attacked by the quartet. The soldier commented, “It wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t filmed them.” How provoked should Palestinians feel, who daily face threats from armed settlers on their way home from work?
Baruch Marzel, a.k.a “Mr. Hebron,” is a fanatic fundamentalist leader of a recently formed Israeli religious right-wing political party, “Hazit,” and is currently running for the Knesset. Hazit’s website declares that “expelling the enemy [the Arabs] is moral. The Torah of Israel is the primary source of human morality, and according to one of its mitzvahs, Israel must conquer and liberate the Land [Israel and the occupied territories].” Hazit leaves no doubt regarding their stand on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and their divine right to other people’s land. Baruch Marzel himself lives in the Tel Rumeida settlement in Hebron, on stolen Palestinian land. He is one of the ideological leaders and most prominent figures in his extremist settler community.
When Palestinian children walk to school in Tel Rumeida, settler children often throw stones at them. The residents of Beit Hadassah settlement, opposite the school, are provoked when they see Arabs pass outside their windows. How provoked should Palestinian children feel when they get stones thrown at them on their way to school?
The notion of provocation implies a certain normality. It also implies a stability or a status quo, that can be violated. In the violation lies the provocation. The settlers of Hebron have managed to distort this normality, and forced all others involved to accept their irrationality and their violence as something of the ordinary.
Having international Human Rights Workers (HRW’s) living in Tel Rumeida, documenting the inability and unwillingness of Israeli Authorities to deal with the violent acts of settlers, is considered provocative by the Kiriat Arba Police and the Israeli Defense Forces. This is why they falsely accuse the HRW’s of assault, intimidate and harass them and their Palestinian neighbors, raid their apartment, and deport them. How provoked should an HRW feel when he or she gets deported, guilty of using a video camera, a pen, and his or her own body as a human shield to support Palestinians in Tel Rumeida?
The Kiriat Arba Police and the Israeli Defense Forces have not only adopted the tilted reality promoted by the settlers, and are acting within its boundaries – they have also contributed to its creation, and are contributing to uphold it.
When a large group of settler visitors, some wearing ski-masks to cover their faces, rampage through the streets of Tel Rumeida throwing paint-bombs and stones, and hitting whoever gets in their way, it is considered provocative to be in their way. Police explain to HRW’s who tried to protect the Palestinian residents in the area that they shouldn’t be on the streets; that their presence was what agitated the settlers and could have caused further riots. How provoked should Palestinian men and women feel when they are attacked by settler mobs in the middle of the street they live on?
In this distorted reality of the Hebron settlers, a violent act in itself is not a problem, but the excuse the violator uses to explain the attack, however racist, crazy or extreme this excuse may be. Applying the same logic in other situations would result in, for example, accusing a rape victim of dressing too sexy, or a school kid of talking too much before he is hit in the face by a teacher.
A few days after a Palestinian family moved into a house adjacent to the Tel Rumeida settlement, they had their windows smashed by a mob of settlers, who were clearly provoked by the presence of their new neighbors. The family turned off the lights, locked their door and pretended not to be home, while the settlers screamed insults at them from the outside. “It’s like living in a prison,” said the mother in the family after the attack. How provoked should she feel for not daring to let her child play outside anymore?
The mere existence of Palestinians in Hebron is a provocation and a reasonable excuse to act violently against them, according to Baruch Marzel and his like. In a worst case scenario, this provocation could cause settlers to attack and even kill the Palestinians. How provoked should a Palestinian feel by living in a sealed-off area, passing through a checkpoint twice a day, having his ID checked at will by any soldier at any time, not being able to use a car or open shops in the neighborhood due to military orders, being ignored by the police after being attacked by settlers and knowing that their next door neighbor constantly conspires to take over his or her house?
Like spoilt children, the Hebron settlers are not accountable for their violent acts. In the racist framework that they have created, attacking a person is not something provocative, provided that the person attacked is of a certain ethnic origin. When will Baruch Marzel and his violent friends start to be treated as the accountable and responsible adults that they are?