Shabbat terror in the West Bank

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The ruins of a house in the Palestinian village of Mufagara in the West Bank, burned by religious Zionist settlers on Shabbat, June 27th, 2021. (Photo: Emily Glick)
Increasing settler violence violate the laws of Shabbat.

By Maya Rosen | Jewish Currents  | Sept 9, 2021

Amid a broad escalation of violence against Palestinians in the occupied territories, Shabbat has become the most violent day of the week in the South Hebron Hills.

WHEN I TURN MY PHONE BACK ON after Shabbat ends, I can measure the violence of the day by the number of unread messages that appear on my screen. Sitting in my home in Jerusalem, I scroll through dispatches from friends in the South Hebron Hills, a rural area in the southern West Bank, describing the day’s mob attack by Israeli settlers against Palestinians. If I have just a few dozen texts, then the encounter probably consisted of masked settlers throwing rocks at Palestinians or invading villages to physically assault residents. But if I find a few hundred messages waiting, I know settlers have likely set fire to Palestinian homes or even fired live rounds of ammunition at Palestinians or activists supporting them.

Amid a broad escalation of violence against Palestinians in the occupied territories, Shabbat has become the most violent day of the week in the South Hebron Hills. Unprovoked attacks on Palestinians have become something of a Shabbat afternoon pastime for the religious Zionist settlers in the region. Palestinians who live there even report seeing Israelis from elsewhere who have traveled to the area to spend the weekend beating up residents. Much like Sunday lynchings in the Jim Crow South—where white mobs murdered Black people on the Christian Sabbath, when they had time to participate in violence at their leisure—Saturdays have become an excuse for violence in the South Hebron Hills, transforming the Jewish day of rest into a social soiree of brutality.

These attacks, horrific in themselves, also violate the laws of Shabbat which the settlers claim to uphold. When settlers uproot Palestinian trees, they flout the prohibition against “reaping” on Shabbat. And when they deploy live ammunition against Palestinians, as well as Israeli and international activists, they contravene not only the biblical prohibition on lighting fires, but also a directive in the Mishnah—a rabbinic legal code compiled in the third century—which explicitly forbids carrying weapons on Shabbat. The text makes the logic of the prohibition clear: When one sage, Rabbi Eliezer, argues that bearing arms is permitted because weapons are “ornaments,” the other rabbis immediately retort, “They are nothing other than reprehensible,” and proceed to quote the famous verse from Isaiah describing the end of days: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not raise sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.” Since Shabbat is, in the Talmudic imagination, a taste of the world to come, and the prophecy in Isaiah makes clear that this will be a world without weapons, the rabbis are firm in their position that arms have no place in Shabbat observance.

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