Photo of the chaotic scene in the northern West Bank town of Huwwara during an attack organised by Israeli settlers following an earlier fatal shooting

Compulsory reading on the settler mindset

Anyone wishing to understand contemporary Israeli mindset, which is gradually becoming conflated with that of settler Zionists, should read Rabbi Eliezer Melamed’s eulogy for brothers Hillel and Yagel Yaniv, who were murdered in Hawara.

The Palestine Project
5 min readMar 23, 2023


By Avi Garfinkel • Haaretz (Hebrew Edition)*

“Frame it”, wrote Amit Segal after the unusual decision by the editors of Makor Rishon to devote their weekend supplement’s cover this month to Rabbi Eliezer Melamed’s eulogy for Hillel and Yagel Yaniv, two brothers murdered in an attack in Hawara. Doron Beinhorn, the newspaper’s CEO, wrote that “The rabbi’s eulogy should be taught in schools”, and he was right. This text is instructive, not only for its moving and well-written prose, but also because it conveys the settler mindset, which is fast becoming the general Israeli outlook, and certainly that of the regime. Whoever wishes to understand this mindset, its origins and where it’s headed, needs to study this text.

And so, Rabbi Melamed said at the pair’s funeral: “Any Jew killed for being Jewish is a saint”. In other words, the only reason for the attacks is an uncompromising hatred of Jews, unrelated to their actions, their behaviour, or the sense that they have wronged their attackers. In their world there is no dispossession, no expulsions, no violence towards innocent Palestinians, no damage to property, no abuse, no revenge attacks for actions of Jews, just as Jews had later avenged the brothers’ murder in Hawara. According to Rabbi Melamed, this is pure antisemitism. Jews are being murdered mere for being Jewish. This of course doesn’t explain why Palestinians don’t kill Jews in other parts of the world. It is plain and simple: Jews are victims and Palestinians are offenders.

It is important to note that for Melamed, anyone killed for being Jewish is a saint, and the emphasis is on it being “anyone”. In other words, even murderers, rapists, thieves, and other sinners can ascend to the status of a saint simply due to the circumstances of their death, regardless of how villainous they had been in life. Melamed elaborates and extends the sanctified status to all settlers: “If we accept this for all Jews, this is all the more so for those that at the frontline of settlement”.

And what is the meaning of sainthood, according to Melamed? “They ascended and were sanctified by the holiness of the entirety of the Jewish people, till no other being could stand beside them”. In other words, sanctity means that those that aren’t holy are beneath the holy ones; non- settlers are beneath settlers. This is a critical point now that Jewish supremacy in Israel is being replaced with one that of religious Jews and settlers, preferred over secular Jews and certainly over Leftists. This explains why the nationalist ultra-Orthodox camp has no shame in asking the State for more (eg financial allocation per student) and are prepared to do less in return: discounts on municipal rates, tax relief, shorter military service for students in the Hesder Yeshivot [where religious study and military service are combined], exemptions from service and from employment for ultra-Orthodox men.

As far as ultra-Orthodox nationalists are concerned, there is no threat to equality in the broader sense. Equality may imply equal treatment for all, but according to them, Torah scholars and settlers are simply more worthy, and so, deserve more. This is why so many secular Jews view discussions of the budget, the duty to serve in the military and to work as greed, avarice, a lack of solidarity, embezzlements, and theft of the public’s funds. According to the religious Jews, those who contribute more deserve more. Incidentally, this contradicts their criticism of the hi-tech camp opposing the judicial coup, according to which ”if you pay more taxes, it doesn’t mean your vote is worth more”.

Baseless as it may be, one must understand that the feeling of superiority is authentic, even, and especially at times when it has become completely absurd. “We didn’t return to our land to dispossess Arabs’’, explains Rabbi Melamed, “but to do good and bless the world. Arabs can enjoy this too”.

This detached world view considers that although Arabs don’t even have the benefit of being equal citizens, they should see the presence of settlers in their midst as a blessing. What exactly is the blessing settlers brought their neighbours the good Rabbi doesn’t specify. Nor does Rabbi Melamed allow for the rights of Arabs and of all people to reject an offer that’s put to them. By the same logic, the secular Jews have to accept the biblical preoccupation of those devoted to Orthodox study as a blessing that protects them and their identity. They should even finance it, even if secular Jews “mistakenly” believe they have no need for it. Leftists should also accept as a blessing the settlements they oppose, because settlers “carry on the settlement of our Holy Land and defend it and the nation with their bodies”. Rabbi Melamed fails to explain how this is achieved by unarmed children, women, and elderly people living amid a hostile Arab population. How can a project that tears the people apart also protect them? This is a fundamental assumption that need not be questioned precisely because it is clearly wrong.

Towards the end of the eulogy, Rabbi Melamed reiterates the anachronistic cliché that settlers “continue to build the country and make the deserts bloom”, as though nearly all construction work in the country hadn’t been done by Arabs and foreign workers. As though the land really is barren and empty. As though most of the construction and Jewish labour, in fact nearly all of it, was not the fruit of secular, socialist pioneers rebelling against Halachic tradition.

The title of the eulogy, To die and Conquer the Hill, is a paraphrase on Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Betar hymn, “To die or Conquer the Hill”. The secular poet at least acknowledged they may be defeated as had happened in the rebellion against the romans: ‘”To die or conquer the hill, Yodfat, Masada, Betar”. But Rabbi Melamed has replaced the “or” with an “and”: “If we need to, we will live, and if we must die, we will die, and our friends will carry on conquering the mountain after us”. Even if we die as we did in Masada, the hill will be conquered. This will be a success. And all this, for what? Because the real success isn’t measured in this world, but in the next: “All the saints seem to be dead, but in the realm of truth they are very much alive… By dying as martyrs, they have come in touch with the source of life”. What’s important is the realm of truth, not the world of falsehoods that is our daily reality, of which so many settlers are so disturbingly detached. We don’t need to conquer this hill. We need to hurry up and get off it.