Atalia Omer is professor of religion, conflict, and peace studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and at the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame. She is also a senior fellow at the Religion, Conflict, and Peace Initiative at Harvard Divinity School. Her books include When Peace is Not Enough: How the Israeli Peace Camp Thinks about Religion, Nationalism, and Justice (2015) and Days of Awe: Reimagining Jewishness in Solidarity with Palestinians (2019).
What is Yaacov Doing in Muna’s Home? Torah and Violence in the Binational Towns of Palestine/Israel
By: Atalia Omer
August 6, 2021
“If I don’t steal it, someone else is going to steal it.”
What is Yaacov doing in Muna’s home? A viral video conveys Muna el-Kurd’s exchange with Yaacov Fauci from Long Island. She tells Yaacov, who is standing in her backyard, “You know that this is not your house….You are stealing my house.” Yaacov, backed by settlers’ organizations and the infrastructures of the Israeli state, seized in 2009 half of Muna’s home in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem. Muna’s clip captured the threat of dispossession as a constant and multipronged Palestinian experience. Yaacov responds to Muna’s resistance to the settlers’ takeover of her home: “If I don’t steal it, someone else is going to steal it.” Muna’s twin brother, Mohammed el-Kurd, named, on mainstream international media, the experiences of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and other Palestinian neighborhoods as an “ongoing Nakba,” referring to the Nakba or the Catastrophe of 1948, the name given to the initial moment of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that created “Israel proper.”
If the looming displacement of Sheikh Jarrah’s Palestinian residents is laundered as a real estate dispute, analysts often refract the case of Palestinian citizens of Israel, those who were not “cleansed” in 1948, through the sanitized conceptual prism of “minority rights.” This conventional framing has normalized the settler colonial logic that, just like Yaacov had done to Muna, minoritized Palestinians in their own home(land).
Observers of the May 2021 escalation noted the boomeranging of the securitizing techniques from the occupied territories of 1967 to the Palestinian neighborhoods of 1948, along with the actual bussing of settlers from the West Bank to join vigilante marches through the binational town in order to “help the police” restore “law and order.” This boomeranging of all-too-familiar practices from 1967 to 1948 should not shock those of us who have been refusing the colonial myopia that pretends an entirely different universe of laws and norms apply to Palestinians in the 1948 side of the Green Line. The struggle for Sheikh Jarrah, for the houses of Palestinian refugees from the Nakba and their descendants, demystified this myopia.
Observers of the May 2021 escalation noted the boomeranging of securitizing techniques from the occupied territories of 1967 to the Palestinian neighborhoods of 1948.
Yaacov literally colonized a part of Muna’s home, using legal mechanisms that treat Jews and non-Jews differently. Palestinians cannot claim ownership of land prior to 1948, as those who wished to return to their homes after the Nakba were classified with a bureaucratic cruelty as the “present absentees” whose properties were nationalized or Judaized. These bureaucratic actions were implemented by the secular Israeli state whose ideology nevertheless has depended on rereading the Torah as if it were a land title. Israeli state violence, even when expressed through secular registers, has depended on a biblical grammar and a settler colonial replacement process. Yaacov’s colonization of Muna’s home has exposed this grammar and revealed the concept of coexistence as not only hollow, but also violent. The Judaization policy, which Yaacov’s colonization of Muna’s home exemplifies, exposes this link between a settler colonial replacement logic and an apartheid Jewish supremacist rationale. The binational cities within 1948 have subsequently turned into a fault line for Judaizing programs. Their branding as sites of “coexistence” is exposed for its fallacy.
If one resists the colonial logic that has fragmented Palestinians, one can see why the binational cities are only “mixed” (as they are touted) because of the Nakba. Defined by this genesis and regulated through an infrastructure that explicitly privileges Jews, the binational towns (where the Nakba was unable to totally erase Palestinian presence) expose the intersections of settler colonialism and apartheid rationalities in Palestine/Israel.
Israeli state violence, even when expressed through secular registers, has depended on a biblical grammar and a settler colonial replacement process.
Calling the realities from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea “apartheid,” as human rights organizations such as B’tselem and political geographers such as Oren Yiftachel have done, is critical for demolishing illusionary normative boundaries erected between 1948 and 1967. It also requires a robust investigation of the biblical grammar of Jewish supremacy, which Yaacov, a visibly religious man, embodies.
Nuclei of Torah
The Gar’inim Toranim (literally, nuclei of Torah) constitute a key mechanism for Judaizing the binational cities. Gar’in Torani, in the singular, refers to religious Zionists’ concentrated effort to Judaize areas they deem lacking on this front. They do so by establishing yeshivahs and residential areas that accommodate a religious Zionist lifestyle, which often diverged from the religious and social tapestries of the towns where they settled. As always, religious and political radicalizations do not just happen. In this case, they certainly feed on one another through mutual instrumentalization. Like the settlement project in 1967 territories, the Gar’inim received institutional, political, and financial support from the government and other complicit settlers’ organizations. In return, the government received “strategic” settlements and blueprints for Judaizing the physical, sociocultural, and national spaces.
