Mondoweiss / March 3, 2023
Smotrich’s genocidal pronouncements take inspiration from a long history that belongs to the left as much as it does to the right, beginning with the Labor Zionism of David Ben Gurion.
Israeli far-right minister Bezalel Smotrich shocked the world yesterday when he doubled down on his support for “wiping out” the Palestinian village of Huwwara. He qualified his statement by saying that the state, rather than its citizens, should carry out such genocidal policies.
VIDEO INTERVIEW : Palestine Responds op Twitter: “Israel’s extreme-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich: “The Palestinian village of Huwwara should be wiped out. The state needs to do it and not private citizens [Israeli colonizers].” https://t.co/Y3ToprkDFD” / Twitter
This was particularly shocking because it came on the heels of a pogrom conducted by Jewish settlers in Huwwara and its surrounding area, the likes of which we haven’t seen for quite some time.
On the day of the pogrom (Sunday, February 26), Smotrich “liked” a tweet saying that the village of Huwwara “should be erased today” and that the town should be shown “no mercy” following the killing of two settler brothers by a suspected Palestinian gunman.
The original tweet was by Davidi Ben Zion, the deputy head of the Samaria Regional Council, a settler council governing the northern West Bank. Ben Zion later erased the tweet, saying that he had written it in the “heat of the moment.”
Smotrich, however, was not quite so repentant. When asked about why he had liked the incendiary tweet in an economic conference on Wednesday, Smotrich reiterated his belief that Huwwara truly should be wiped out.
Smotrich holds sway over two ministries — the first is the Finance Ministry, for which he is directly responsible given his role as Finance Minister, and the other is a new position in the Defense Ministry, essentially making him the governor of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and most crucially making him responsible for settlement in the West Bank.
That was not the only kind of advocacy that Smotrich promoted. Also on Sunday, he promoted a twitter thread by Adam Gold justifying collective punishment, which starts like this:
“Let’s start with the obvious: collective punishment of the family and surroundings of the terrorist is an effective and necessary tool in a-symmetric warfare. Hermetic prevention of terror attacks is not possible, and in a skewed world where a Palestinian terrorist enjoys support, financing, ideological backing and societal promotion – alteration of the setup of terrorist incentive is critical for the saving of civilian lives. Pure and simple.”
The thread continues with the qualification that the state should be the one to enforce such collective punishment — the same qualification Smotrich insists on in his interview Wednesday. However, the basic illegality of collective punishment, not to mention its moral bankruptcy, is not given a second thought.
It is worth pointing out here that it remains unclear who carried out the shooting at Huwwara, and neither are the motives underlying the attack. Moreover, we aren’t even sure if the attacker is even from Huwwara — not that the person’s residence should matter, but it does reveal the careless generalizations and knee-jerk approach with which Smotrich rushes to call for genocidal collective punishment.
By now it might seem easy to dismiss Smotrich as a far-right extremist and assert that he does not represent another, more tolerant Israel. The reality, however, is that Israel has a long and sordid history of such advocacy, from both the left and the right.
History of collective punishment in the Israeli mainstream
The strategy of “wiping out” Palestinian neighborhoods, towns, and villages was the essence of the Nakba of 1948, and that was largely led by the Labor Zionism of David Ben Gurion. Ever since, many in Israeli politics, from the left and the right, have tried to live up to Ben Gurion’s reputation
In 1955, then Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, an avowed Laborite, said:
“The only method that proved effective, not justified or moral, but effective, was when Arabs plant mines on our side…if we try to search for the Arab [who planted the mines], it has no value. But if we harass the nearby village… then the population there comes out against the [infiltrators]… the method of collective punishment so far has proved effective.”
In 2008, Gadi Eisenkot, then army head of Northern Command, coined the “Dahiya doctrine,” named after the leveling of a neighborhood in Beirut where many families of Hezbollah members are said to live, where he said:
“In the future, if necessary, we will carry out preemptive strikes to protect the citizens of Israel, its sovereignty and infrastructure. This holds true to every front, from Tehran to Khan Yunis … In every village from which they will fire at Israel, we will use disproportionate force and inflict enormous damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.”
Eisenkot is a centrist lawmaker who has joined the right-center “National Unity” party of Benny Gantz and Gideon Sa’ar (with Eisenkot himself as number 3 in the list).
In February 2008, the centrist Minister of Interior Meir Sheetrit called in a government meeting for “wiping out a neighborhood” in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire originating from there:
“Any country I know would enter forcefully into such an area and destroy it. The IDF needs to determine, to take a neighborhood in Gaza and wipe it out.”
When Benny Gantz entered politics in 2019, he literally boasted of realizing a vision just like Sheetrit’s, with drone videos featuring pulverized neighborhoods in Gaza (which he bombed in 2014 as army Chief of Staff). In fact, Gantz boasted of returning Gaza “to the stone age.”
In 2011, Danny Danon, Israel’s former UN Ambassador, wrote on Facebook that “for every missile that falls in our southern towns, we retaliate by deleting a neighborhood in Gaza.” Danon was the Israeli parliament’s co-speaker at the time, and he is a prominent Likud lawmaker who has served in multiple ministerial positions.
Israelis and everyone else are right to be shocked by the explicit genocidal nature of Smotrich’s words. But the righteous, liberal, and indignant Israelis should take a good look in the mirror, to see how much of Smotrich’s fascistic vein lives in them. Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, my emphasis
Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark