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Is Israeli settler violence contributing to the current wave of terror?

Israeli settlers' violence toward Palestinians adds to the frustration and anger of Palestinian youth.
Israeli settlers throw stones at Palestinian houses (not seen) in the West Bank city of Hebron October 9, 2015. Four Arabs were stabbed in a town in southern Israel on Friday and a Jewish suspect was arrested, police said. The attacks follow a surge in knife violence by Palestinians against Israelis. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma - RTS3PRD

At the request of US Secretary of State John Kerry and King Abdullah of Jordan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed on Oct. 24 to set up cameras at the Temple Mount that will provide an around-the-clock live feed of the events at the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque. One thing is certain, the objective is to have “watchful eyes” and prove to the Palestinians, the Jordanians and indeed the world that there has been no change in the status quo at the compound.

Since the outbreak of the wave of terror at the beginning of October, Israeli officials have been contending that the attacks are a direct result of the incitement by the northern chapter of the Islamic movement in Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA), Hamas and — according to Netanyahu — “several countries” that he would not name. That has led to the conclusion that if the heated spirits at the Temple Mount were to calm down, the Palestinians would not be able to argue that the mosque is in danger, and so life could go back to normal and tension would wane.

But were the events at the Temple Mount and the unrest at Al-Aqsa the only thing that set the ground on fire? On Oct. 21, former OC Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon offered another motive. Testifying in the trial against the operators of the website Hakol HaYehudi (Jewish Voice) that have been charged with incitement to violence and racism, Alon — currently serving as the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of the Operations Directorate — said that the Palestinians were also motivated to carry out attacks against Israelis due to violence by right-wing activists against them. "I believe that Palestinian violence has many causes," Alon testified. "Some of it has to do with the terrorists’ murderous character. Part of it stems from religious and nationalist motives. And there is one part — and not the principle one — that has to do with taking revenge on Israelis for their actions against Palestinians."

Documenting settler assaults on Palestinians, human rights organizations and left-wing activists in Israel agree with Alon. Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the president of Rabbis for Human Rights, told Al-Monitor, "This is undoubtedly one of the reasons, even if not the main one, which has unleashed the recent outburst of violence and attacks in Israel." On Oct. 23, Ascherman was attacked by a right-winger and was almost stabbed while trying to supervise and protect the Palestinian olive harvest in Judea and Samaria.

"The person who tried stabbing me could have easily murdered me, yet at some point he decided not to," Ascherman recounts. "It’s possible that if I were an Arab, I would have gotten a different treatment. I also don’t think that the media would have covered it the same way it covered the attempted murder. This violence toward the Palestinians — which I see all the time in the course of the organization’s work — is a daily occurrence. There are many acts of violence. It’s true that the events at Al-Aqsa lead to unrest, but I think that the violence [of the settlers] on the one hand as well as the leniency of the Israeli rule of law [toward them] on the other play a part in what’s going on today. The Israeli public is not exposed to what’s going on in the territories. The Israeli media generally doesn’t report such events systematically and on an ongoing basis."

The Yesh Din human rights organization is also monitoring settler attacks against Palestinians in the territories. Fully documenting the way the law is being enforced, it checks whether right-wing activists suspected of attacking Palestinians are brought to justice. Published last May, a detailed report by the organization highlights the faults at all stages of the investigation, stating that "85.3 percent of investigative files are closed due to the failure of the police investigators to locate suspects or to find sufficient evidence to enable indictment. Only 7.4 percent of investigations yielded indictments against suspects. Only one-third (32.7 percent) of legal proceedings ended in the full or partial conviction of the defendants."

Ziv Stahl, the organization’s research director who also compiled the report, said, "The chance that a complaint submitted to the Israel Police by a Palestinian will lead to an effective investigation, the location of a suspect, prosecution, and ultimate conviction is just 1.9 percent."

The report reads that "the law enforcement system in the West Bank lacks the most important component of all: a genuine motivation to investigate, prosecute, and convict Israeli offenders who attack Palestinians."

This view is also shared by senior PA officials who argue that unless settler violence in the territories against Palestinians is stopped, there is no chance of calming the atmosphere on the ground. Mustafa Barghouti — the general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, a member of the PLO Council and one of the champions of an unarmed popular uprising in the territories — maintains that the daily violence toward the Palestinians leads to two results: a desire by the young people to respond to settler violence and their total distrust in the ability of the Palestinian security bodies to react to the attacks against them. Barghouti is considered to be a senior Palestinian figure who understands, and even supports, the motivation of young Palestinians to what he calls “resistance to the occupation.”

On Oct. 24, he dodged an assassination attempt. He said in an interview with Al-Monitor that an unmasked youth arrived at his Ramallah home, demanding that he stop his support of the intifada. Before running away, the assailant managed to stab him in the face. Barghouti said he does not know who stabbed him, but he has no doubt that those standing to gain from this incident are opponents of the Palestinian people. According to him, settler violence toward the Palestinians is what has brought the latter to understand — 22 years after the signing of the Oslo Accord — that there is no future for them. And this is why what is going on right now is a struggle.

"One of the most significant causes of the uprising and the outburst of rage is settler violence, which peaked with the torching of the Dawabsha house in Douma and killing the family inside [July 31]," Barghouti said. "This made the Palestinians realize that they have no security. The previous generations might not have known what they were missing. Yet this Palestinian generation, which is exposed to the Internet and the world, understands very well where it lives and what it is missing. Apart from unemployment and hopelessness, they suffer at the hands of settlers who attack their villages and surroundings. And those incidents go without a response, not even by the Palestinian security forces. This generation feels abandoned.”

Israeli and Palestinian human rights activists are in full agreement that if the current wave of terror against Israel is truly to be stopped, Israel must immediately and simultaneously tackle two acute issues: calming down the atmosphere at the Temple Mount and enforcing the law in the territories, including issuing restraining orders against right-wing activists and settlers who attack Palestinians and also putting them under arrest. While this is certainly not on par with a diplomatic solution, it would serve, however, as first aid in smothering the fire at flash points.

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