The Ugly Face of Occupation | Yael Kenan

YouTube Preview Image

Most Israelis will never read about what happened in Anatot, a settlement in north Jerusalem. The news editors prefer not to ruin the holiday editions with problematic articles, and if one such article somehow manages to  make its way into the news, it is a version given by the police and never checked, and therefore distorted at best and a lie at worst.

But every Israeli should know what happened there on Friday night, every Israeli who cares about this place, who wants and believes in a life here– needs to know. On Friday morning, the second day of Rosh Hashana, several peace activists arrived at the Arab village of Anata, on whose lands the Settlement of Anatot has been built, and met with a Palestinian, whose privately-owned land is being threatened by settlers. Towards the end of their meeting, several settlers, armed with clubs and sticks, arrived at the scene and attacked them. The police stood by and did nothing to prevent this violence. Three people were evacuated for medical treatment, including the Palestinian landowner whose head was beaten against the ground, and some of the activists were arrested. None of the violent attackers were arrested.

Hours later, several activists in Jerusalem left-wing groups decided to go to the place again and protest the violent events which took place earlier. We stood at the gate of the settlement and were not allowed to enter. A few minutes later more and more residents of the settlement gathered on the other side of the fence; some of them had taken part in the attacks earlier that day. After some heated discussion they began to go outside the gate and push us in order to clear the access road. “You’re ruining our holiday,”’ they said to us in mock innocence, while hitting us. Teenagers and adults pushed us, waving fists and striking us, while throwing others onto the tarmac. Some of the demonstrators moved away from the access road so as not to get hurt, and the settlers ran to them and attacked them as well, even though they just stood quietly by, pushing them to the ground and knocking them down. The abuse and obscenities hurled at us cannot bear to be printed. They were truly horrific: personal, racist and sexist obscenities. All this time, the police and the border patrol who were there stood by and did nothing. At some point more police arrived, and they started to push us away from the settlement, while calling on our attackers to get back to the settlement. Despite this, the settlers did not turn back, and continued to chase us while chanting threats and hitting us. I witnessed at least two instances where settlers picked up rocks and threw them at us. After we fled, ran away really, we discovered that one of the demonstrators had stayed behind, by the cars, and was attacked and wounded by the settlers. The cars by the fence were a convenient target for the settlers’ rage: their windows were smashed, their tires slashed, and a Star of David was etched on at least one car. Three demonstrators were taken to the emergency room, and about ten more needed medical attention.

In my eyes, the events in Anatot are a symbol of the occupation, a microcosm of all that takes place here. Wrongs are committed daily and far from the public eye. The scale is small: one man’s land, a family’s land, is threatened. Whoever tries to alert others is brutally expelled and labeled a traitor. The police does nothing and the media does not report or raise alarm. This a classic structure of silencing, an efficient and well-oiled system which enables the continuation of the  dispossession and the violence towards the Palestinians, the original and fundamental injustice which must not be forgotten.

The settlers who acted so violently against the leftist demonstrators are not the only ones to blame for the situation. It would be a mistake to think so. They are a product of 44 years of occupation and oppression of another peoples. They are the direct result of a violent and governmental policy, which justifies and permits them, and labels all who disagree “traitors.” The residents of Anatot who left their houses and attacked us truly believe that we are traitors, and the Knesset justifies their actions when it sets racist laws and orders anti-democratic committees. As far as the residents of Anatot are concerned, we came and harassed them, and they are the victims of this story. That’s the most frightening thing. Their self-conviction is deep and thorough. And it allows them to stay where they are and justifies the use of violence. They see themselves as lords of the land, they make the rules and so they can do whatever they want. The police justifies their actions by not acting against them, and the government’s policies give them full support. We became fair game, and more so the Palestinians, who are not even regarded as human beings. The contempt and scorn with which they labeled us “lefties,” “pacifists,” and “Nazis” (and these are the more moderate names we were called) – as though these words are interchangeable – point to this. We are wrong and they are just defending themselves, so they can wave fists, pull hair and push onto the road. In the same vein, they can uproot trees, take over lands and don’t need to even regard the other. The other is just a temporary factor in the equation, an obstacle to be removed without compunction, like a tree on the road. This is the ugly face of the occupation; this is the society in which we live.

I write these words with great anguish, and with real fear for this place. A fear of a fissure which may not be mendable, a fear of the division into “us” and “them”, fear of the hatred and the violence. One of the settlers who came out of the settlement to hit us went to primary and high school with me, we were in the same class. I don’t think he recognized me, but I certainly recognized him. I really want to think that he was trying to calm things down and did not take any part of the violence, but this is probably a naïve, juvenile thought. I have another vain hope: If I could only put up a screen and upon it show them the events of that evening, they could see how they behaved; if they could see how they acted, they would be ashamed. The women who hurled obscenities at me would be ashamed, the boys who threw stones would be ashamed, and the grown men who pushed and swore, they would all be ashamed if they saw themselves. I guess I’m wrong, that they went back home victoriously, feeling proud of themselves, , and continued to celebrate the holiday and the Sabbath peacefully. However, I hope that some of them will dare to look at themselves with open eyes and will feel shocked at what they did, at the violence of which they were part. These are not the lunatic fringe – this is the result of a long standing, deliberate policy, and this is the contemporary face of Israeli society. So even if those who took part in the frightening events in Anatot will not wake up and see what they have done, we need to understand where we are living and what violent winds are blowing into every corner of society. These are anti-democratic, racist, extremist and  violent winds. Everyone who wishes to live here in a just society must – must! – open their eyes and see reality for what it is. This is where we are living now, and we must take responsibility for it. We cannot talk in earnest of a just society if we do not open our eyes and see what is happening here, close to home, in the house across the street, with the boy who went to school with us.


The Anatot mob attacks: a watershed moment for Israeli democracy
Incidents in Anatot, September 30, 2011: updates, videos, and call to action!
The Settlement of Anatot – Background to Last Week’s Mob Attack | By Dror Etkes
Israel police turned a blind eye to a lynching | Eyal Raz
Where Solidarity Ends | Sara Benninga
Trying to make sense | Tali Harkavi
Policeman identified among settlers who attacked activists
23 Israelis and Palestinians injured in settler attack outside Jerusalem