New Israeli President, darling of liberal Zionists, says violent religious settlement is in ‘my DNA’

Jonathan Ofir

Mondoweiss  /  September 2, 2021

Israeli President Isaac Herzog toured the Har Bracha settlement outpost, which regularly terrorizes Palestinians, and declared the Jewish people’s connection to that land cannot be “denied or diminished.”

The new Israeli President Isaac Herzog, a former Labor leader, toured settlements in the northern West Bank on Tuesday and said:

“The Har Bracha settlement is in my DNA as an Israeli and as a Jew.”

Herzog was hosted by settler leader Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council, and visited schools ahead of the opening of the school year.

All settlements in occupied Palestinian territory are illegal by international law, but some are considerably more religious-fundamentalist and violent than others. Har Bracha is certainly one of those places.

Har Bracha is located just one kilometer south of Nablus, and less than a kilometer northeast of the Palestinian town of Burin. Together with Yitzhar, another settlement just a kilometer south of Burin, the two Jewish settlements have regularly been terrorizing the Palestinian village. Both Har Bracha and Yitzhar were erected upon lands confiscated by Israel from Burin and nearby villages.

Yitzhar, like Har Bracha, is known for its fundamentalist Jewish Yeshiva. The Yeshiva’s rabbis authored the “King’s Torah” in 2009, a book that advocated the killing of babies and children of “Israel’s enemies” with the justification, “it is clear that they will grow to harm us.”

If one searches the prominent Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem’s database on “State backed settler violence” and isolates “Burin”, a long list of events is provided. Burin has been “suffering from repeated attacks by settlers for years,” B’Tselem says, most of them involving Har Bracha and Yitzhar settlers who neighbor the village. Events like these:

“On 23 January 2021, some 10 settlers, including the security coordinator of Har Bracha, and about five soldiers, arrived at the outskirts of the northeastern neighborhood of Burin. The settlers began stoning a house under construction, about a kilometer away from the settlement outpost of Sneh Ya’akov (Givat Ronen). At the time, the owner, Ibrahim ‘Eid (43), and several workers were at the house. Several villagers gathered at the scene and defended the home from the settlers….

This was the third attack on ‘Eid’s home by settlers since June 2020: On 18 June 2020, settlers threw stones at the home, breaking its water pipes and torching olive and almond groves in its vicinity. Soldiers who came to the area hurled tear gas canisters and fired rubber-coated metal bullets at residents who had gathered to defend the property. On 9 October 2020, settlers stoned the neighborhood’s homes. A short while later, the security coordinator of Har Bracha stopped a village resident passing by, smashed his car window, fired two shots in the air, grabbed him and handed him over to the soldiers, who detained him for three days for no reason. On 10 October 2020, settlers threw stones at the home, breaking several of its windows. This time, too, soldiers arrived and hurled tear gas canisters at the residents…”

So you get the picture. This is the seat of the most violent settlers in the West Bank. And Herzog is a liberal Zionist darling: a regular speaker at J Street, the liberal Israel lobby, which welcomed him as president.

Har Bracha is also a rather isolated settlement. It is very far from what are called the “settlement blocs” near the old Green Line, the armistice line of 1949.

The Israeli left– prominently including Herzog– used to make the distinction between the “settlement blocs” and the isolated outposts, to mark the “blocs” as being more inside an Israeli consensus on borders in the event of a two-state solution. That is to say, the blocs were presumed to be annexed to Israel in any event, while the isolated settlements would need to be evacuated.

Herzog himself made that distinction when he bemoaned UN Security Council resolution 2334 of 2016, which deemed all settlements “flagrant violations” of international law (the one that President Obama allowed to pass in the last few weeks of his presidency). Herzog complained that the resolution did damage to the “settlement blocs”. He said “I definitely don’t intend to initiate or enable construction outside the blocs”.

But now, as President, Herzog is cutting through that distinction:

“I want to put aside for a moment the political debates regarding a final status arrangement with our Palestinian neighbors to speak of a simple truth – the Jewish people’s deep connection [to] this space [Judea and Samaria], which cannot be denied or diminished.”

This is supposedly apolitical. Herzog is having a religious epiphany:

“Every visit to Samaria is a dive into the depths of our history. Past and present are conflated together here between the mountains.”

But unlike Herzog, I want to put aside the religious schmaltz, and look at the political picture here.

It’s hardly a secret that the settlements are a consensus in Israel, pretty much across the political spectrum. The hysterical response to the recent decision by Ben & Jerry’s to stop doing business in the settlements has also made that clear.

Liberal Zionists are part of this consensus. Liberal Zionist hero Ehud Barak wrote a few years ago that the left needs to get more credit for its part in ‘liberating all of Samaria’ and for the “settlement enterprise” which he is “proud” of, and which is “essential to our security”.

And now, the prince of liberal Zionism, Isaac Herzog, has confirmed not only that the ‘settlement blocs’ with their economically-motivated settlers are in his heart, but also that the most religiously fundamentalist, violent and isolated settlements are in his “DNA”.

That’s some statement to make. Go and make a “two-state solution” out of that one.

Jonathan Ofir is an musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark