Fight for Justice Continues Against Violent Settlers


By Leonard Fein

Published October 06, 2011, issue of October 14, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Two of my young Israeli friends, key activists in Solidarity, the folks who for nearly two years have demonstrated every Friday afternoon at Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem where Israeli Jews have been buying up Palestinian property and claiming that the neighborhood is legally Jewish, were assaulted September 30. My friends, graduate students, were assaulted by Jewish settlers in a village near Jerusalem, a 20-minute drive from the center of the city, an hour’s walk from the Old City, in Anatot, once the home of Jeremiah the prophet.

Assaf Sharon’s nose was broken, and his body bruised; Sara Beninga’s tongue was bloodied.

Here, in brief, is what happened, as far as I understand: An Israeli Arab, Yassin al-Rifa’i, owns some land in Anatot and decided to plant trees there. Knowing he might be intercepted by some of Anatot’s 800 residents, he asked the folks of Ta’ayush, a determinedly nonviolent association of Jewish and Palestinians Israelis, to escort him. They all arrived at noontime that Friday, the second day of Rosh Hashanah (which is, in fact, celebrated for two days even in Israel), and were set upon by settlers who denounced them as traitors and whores, then physically assaulted them, eventually driving them away. That evening, the folks from Solidarity, having learned of what had happened, came to Anatot, some 50 of them now confronting about 200 enraged settlers.

Through both episodes, the police were passive bystanders, perhaps because reports that many of the settlers are themselves policemen are accurate.

The bodily wounds and bruises will heal. I am less confident of the rest — heart, soul, mind. Sara, who is studying art history, writes that until now, “fascism” was an abstraction, a word to be used with a wink, an agreeable and acceptable exaggeration. But now, not wanting to believe what in fact happened, she is shocked and hurt by the fact “that I can’t express the feeling of abandonment I experienced, and the awe that untangled me on the brink of an abyss threatening to swallow me up.” She fears that her belief in law and justice may be naive, an illusion. Fascism is no longer an abstraction.

And Assaf? His words haunt me. “Physically, I’m not too bad — broken nose, black eye and some colorful bruises back and front. Spiritually — well, that’s a different story. As someone who is not new to settler violence, I can tell you this was something else. The fact that this is what we have become and the ignorant indifference with which our stories are met break my heart. Have we lost the fight?”

Have we lost the fight? I do not know; no one does. No one can. The one thing I know for an absolute certainty is that if Assaf, and Sara, too, decides that the fight is lost, then it is lost. If they and their friends become convinced that it is futile to resist the hooligans, the vandals, then the fight is over.

So I reply to Assaf’s letter, fully aware that I sit in my version of comfort here in Boston, thousands of miles from what has become the battleground for the soul of the Jewish people, likely for its body, too, and I tell him that a sober analysis does not support sunny days ahead; that he knows, as do I, that the ship of the Israeli state and, for that matter, of its people lists rightward; that he knows, as do I, that things that were unthinkable 20 years ago and unspeakable 10 years ago are now part of daily discourse, are now proposed as legislation by Knesset members; that survey after survey shows a coarsening of attitudes regarding Palestinians, whether Israelis or not. But there’s an ethical imperative to take into urgent account: We are forbidden from changing the odds for justice and decency. Even if those odds be 99 to 1 in favor of chaos and cruelty, we cannot drop out lest the odds shift, become more menacing still.

There are days I am weary of the battle, when I wonder what it is that keeps me here, writing, thinking, speaking out, and such thoughts come and go in a flash because I know the answer. It is Assaf and Sara and their colleague Hillel ben Sasson and Dafni Leef, she whose bold action launched the summer of the tents and the protests in Israel; and David Shulman of Ta’ayush, the specialist in Sanskrit poetry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who shows up and puts his body on the line to make it clear that fascism, no matter how ascendant, has not won; and Hagit Ofran, Peace Now’s expert on Jewish settlement in the West Bank, who was herself recently threatened by the huns, and so many (though not enough) others.

There is no other choice, whether or not our noses are broken along the way.

Contact Leonard Fein at

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here:
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.