“Pogrom” is not a word anyone should use lightly. It can be especially sensitive in the context of Israel and Palestine.
Originally a Russian word meaning “to wreak havoc, to demolish violently,” the term “pogrom” was first applied to the brutal mob attacks – sometimes with government and police encouragement – on Jewish communities in the tsarist Russian Empire of the 19th century.
It’s come to also be used for other such anti-Semitic atrocities throughout Europe’s dark history, including horrors like Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany in 1938.
All this would likely be well-known to Major General Yehuda Fuchs, a senior commander in the Israeli military, who condemned Sunday’s violence by Israeli settlers in the Palestinian town of Hawara as “a pogrom.”
Fuchs is in charge of West Bank operations, where the mob violence raged. Hundreds of Israeli settlers marched on the town of Hawara in the occupied West Bank after the killing of two settlers. They torched cars and homes. At least one person was killed in the hours-long rampage; many Palestinians fled the area in fear for their lives.
Settlers widely advertised their plans, but the army failed to block them. Some were even present when the violence took place.
Media reports suggest at least some people at Israeli military headquarters were “horrified” by the violence, describing it as “disgraceful.” Fuchs’s use of the word “pogrom” reinforces that sense.
But his words alone will not stop such horrors from recurring. What’s clearly needed is an independent investigation of these events and accountability for all those involved.
And, perhaps most of all, there needs to be some honesty about how Israel has descended to a point where even its own military commanders are describing settler violence as a “pogrom.” This didn’t come out of the blue.
For years, the Israeli government has facilitated the transfer of Israeli citizens into settlements in the occupied West Bank. This is a war crime. Israeli authorities have also rarely held to account settlers who attacked Palestinians, which only emboldens people willing to commit extremist violence.
Ultimately, it comes down to the overarching Israeli government policy to maintain domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians, which underlies Israeli authorities’ crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.
Until apartheid is dismantled, I fear we’ll be seeing the word “pogrom” more and more.