How not to show solidarity with the families of Huwara

Orly Noy

+972 Magazine  /  March 3, 2023

Thousands donated to a crowdfunder set up by an Israeli politician. But its militaristic framing and implementation are likely to do more harm than good.

It took less than 48 hours for Yair “Yaya” Fink, a Knesset member from the Labor Party, to raise over NIS 1.5 million for the victims of the settler pogrom in Huwara earlier this week. Fink, a religious Jew who has been active for years in various political initiatives, faced torrents of vicious criticism from the Israeli right upon announcing his crowdfunding campaign for the Palestinians whose property was destroyed in the settlers’ rampage on Sunday. But on Tuesday, it became far more difficult to defend Fink’s initiative. 

Yael Shevah, a settler from Havat Gilad — one of the most violent settlements in Huwara’s vicinity — asked Fink on Twitter how he planned to distribute the money. Fink replied: “There are two former senior members of the Shin Bet and the Civil Administration who are mapping out whose homes/family was burned down, making sure they have no security background, and then we will take the bank account number and the money will be transferred to them.”

The average reader may think that in the given circumstances, any money that can be sent to the families of Huwara would be a step toward rebuilding their lives. But Fink’s initiative is not only morally problematic, it is also downright dangerous.

Fink’s crowdfunding site is militant to the core. It mentions that he is a religious Zionist who last year spent 50 days in the Israeli army’s reserves in order “to protect Israelis from terrorists.” He urges his potential donors to “allow the security forces to do the job they know how to do well,” and calls his initiative “Our Civilian Reserves.” In doing so, Fink not only whitewashes the involvement of the army in the crimes committed in the West Bank — including the pogrom in Huwara where, according to many testimonies, the soldiers did not lift a finger to stop the rioters — he also sterilizes the incident of any political dimensions, rendering it a purely humanitarian event.

This needs to be said outright: the pogrom in Huwara is first and foremost a political crime committed under the auspices of the rioters’ political patrons, who now sit in the government. But it is also a crime committed in collaboration with the army, Israel’s executive arm in the occupied territories. The Israeli public cannot cleanse its conscience through humanitarian contributions to its victims while continuing to worship the body that either enables or carries out these crimes.

That former Shin Bet personnel are being used to distribute the funds renders Fink’s fundraising project fundamentally immoral. Anyone who is even slightly familiar with the depth of the Shin Bet’s control over every aspect of Palestinian life in the West Bank should be horrified not only by its involvement, but from the fact that the project relies on it “for the benefit of the residents.” 

The Shin Bet regularly provides intelligence on the “danger” Palestinians pose in order to deny them freedom of movement and allow the military to carry out administrative arrests without any oversight. Thus, for example, family members of Palestinians who took part in the struggle against the occupation, and sometimes even family members of Palestinians who were killed by occupation forces, are put on Shin Bet blacklists, simply because the organization decided that they have a “motivation for revenge” and should thus be denied basic freedoms.

There are also Palestinians who, by virtue of extortion by the Shin Bet, are granted freedom of movement and access to medical treatment in exchange for their collaboration with the occupation. And this is precisely why Fink’s project poses a real, material danger to Palestinians: it marks them as beneficiaries of donations collected by the Shin Bet and turns them into collaborators. This poses a far greater danger to the lives of any Palestinians who may benefit from these funds. 

The shock that the pogrom caused among such a large public and the willingness to mobilize to help its victims is important. But the pogrom in Huwara is not an earthquake. It is a nationalist crime with a clear political agenda, and no assistance to its victims can erase that. Certainly, it must not indirectly strengthen the forces that maintain and feed on this reality.

Orly Noy is an editor at Local Call, a political activist, and a translator of Farsi poetry and prose; she is the chair of B’Tselem’s executive board and an activist with the Balad political party