Israel Pulse

Israeli politicians only condemn settler violence when it targets soldiers

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Article Summary
It takes inured soldiers for Israel's politicians to speak out against settler violence, an inherent companion of the occupation.

They are silent when the settlers from Yitzhar routinely burn the fields of their Palestinian neighbors and beat up the landowners. They never utter a word when Jewish thugs injure Israeli volunteers who come to the West Bank to accompany Palestinian farmers and shepherds to protect them against settler violence and the theft of their lands, carried out under the auspices of the state and its security forces. Apparently, their moral compass sees a settler who kicks an elderly Palestinian woman who dared harvest her olive trees differently from settlers who throw stones at soldiers. For them, breaking the arm of a Jewish leftist who comes to help an elderly Palestinian woman is not the same as hurting an Israeli soldier sent to protect the Jewish settlers.

On a good day, the beating of an elderly Palestinian woman and of a peace activist are relegated to a short note on page 12 of the daily paper. An Israeli soldier injured by rioters in the settlement of Yitzhar is a whole other story, fodder for top headlines. Politicians on the right and left, including the right-wing apologists for the radical settlers, were quick to condemn the violence. IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi warned, "It is inconceivable that IDF soldiers, who spend their days in defense of the settlers, would be attacked by those protected by them.’’ Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took time out from his busy schedule to announce that he “strengthens the hands of the IDF fighters and commanders who work night and day to protect the safety of all Israeli citizens, without exception.”

Central Command chief Maj. Gen. Nadav Paran, who is in charge of the Yitzhar region, had the most interesting reaction. Following the series of attacks on soldiers in recent days, he announced Oct. 20 that the IDF and other security forces were fully cooperating with the Samaria Regional Council “to prevent such action in the future and ensure the security and routine of the residents.” It's akin to a security guard protecting farmlands and orchards saying that he was cooperating with a company that regularly supplies fuel to arsonists and services to vandals. And no, these perpetrators are not, as the head of the regional council Yossi Dagan claimed, “people from outside the community.”

The Yizthar incident is no exception. A 2018 case study by the anti-occupation organization Yesh Din stated that settler violence serves as “a vehicle for taking over Palestinian land with state and military backing.” The group’s position paper focuses on 40 incidents documented by its people between January 2017 and March 2018, in which settlers and other Israeli civilians from Yitzhar and nearby outposts including Givat Ronen injured and damaged the property of the residents of six neighboring Palestinian villages. The incidents involved severe physical violence, arson, the slaughter of animals and uprooting or chopping down of trees and crops.

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The following is an abridged version of a typical incident, as recounted by a Palestinian villager near Nablus to Yesh Din researchers: “We arrived at the plot at about 10:15 in the morning. … We worked for about 20 minutes and then 14 or 15 settlers came down and started throwing stones at us. As they drew nearer, they covered their faces. We barely managed to escape them. I was injured by three stones and the owner of the plot was hit by a stone in his left leg. The settlers cursed and shouted in Arabic ‘ruh min hun,’ ‘get out of here.’ The soldiers remained standing on the hill and did not do anything. The jeep of the Civil Administration did not move. When we saw that they were not being arrested, we left the plot.”

The motive for these crimes is not only meanness and xenophobia. As the report’s authors write, “This violence is not incidental or banal. It is part of a system, another link in the chain of measures designed to create fear and horror, which will push the Palestinians from their lands and expand Israeli control over the occupied territories.”

The Israeli interpretation of Ottoman land laws in the West Bank determines that a farmer who stops tilling his land for a lengthy period risks losing his rights to the land, which the state can declare public property and allocate to West Bank settlements.

This interpretation is one of the foundations on which Israel constructed a unique legal system that cannot be compared to any other in the democratic world. Its top architect was undoubtedly Chief Justice Meir Shamgar, who passed away this week at age 94. In a tweet, Netanyahu praised Shamgar’s contribution to "the design of Israel’s legal foundations, including the legislation policy in [West Bank] Judea and Samaria."

In his roles as IDF attorney general during the 1967 Six-Day War, as the government’s legal counsel later on and ultimately as president of the Supreme Court, Shamgar showed incomparable legal maneuvering skills. He was the one to set up the legal foundations of the occupation and settlement enterprise, one that has been leading Israel toward an apartheid regime and keeps killing any prospects for a two-state solution. While the Geneva Convention prohibits an occupier from transferring populations to occupied territories, Shamgar ruled it does not apply to the "kept territories" of the West Bank, claiming that the convention refers only to territories that were under another state’s sovereignty prior to the conflict. Israel, out of good will alone, agrees to implement the humanitarian principles of the convention in the West Bank.

Shamgar was also behind the misleading decision to open the gates of the Supreme Court to residents of the West Bank, enabling them to petition the Israeli high court even if they ware not Israeli nationals. This way, the Israeli government could hide occupation evils like the security fence constructed in part on West Bank lands behind the claim that such decisions passed the legal test of the Supreme Court.

“The hands that were raised this week against volunteers of Rabbis for Human Rights, among them that of an assailant equipped with iron rods who set fire to whole orchards on his way, will not hesitate to throw stones at a soldier or to puncture the tires of a military vehicle,” Rabbis for Human Rights posted on Facebook. The post followed an attack on one of its volunteers, an 80-year-old rabbi. Quite right. The group called on the public to join other volunteers in protecting the Palestinian olive harvesters, arguing, “Solidarity and the pursuit of peace and justice is certainly the best answer to violence.” Wrong.

The idea of an “enlightened occupation” is an anachronism. This violence is the direct result of the occupation and exposes the rot of annexation. For half a century, the settlers have been serving as enthusiastic co-conspirators of successive Israeli governments. They cannot be absolved of blame and punishment, but we must never forget that behind every messenger, there is a sender and the sender’s message has always a destination.

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Found in: israeli occupation, palestinian-israeli conflict, idf, yitzhar, west bank, israeli settlements, settlers, settler attacks

Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.

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