Column

10.09.12

Where Settler Terrorism Comes From

Following a series of violent incidents involving settler and pro-settler Jewish Israeli extremists, including the attempted lynching of a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem, many Israelis expressed concern about the rise in violent hatred within their society and wondered where it was coming from. Several incidents over the weekend demonstrated that this trend is only intensifying and clearly pointed to why.

For the answer, Israelis need look no further than across the Green Line: settler terror is an inevitable consequence of the occupation and the myriad policies of the Israeli state that enable this extremism.

As they have for numerous years, extremist settlers are again violently disrupting the Palestinian olive-picking season, which is now underway. Settlers have been attacking Palestinians on their way to pick olives and destroying trees and orchards. Palestinians complain that the settlers are operating with impunity under the watchful eyes of Israeli authorities who do little to restrain—and even less to arrest or prosecute—them.

Increasingly, occupation forces are also coming under settler "price tag" attacks (retribution for government crackdowns on illegal activities), with three undercover Israeli police officers posing as Palestinians violently attacked by extremist settler youths near Hebron. The police say they did nothing to provoke the youths, who have been arrested because they made the mistake of assaulting occupation forces rather than Palestinians.

The recent violence comes in the wake of earlier attacks against Israeli forces by extremist settlers, and a constant barrage of assaults on Palestinians. Some of these attacks have been videotaped in a manner that suggests Israeli forces on the scene stood by impassively. Attacks have also been spreading to target Christian sites including churches and monasteries.

"Price tag" violence has become part of a deep-seated culture of hatred and impunity on the part of Jewish Israeli extremists. Like the racist Ku Klux Klan in the American deep south during the civil rights era, violent settlers are encouraged by incitement from radical establishment figures and operate under a well-founded belief that the system will not act systematically or forcefully to restrain or punish them in most cases.

This atmosphere of impunity, and even encouragement, was dramatically illustrated by a celebratory sendoff at an Israeli settlement over the weekend for a man convicted of severely abusing a Palestinian teenager. The event honoring this thug was attended by local settler leaders and rabbis, and by a member of the Knesset.

One of these rabbis, the notorious extremist Dov Lior, encouraged the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and is noted for violent and racist statements against Arabs and other Gentiles. He serves as the head of the "Council of Rabbis of Judea and Samaria" (settler rhetoric for the occupied West Bank), and is employed by the Israeli government as the rabbi of the Kiryat Arba settlement. Among many other extreme statements, he endorsed a book by another radical settler rabbi that advocated the killing of Gentiles, including infants, “if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us.”

It is true that such extremism doesn't characterize all, or perhaps even most, Israeli settlers. But this mentality is part and parcel of the settlement movement and nothing effective is being done either by that movement or by the Israeli state to seriously counteract the continued growth of such hatred and extremism. The Israeli police on several occasions have announced the establishment of units to focus on such extremism, but this does not appear to have done anything so far to restrain or counteract the flourishing of the culture of violence, hate and impunity.

In his recent U.N. speech, which was basically a litany of familiar and mostly justified complaints, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas led with the issue of settler violence. But it's not clear was what, exactly, Abbas can do about it other than complain. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has also repeatedly stated that these attacks, along with Israeli government incursions into Palestinian ruled areas, constitute some of the most serious threats to the credibility of the Palestinian Authority.

These attacks are intended to send a message to Palestinians that they live under Israeli occupation and that there is little or nothing they can do to protect themselves from settler rampages. Given that the Israeli government typically offers little more than rhetorical condemnations of this violence, that message is being received loud and clear. It therefore constitutes one of the gravest threats to the promotion of a culture of peace, and stability on the ground, between Israel and the Palestinians, as it enacts the relationship of dominance and subordination inherent in the occupation on a daily basis.

Other Israelis need not wonder how or why such attacks take place. They are the inevitable byproducts of the occupation itself, the culture it promotes, and the rhetoric and mentality of the settler movement that is so generously subsidized and protected by the state itself. But because they are such a direct and grave threat to the rule of law, the cultural health of its society, and prospects for peace, settler terrorism is profoundly antithetical to Israel's real interests. And until the Israeli government finally decides to act decisively against the violence and the culture that informs it, rather than coddling and subsidizing them, the problem is only going to get worse.