World renowned Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who has won numerous prizes for her courageous reporting on Israel’s occupation of Palestine, is currently under attack. On April 4, two Israeli organisations requested that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein launch an official investigation against Hass, accusing her of fomenting violence and terrorism in her article “The Inner Syntax of Palestinian Stone-Throwing“, which had been published in Haaretz the day before.
Hass’ critical voice is well-known. During her many years of reporting, she has covered the daily experiences and dynamics in and from Palestine. She has never concealed her desire to contribute to the debate on the legitimate practices of resistance – on how the Palestinian struggle might be reshaped in order to invert the existing trend of dispossession and violation.
She has consistently argued that civil disobedience and sumud in their different forms need systematic grassroots organising. While the furor has concentrated on the content of Amira Hass’ article – did she or didn’t she encourage Palestinians to throw rocks? – the more crucial issue has been all but ignored. Who, one should ask, is after Amira Hass? And what are the real objectives of those attacking her?
The letters sent to the Attorney General by the Yesha Council and the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel condemning Hass are part of a much broader strategic plan orchestrated by a number of Israeli social actors who aim to expand and refine the grammar of expropriation, deprivation and violation. Alongside these two organisations, groups like NGO Monitor, Im Tirtzu, Regavim and Shurat HaDin use human rights law as their new syntax in order to perpetuate Israel’s regime of colonial democracy. This is carried out in a variety of ways, including the ongoing and vocal labelling of people who resist Israel’s colonial project as terrorists and thus as egregious abusers of human rights.
The work of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel illustrates this point. Established in 2004, the Forum is, according to its website:
“Committed to protecting human rights in Israel, ensuring sound government, and preserving the national integrity of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”
One of the first actions taken by this legal and advocacy group was to support “the human rights of settlers” just before their evacuation from Gaza. The Forum submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice against what they considered to be the forced relocation and dispossession of Jewish citizens.
Since then, the Forum has become an established institution working for change through the national court system. “Its activities are carried out by professional attorneys, legal and financial experts volunteering their time, as well as student volunteers who are committed,” according to the organisation, “to social and political change.”
Over the years, the Forum alongside groups like Regavim and Shurat HaDin, has submitted numerous petitions to Israeli courts in order to protect the human rights of the settlers. Their objective is to achieve two major goals. Firstly, the petitions serve as a tool to lobby the Knesset in order to push for further legislation that legalises the Jewish settlements while expanding existing policies of Palestinian dispossession in both the West Bank and the Israeli Negev (particularly against Bedouins). Secondly, they use human rights discourse in order to discipline anyone who transgresses the political, legal and moral boundaries of the settler colonial body – NGOs, academics and journalists who dare criticise Israel’s colonial practices are now characterised as human rights abusers.
An article published on the Forum’s website on March 15 provides a taste of how human rights are being deployed to advance Israel’s colonial project. Celebrating Moshe Yaalon’s appointment as Defense Minister, the article entitled “A New Government – New Opportunities“, describes how the Forum has prepared a detailed work plan for the new Minister. The objective of this plan is to prevent “racial discrimination in all matters relating to land in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. There are,” the Forum maintains, “currently many laws which discriminate only against Jewish people who wish to purchase land or construct in this area.”
While the claim that settlers are a “racially discriminated” group and that their right to the colony is being violated might appear as a joke or a complete inversion of moral principles, it is widely shared not only by a network of new organisations, but also by the majority of Israeli politicians, from Yesh Atid through the Likud to HaBayait HaYehudi. It constitutes one of the two vocabularies of the new syntax deployed by these groups.
The other vocabulary is best symbolised by legal attacks, such as the recent one being waged against Amira Hass. Israeli dissidents who oppose colonisation are made aware, through legal threats, that opposition and resistance, or even thinking and writing about decolonisation, could constitute a criminal act. The interventions of these Israelis are considered to be extremely dangerous to the polity because they question and aim to undermine Israel’s right to the colony.
A clear indication that this indeed is the objective was intimated in an opinion piece about the Amira Hass affair, written by Sara Hirschhorn, a postdoctoral fellow at the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University. Hirschhorn, who is carrying out research on the Israeli settler movement, condemns Hass for siding with the Palestinians in dehumanising the settlers. The settler population, Hirschhorn argues, has been deprived for too long “of fundamental freedoms” and the “most shocking part of the ‘inner syntax’ is the failure to recognise the other [settler] as a human being”.
Hass’ detractors, in other words, are not merely interested in silencing Israeli dissidents, but rather they aim to reshape the way the Jewish settler and the settlement enterprise more generally is conceived. Their goal is to constitute Israel’s colonial project not only as legal and legitimate, but it is also about transmuting the discourse of human rights by blurring distinctions between dispossessors and the dispossessed. In this warped imaginary, the settlers have become the victims, while any attempt to dismantle the settlement project is a grave violation that should be forcefully countered.
Neve Gordon is currently a member at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and is the author of Israel’s Occupation. He can be reached through his website.
Nicola Perugini is an anthropologist who teaches at the Al Quds Bard Honors College in Jerusalem. He is currently member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.