Saturday, September 27, 2008

West Bank Settlers Show Increasing Lawlessness

Two recent articles point to increasing lawlessness and militancy among West Bank settlers.

"After 'Pogrom,' Israel Debates Who Controls Settler Violence" from The Forward (9/12/08), focuses on increasing settler rampages and confusion over who is responsible for restraining them. In one incident, while settlers from the settlement Yitzhar, south of Nablus, were furious over the heinous attack by a Palestinian upon a child, they took the law into their own hands and employed indiscriminate violence. From the article:

A weekend of violence in the West Bank, igniting what Prime Minister Ehud Olmert likened to an anti-Palestinian “pogrom,” has touched off a public uproar over the state of law enforcement in the territories and the proper role of Israel’s security forces.

On Saturday morning, September 13, a series of confrontations began when a Palestinian man entered the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar, south of Nablus. He torched a Jewish home that was unoccupied at the time and then stabbed a 9-year-old child. Settlers responded by storming the nearby Arab village where the attacker was presumed to live, reportedly stoning cars and windows and firing at passers-by, several of whom were wounded. A villager captured the rampage on a video that showed Israeli troops looking on without intervening.

The images of Israeli forces failing to protect Palestinians touched off a national debate over settler violence and over the responses by Israeli police and military. Both security services initially disclaimed responsibility and blamed each other for what Olmert likened to a “pogrom.”

“There will be no pogroms against non-Jewish residents in the State of Israel,” Olmert declared at a September 14 Cabinet meeting.

At a stormy meeting of the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee on September 15, committee chair Ophir Pines-Paz of Labor said that the West Bank has become “like the Wild West.”

“The picture is one of anarchy,” the lawmaker said.

"Radical Settlers Take On Israel," New York Times (9/25/08), recounts the light wounding of Hebrew University Professor Zeev Sternhell, noted historian and critic of the settlements, following a pipe bomb attack, and nearby leaflets threatening the lives of Peace Now members. The article also points out the settlers' adherence to collective punishment for the Palestinians and defiance toward the Israeli army and state. Excerpts:

...the bombing may be the latest sign that elements of Israel’s settler movement are resorting to extremist tactics to protect their homes in the occupied West Bank against not only Palestinians, but also Jews who some settlers argue are betraying them. Radical settlers say they are determined to show that their settlements and outposts cannot be dismantled, either by law or by force.

There have been bouts of settler violence for years, notably during the transfer of Gaza to the Palestinians in 2005. Now, though, the militants seem to have spawned a broader, more defined strategy of resistance designed to intimidate the state.

This aggressive doctrine, according to Akiva HaCohen, 24, who is considered to be one of its architects, calls on settlers and their supporters to respond “whenever, wherever and however” they wish to any attempt by the Israeli Army or the police to lay a finger on property in illegally built outposts scheduled by the government for removal. In settler circles the policy is called “price tag” or “mutual concern.”

Besides exacting a price for army and police actions, the policy also encourages settlers to avenge Palestinian acts of violence by taking the law into their own hands — an approach that has the potential to set the tinderbox of the West Bank ablaze.

Hard-core right-wing settlers have responded to limited army operations in recent weeks by blocking roads, rioting spontaneously, throwing stones at Palestinian vehicles and burning Palestinian orchards and fields all over the West Bank, a territory that Israel has occupied since 1967. They have also vandalized Israeli Army positions, equipment and cars.

One settler, Ephraim Ben Schohat, affirmed that collective punishment is more important than apprehending a suspect: “To us, deterrence is more important than catching the specific terrorist. We’re fighting against a nation.”

Another young settler stated that religious dictates supersede the law, stating that people "have to decide whether they are on the side of the Torah or the state.”

Israel's seeming reluctance to dismantle all militant outposts and the increasing religious extremism among settlers are indicators of continued turmoil in the West Bank.

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