The settler movement itself is not new. In fact, it is at the very core of the creation of the State of Israel. The kibbutzim movement that began to settle in Palestine in the early 20th century is the inspiration for the modern day movement to settle the Occupied Territories. The current movement, however, does not share the agricultural or communal goals that sparked the First Aliya into Palestine. The current mission is to occupy as much land as possible, as quickly as possible in an attempt to thwart any nascent state of Palestine and to undermine the peace process that may lead to it.
I paint the Settlers here with a broad brush, but no broader than the same brush which labels every Palestinian as a potential terrorist. They may have started out as a legitimate movement, with a stated goal of fulfilling God’s promise to David to establish his kingdom in Israel. But, more recently, they have become a symbol of all that is wrong in the region. Their public face has become one of hatred and violence, and Palestinians are not their only victims.
They are described, even in the Israeli press, as seeing themselves as the lords of the West Bank, as seeing the land as being their own private domain. They see Israeli opposition to their movement as treason and have formulated what they call “price tag” attacks to express their dissent to any anti-settlement policy. For every settlement that is blocked (though there are few in that category), for every illegal outpost that is dismantled, a retributive action is made, often violent. The attack is the “price” to be paid for offending the movement. These acts are targeted at Israelis and Palestinians alike, and they are growing in number.
Price tag acts against Israelis have included bomb threats, attacks on homes and cars and physical violence. The leadership of left-wing organizations or political parties is often their targets, but they can also include military and police figures who are deemed to have violated the Settlers unwritten rules. Zeev Sternhell, of the organization Peace Now, was the target of a bomb placed on the doorstep of his home. Similarly, Hagit Ofran, the director of Peace Now’s “Settlement Watch” project recently awoke to death threats spray-painted on her home and car in Jerusalem. Price tag attacks have targeted IDF vehicles and personnel, whom the Settlers often accuse of being accomplices to their enemies.
Their acts of terror against Palestinians are often far more insidious, poisoning water supplies, burning agricultural land and crops, destroying homes, mosques and cemeteries, or outright violence against whomever they can get their hands on. Most recently in the village of Yanun, near Nablus, there were reports that a man was stabbed several times by Israeli settlers, who also killed several heads of cattle in the village. In June, a mosque in Jab’a, near Ramallah, was burned in an arson attack; the graffiti left behind at the scene announcing “the war has begun.”
Earlier in 2012 a Baptist church in Jerusalem was the target of a price tag attack when “Death to Christians” and other slogans were spray painted on the building. Prior to that attack a Christian monastery was targeted, along with an elementary school and a mosque, each with similar slogans painted on them, such as “death to Arabs” and “Kahane was right.” The latter is a reference to Rabbi Meir Kahane, the leader of the Kach movement, an Israeli terrorist organization, which perpetrated the 1994 attack against Palestinians in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.
What is new in these attacks is the apparent disinterest in preventing them on the part of the Israeli government and the IDF. In May of this year, masked, and armed, settlers from the Yitzhar settlement descended on the Palestinian village of ‘Asira al-Qibliya and started fires in the fields. When Palestinian residents responded by throwing rocks at the settlers, the latter responded with live ammunition, all of which was filmed as being done under the watchful eye of IDF soldiers. A week later, settlers from the same location attacked the Palestinian village of ‘Urif. When Palestinians tried to respond to put out the fires in their fields, the settlers fired lived ammunition at them, injuring at least one person. When the IDF arrived on the scene, they intervened to drive back Palestinians with tear gas. In neither attack were any arrests of the settlers made.
Dan Halutz, former IDF chief of staff, was quoted as saying that there is no will to stop the attacks. “If we wanted, we could catch them, and when we want to, we will,” he told Israeli Army Radio. Ironically, four Israelis who set out to clean up after a recent price tag attack have themselves been jailed for property damage. And Israeli settlers within the IDF go unpunished for crimes caught on camera.
In addition to the recent attacks, there are reports of a tourist location being established in the Gush Etzion settlement that awards certificates to visitors who partake in “anti-terrorist” lessons. Tourists are allowed to shoot at targets on a range, watch a simulated assassination of a terrorist by settlement guards and hear “war stories” told by IDF and settlement residents.
The current Netanyahu administration seems uninterested in reigning in the settlers. They have approved the construction of new settlements on Palestinian land, retroactively approved the illegal construction of other units and actively thwart the orders of the Israeli Supreme Court with respect to the dismantling of outposts that are illegal under even Israeli law. When the UN recently announced the formation of a committee to investigate whether Israeli settlements violate the human rights of Palestinians in the West Bank, the Netanyahu government stated that the UN would receive no cooperation, nor would its investigators be allowed to enter Israel or the occupied territories. The question that remains, however, is how long is the Israeli government going to ignore settler led violence as it spreads beyond the West Bank and begins to affect ordinary Israelis?By Ted Graham, Aslan Media Columnist