CMEP Bulletin: Settler Violence In-Depth, and more…

CMEP Bulletin: Settler Violence In-Depth, and more…

weekly Churches for Middle East Peace news digest

Setttler violence remains a problem

This week, another suspected incident of settler violence highlighted the tensions in the West Bank between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. On August 16, settlers set fire to a Palestinian taxi with a Molotov cocktail near the Gush Etzion settlement. The attack wounded five Palestinians, including two young children, as they were traveling on a road frequently targeted by settlers. Ynet, Israel’s leading online news site, reports that police say the attack was “nationalistically-motivated.” A search of the area revealed another firebomb that was still unlit.

This is not an isolated incident. At the end of 2011, the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that attacks by settlers against Palestinians were up 32 percent from 2010 and 144 percent from 2009. These include attacks against Palestinians that result in injury or death as well as attacks against Palestinian property. So far in 2012 (as of August 7), OCHA reports that 89 Palestinians received injuries caused by settler violence. Additionally, OCHA reports that 26 settlers received injuries as a result of violence by Palestinians.

On August 14, Foreign Affairs magazine published a lengthy piece on the rise of settler violence in the West Bank that underscores the urgency of a two state solution. Writers Daniel Byman and Natan Sachsfirst explain that settler violence has not been such a pervasive problem in the past and that most settlers oppose attacks against Palestinian civilians. However, following the 2005 disengagement when Ariel Sharon’s government removed 8,600 settlers from Gaza, many in the settler movement felt “betrayed” and became more radical. The authors write, “Faced with what the radical settlers saw as a choice between the state and the settlements, they picked the latter. To stave off another disengagement of any kind, they resolved to retaliate against any attempt by the Israeli government to crack down on the movement.”

The Israeli government has encouraged most settlement activity, even the outposts that are built without any official government approval. Often the settlers build the outposts on Palestinian private property, which is illegal under Israeli law. In 2011, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled several outposts had to be removed and gave the government a series of deadlines. Already this summer, settlers in the Ulpana outpost were forced to leave their homes. Workers started dismantling the remaining structures on August 16. Migron, another outpost, must be evacuated by August 21. These court rulings sparked an increase in price tag attacks. The extremists have torched and vandalized several Palestinian mosques, fields, trees and cars in retaliation for the outpost evacuations.

One glaring feature of these attacks is the lack of prosecution. Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization, reports that from 2005-March, 2012, 91 percent of cases involving Israeli civilians committing crimes against Palestinians concluded without any indictments. Much of this problem may stem from the military rule in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers focus more on stemming Palestinian violence and protecting Israelis settlers than the converse. On several occasions, Israeli soldiers have been caught witnessing attacks against Palestinians and failing to intervene.

Byman and Sachs argue that the violence is making the peace process more difficult. They write, “Whenever extremist settlers destroy Palestinian property or deface a mosque, they strengthen Palestinian radicals at the expense of moderates, undermining support for an agreement and delaying a possible accord.” The authors also add that when the Israeli government fails to confront the perpetrators, they become emboldened and Palestinians will have doubts over Israel’s ability to enforce its own laws, a necessary element in maintaining a peace agreement.

The Foreign Affairs piece recommends that the Israeli government take steps to stop the violence. After members of the extremist settler organization “Hilltop Youth” vandalized an army base, several ministers in the Israeli government discussed designating them as a terrorist group. The government should also work with more traditional settler leaders that disavow violence and realize how it is tarnishing the reputation of the settlement enterprise. The authors also recommend that U.S. officials stop waiting for a peace agreement to solve the settler violence problem and instead designate the responsible groups as terrorist organizations so that American citizens cannot send money to help fund attacks.

Many Israeli leaders are beginning to voice their concern over the violence. In July, the chairman of the settler umbrella organization Yesha Council, Danny Dayan, criticized the perpetrators of the violence. Dayan told his supporters, “Violence has become common currency in our camps while we remain silent…These acts present the biggest threat to the settlement enterprise. More than Barack Obama, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu.” Israeli police appear to be working more diligently to find the criminals. This week, Israeli police arrested a 17-year-old suspected of participating in an arson attack on a mosque in the West Bank town of Jabaa.

Following Thursday’s taxi firebomb, Prime Minister Netanyahu sent a reassuring message to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, telling him that he views the incident seriously. Netanyahu’s envoy called Abbas to say that Israeli security forces will do everything in their power to arrest those responsible. This is an unusual step for Netanyahu who typically only condemns the attacks. Haaretz explains the call, saying, “the attack on the Palestinian taxi apparently has the potential to cause an escalation in violence in the West Bank, and so Netanyahu decided on a different response this time.”

Click here to continue reading this CMEP Bulletin, including the following items:

  • Netanyahu ro reject Levy Commission report
  • Israel and the European Union clash over settlements
  • Company threatens to cut West Bank power over debt
  • Group urges government to reexamine police misconduct in East Jerusalem
  • Further reading