Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

As an only child I easily relate to the Israeli saying, “Prove to me that you don’t have a sister.” The saying comes from the notion that there are certain accusations you simply can’t disprove. The burden of proof when it comes to finding evidence of absence is impossible. The frustration inherent in proving a negative extends from philosophical discussions about G-d to geo-politics.

Over the past few years, and more frequently over the past six months, the media has been spreading the narrative that “extremist settlers” have been attacking innocent Palestinians, chopping down their trees and burning their fields. The media’s storyline is that Palestinians have suffered occupation and apartheid for years under the heavy hand of the Israeli army, and are now being oppressed by the settlers themselves. The IDF, they say, is looking away and not only refusing to arrest the settlers but actively protecting them as they attack the Palestinians. The media reports these stories as facts, quoting Palestinian and NGO activist eyewitnesses who claim to have seen the attacks. They publish pictures of the attackers with captions that read “Settlers attacking Palestinian farmers.”

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At first I was horrified by these stories. How could we, the righteous settlers, stoop to the level of Palestinian rock throwers and terrorists? I wrote critically of these extremist settlers and the policies and soldiers protecting them. As the stories multiplied I’ve become more and more skeptical of their veracity. There are a number of factors that have triggered my skepticism.

First, the claims all stem from Palestinian and Pro-Palestinian activists. There are never independent or objective reporters verifying these claims. I have never once read an unbiased first-hand eyewitness report of Palestinians being attacked by settlers. Second, the pictures accompanying these attacks are never revealing. They feature 20-year-old men, shirtless, with towels wrapped around their heads, and jeans. They are never dressed in the usual settler garb of kippah, tzitzit and collared shirt. There’s never video, and never even pictures of settlers chopping down trees….Why couldn’t the Palestinian and Pro-Palestinian eyewitnesses who claim to have seen the settlers take out their phones and capture the crime on video?

Third, no arrests have been made of settlers of the villages and towns near the attacks. The army claims the “settlers” come from Jerusalem or faraway places. The closest and most obvious attackers are never the ones perpetrating the attacks. The Palestinians and pro-Palestinian activists claim the attacking settlers are protected by the police and the army and that the police and army want them to attack the Palestinians. If these settlers are protected by the army, why do they disguise themselves?

Fourth, in order for settlers to attack with the protection of the army and police, there would have to be a grand conspiracy of police, army, government and settlers together of a mass scale. Israel’s opponents and enemies will easily accept the notion of a grand conspiracy between the government and settlers to attack Palestinians, but anyone that knows how Israel and settlers work, knows the grand conspiracy theory is absurd.

For this, and other reasons, I find the myriad of stories coming out about settlers attacking Palestinians to be too convenient. It fits a moral equivalency narrative that Palestinian terrorists have always lacked against the settlers. Now the settler community is in the position of having to prove the attacks are not their doing. This is impossible to prove because how could you ever prove you didn’t do something you don’t even know was really done? Prove to me you don’t have a sister!

This week, Israeli media outlet Makor Rishon reported that Pro-Palestinian NGO Breaking the Silence had received a one million dollar grant from the European Union to report incidents of settler violence against Palestinians. The EU has hired an organization with a proven track record of lying about Israeli army violence, repeatedly reporting incidents of abuse that never happened – as reported in Israel media six years ago.

The European Union kept funding the NGO even after reports were made public of Breaking the Silence’s falsifying reports. The only explanation for this is that the EU’s agenda matched the dishonest agenda of the NGO. If the European Union is financially incentivizing Pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel NGO’s to generate reports of settler violence and the NGO’s have a history of fabricating reports, it can be expected that an increasing amount of reports of settler abuse will be published. It can also be expected that many if not all of these reports will be false.

I don’t know if settler attacks on Palestinians are actually happening. Unless they’ve witnessed the attacks, neither can anyone else. If the attacks are happening, they must stop. The evidence that they are occurring at the rate reported is flimsy and seems contrived. The media sources for the attacks are biased and financially motivated to fabricate the reports. For this and the other reasons listed in this column, I no longer believe the reports to be true.

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Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is an educator who teaches in high schools across the world. He teaches Torah and Israel political advocacy to teenagers and college students. He lives with his wife and six children in Mitzpe Yericho, Israel. You can follow him on Facebook, and on twitter @rationalsettler.