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Khirbat Zenuta: Pictures from the Moral Front

05/10/2024 12:20:45 PM


Rabbi Shoshanah



silken, purple party frock discarded by the wayside on the footpath up to the decimated village of Chirbat Zenuta. This road and the village site are within sight of the nearby, brand-new illegal outpost on the neighboring hill.

Yesterday, May 8, 2024 we visited the site of Khirbat Zenuta in the West Bank. It's heartbreaking to call it a “site,” because as recently as Oct. 28, 2023 this was a town of 250 residents, Palestinians who had lived there for generations. We had to walk up to the erstwhile village on foot, because one of the Jewish settlers, Inon Levy[1] who recently was sanctioned by the American government used his construction and demolition business equipment to literally install a giant boulder in the middle of the road, preventing its residents from driving in and out. We also had to go on foot, because as our bus drove on the road to this village in Area C[2] of the West Bank, it was met with makeshift barbed wire fencing that Jewish settlers (with no authority or accountability) had installed in the roadway. As we made our way up the path on foot, I could see a discarded trash bag with clothing spilling out. One item, a silky purple garment on the top of this pile, sparkled in the astounding sunshine. I imagine the woman who wore this garment for special occasions: I can envision how she must have dropped it as she ran and harried from her home. She is not a dead memory, but a person still out there, still trying to live as her life and livelihood are ever squeezed more tightly.

​Up on the hill, just beyond, we could see what is called an unauthorized and illegal settler outpost. All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law. An occupying force is not legally allowed to bring any of their population to settle in the occupied territory. Israel does not accept this limitation, but they have agreed to some limits. The Rabin government during the Clinton administration, as well as subsequent Israeli and American administrations, have made and reiterated an agreement that Israel would freeze new settlements, assenting to only expanding previously established settlements. As a result, new settlements (outposts), which often pop up overnight through the covert operations of Jewish vigilantes and thugs, are unauthorized as well as illegal under, even Israeli law. However, the Netanyahu government looks askance at these unauthorized outposts, giving them a carte blanche for unchecked violence, intimidation, and thuggery. 

As the Palestinian villagers left, pushed out by encroachment on their water rights, their freedom of movement, their grazing land, and their harvest access, they also had to daily contend with intimidation by settlers, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), and settlers pretending to be IDF. Despite all this pressure, many hoped they would be able to return in a few days. We learned all this from independent Israeli activists who work to defend these villages and their residents. These activists often escort children to school for their safety and shepherds to their fields to assist in defense against settler violence. Of course, we did not learn the story of this village from its residents. They were gone. They had fled. They had been forced out.

The village was in rubble…old stone buildings were in ruins. Here and there were the detritus of households. But off to the left was the abandoned school building. It had been funded by the EU in its construction and included about five classrooms in an L formation around a courtyard. We made our way around the back wall and were met with the sight of the inner part of the L: It was a gasp-inducing disaster. I had to catch my breath.

This education facility, in use but a few months ago, was strewn with bulletin boards, notebooks, whiteboards, writing implements, the dish drainer from the staff break room, a laminated train on the wall, bookshelves, textbooks, wall charts with nutrition lesson material, student work hanging on walls and from ceilings, broken windows strewn on the floors, and roofs caved in under the weight of huge tires. The villagers had thought they would try to return in a few days, when the conflict with the settlers dissipated some. But, Inon Levy and his team of outpost bullies went in the day the Palestinian villagers left and decimated the village, again with Levy’s construction equipment.

There is something horrible -- perhaps because I am an educator -- in seeing the destruction of classrooms, especially with all the artifacts of education strewn about. It was a sacrilege, by which I mean it is just one more example of how the dream of Zionism--pluralistic, democratic, multicultural, justice-oriented--has been hollowed out by a racist and perverted reading of Torah. These deeds and the complicity of the government to these deeds DO NOT illustrate what it means to be a Jew, to live by Jewish values, or to make real the Zionist dream. Even if this crisis of conscience did not impinge on the rights of non-Jewish humans, we would still be called at this moment to a moral crisis: These policies and behaviors do nothing to truly protect Jews, Judaism, or the State of Israel.

Continuing the banality of this kind of terror, perpetrated by Jewish settlers (in OUR names, on the world stage), further mires our people in corruption and immorality. This is not self-defense. This is bullying.  We should be ashamed if we are complicit. On Yom Kippur this year, it will be a communal "chatati" if we do nothing to upbraid this madness.

[1] Israeli bank freezes account of settler Yinon Levi sanctioned by US | The Times of Israel

[2] West Bank areas in the Oslo II Accord - Wikipedia


Teachers' break room in Khirbat Zenuta school building


Khirbat Zenuta village classroom.


A classroom in the Khirbat Zenuta school building.


classroom wall in Khirbat Zenuta


barbed wire set up by unauthorized settlers to block the road to the Palestinian village of Khirbat Zenuta


remnants of Chirbat Zenuta, a Palestinian village whose residents lived here as recently as Oct. 28.

Sat, May 18 2024 10 Iyyar 5784