Children from the past

The southernmost border crossing between Gaza and Israel is named, ironically, Kerem Shalom. Kerem means “vineyard” in Hebrew; “shalom” of course means peace. This “vineyard of peace” is named in turn for the adjacent kibbutz, founded by members of the Zionist-Socialist movement Hashomer Hatza’ir around the time of the Six-Day War in 1967. The name, with its echoes of the messianic prophecy in Micha 4:4 (“And every one shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, with none to make them afraid”), was a secular prayer for peace, a nod to the kibbutz’s location at the fulcrum of internationally-recognized Israel and the recently seized Palestinian lands of the Gaza Strip and Egyptian Sinai.

The kibbutz’s original residents largely left by 1995. But for many years, Kibbutz Kerem Shalom kept its radical roots. A 1975 article in the Journal of Palestine Studies on a march of 30,000 Zionist settlers and their supporters (including the soon-to-be Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin) through the Palestinian city of Nablus, noted that a small group had come from Kerem Shalom in counter-protest alongside some Arabs. While the settlers chanted “All Samaria [the West Bank] is ours,” the kibbutzniks carried signs reading “Barbarian settlement is a danger to democracy” and “This is how fascism starts.”

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Now, the fascists are there. In the Washington Post, reporter Loveday Morris writes about an overnight trip to the Kerem Shalom checkpoint she took with twentysomething hardliners last night. These young zealots, most of them ultra-Orthodox Jews, among them leading reactionary campus activists and residents of some of the most militant settlements of the West Bank. As she watched, the activists pitched tents and set up camp for the night, whooping and cheering at the sound of nearby Israeli airstrikes. They then succeeded in preventing, at least for a time, the legally mandated flow of humanitarian aid, including food and medicine, to the two million Palestinians trapped and starving on the other side of the wall.

The positions these activists shared with Morris are chilling: justifying the deaths of civilians, including children, on the basis of their own national security and the fantasy that people trapped in a warzone, some of whom have been reduced to eating animal feed, can just leave if they are “unhappy.” (An endorsement of literal ethnic cleansing that, in any case, at the moment remains an impossibility.)

But more importantly, these comments are a window into how a young and increasingly transnational generation of reactionaries — from MAGA ralliers and young American edgelords to Generation “Z” Russian nationalists to, as noted, an overtly genocidal Israeli right. For instance Morris writes, quoting a 23-year-old activist leader named Bnayahu Ben Shabat:

The tactic is also about starvation. “When a soldier is hungry, he’s not fighting so well.”

And the children? “Nobody can say children are bad,” he says. But “the children from the past were murdering and raping and kidnapping” on Oct. 7.

Israel had closed the Kerem Shalom checkpoint after Palestinian militants breached it on Oct. 7. In the negotiations that led to a brief ceasefire and hostage exchange in mid-December, the Israeli government agreed to allow one hundred U.N. trucks carrying humanitarian aid a day. It, and the nearby Rafah crossing from Egypt, are the only places such aid can enter; they are overstretched lifeline for the roughly two million people still living in the ruins of the besieged territory, 90% of whom are facing crisis levels of food insecurity. It is also the primary place where Israel could fulfill the orders issued to it last month by the International Court of Justice in the Hague to “enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”

All of that is anathema to the young militants camping out at Kerem Shalom. Morris profiles Yosef de Bresser, a 22-year-old sometimes-resident of Yitzhar, one of the most notoriously violent Religious Zionist settlements in the West Bank, just outside of Nablus. He has a tattoo on his neck of a fist raised in front of a blue Star of David — the emblem of the Kahanist Jewish Defense League, which the FBI designated as a right-wing terrorist group in 2000, some two years before de Bresser was born. (The JDL’s founder, the overtly racist and Islamophobic Rabbi Meir Kahane was assassinated in 1990 by an Egyptian-born Islamic extremist.)

De Bresser makes a series of arguments that are both commonplace among defenders of Israeli atrocities in Gaza and reminiscent of Trumpist arguments here in the States. For instance, Morris writes:

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