As always, religious and political radicalizations do not just happen. In this case, they certainly feed on one another through mutual instrumentalization.
At the same time that the nuclei of Torah, as institutions, received building permits in binational towns such as Lyd/Lod, Palestinian citizens remain deprived from this right, all along contained in their poverty-stricken ghettos. Indeed, a visitor to Lyd/Lod would be shocked to find a wall there sequestering impoverished Palestinian neighborhoods. It is difficult to dissociate this wall from the other “separation wall” fragmenting the West Bank. The Palestinian residents of Lyd/Lod are, like other non-Jewish citizens, subject to demolitions, due to their inability to obtain building permits. They also have no access to building projects designed “only for Jews.”
Such maneuvering—erasure through city planning—amounts to Hebronization within 1948, one yeshivah and Yaacov at a time. The concept of “Hebronization” telegraphs the microcosmic al-Shuhada Street in Hebron, a street that used to be the heart of this formerly vibrant Palestinian city. Now, only Jews (settlers and soldiers primarily) are allowed there. Hebron has been central to the consolidation of the messianic settler movement. The mechanisms of its Judaization, including the collusion between the settlers and the security infrastructure, now drive violence with impunity in occupied East Jerusalem as well as the binational cities within the Green Line.
Like the passing of the Jewish nation-state law in 2018, this display of Jewish violence only enshrined into law and official policy what had been the case already. Indeed, the entrenchment of the nuclei of Torah exposed how the inherent contradictions between the “Jewish” and “democratic” parts of Israel resolve themselves through the “Hebronization” of binational towns. This is not merely a radicalization of an otherwise liberal and democratic nationalist ideology, but rather the fruition of its darkest motifs.
Like the passing of the Jewish nation-state law in 2018, this display of Jewish violence only enshrined into law and official policy what had been the case already.
The Gar’in Torani started as a mechanism of “aid” to “development towns” where one could find an overrepresentation of Mizrahi and other marginalized communities. As a result, these demographics over the years became ardent supporters of annexationist and explicit Jewish supremacist policies. The relatively recent spread of the Gar’inim Toranim into binational cities relates to the unilateral “disengagement” from Gaza orchestrated by Ariel Sharon. Rather than relocating settler communities from Gaza to the West Bank, he “opened” the new, but old, frontier within the Green Line. They became ripe for “Hebronization.” This government-sanctioned Hebronization demystifies any illusionary appeal to a “Jewish and democratic” political discourse and conveys the interplay of the settler colonial and apartheid logics.
The Gar’in Torani signifies the convergences of intra-Jewish missionizing, a Jewish supremacist ideology of “transfer” or ethnic cleansing traced to the extremist American Meir Kahane, and a settler ideology. The “new frontier” refocused the settler theology from “reclaiming” and Judaizing the biblical landscape of “Judea and Samaria” to promoting Judaizing programs in the liba or the heart of Israel, the one established in the first chapter of the ongoing Nakba. This progression into the binational towns reveals the mainstreaming of Kahanism. Kahane’s legacy has outlived him through the murderous acts of Baruch Goldstein, the American-born doctor who murdered 29 worshippers in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in 1994, a murder that inspired Yigal Amir, the killer of Yitzhak Rabin. Amir claimed that he acted on instructions from rabbinic authorities to stop Rabin from relinquishing Jewish lands as part of the Oslo Accords. While, in the 1980s, Kahane was banned from the Knesset for his racism, today, Kahanism is in the Knesset in various forms, including some members of Knesset who displayed prominently their admiration of Kahane and Goldstein and openly incite in occupied East Jerusalem and the binational towns.
The Gar’in Torani signifies the convergences of intra-Jewish missionizing, a Jewish supremacist ideology of 'transfer' or ethnic cleansing traced to the extremist American Meir Kahane, and a settler ideology.
Kahanism’s fixation with Jewish power and purity converged over the decades with settler theology’s focus on Jewish land, a focus that only extended the biblical grammar underpinning secular Zionism. These convergences have resulted in a diminishing concern with democratic and humanistic norms that did animate earlier Zionist threads, notwithstanding their secularized reliance on a biblical grammar or a political theology. The Gar’in Torani, like Yaacov, displays the biblical grammar of an annexationist Israelism. The binational towns, like Muna’s home, concretize how Palestinians remain targets for cultural and physical erasure, sectorization, and fragmentation. The Green Line is exposed for its normative fragility. One can no longer catalogue the case of the Palestinian citizens of Israel under the rubric of “minority rights.” Instead, their active minoritization is the topic.