Beyond Bullies

11.12.13

When Israeli Settlers Direct Violence at Palestinian Schoolchildren

Israeli and Palestinian adults fighting in a conflict that has been going on for decades and spewing hate speech is bad enough. But whenever children become the targets, society is really in a sorry state of affairs.

Reaching a new low, that’s sadly not that new, Israeli settlers vandalized a Palestinian kindergarten in Hebron last week with vile hate speech, as Mairav Zonstein reported in +972.

The settlers spray-painted “Death to Arabs” in Hebrew on the schoolyard wall, just another recent example of an attack directed at Palestinian children and schools in the West Bank.

Some may think “price tag” attacks are relatively minor acts of vandalism—racially or religiously motivated hooliganism at best. But the repeating patterns of violence toward kids show a trend with a long-term goal: making daily life for Palestinians in the West Bank unbearable, and the creation of a viable Palestinian state improbable.

Education is key to creating strong leaders for any future Palestinian state. When settlers leave hateful slogans or worse for Palestinian students to see, they know they are not just scaring schoolchildren today. They are creating facts on the ground, new realities, which tell Palestinians they should not feel safe driving to work, harvesting crops or attending school.

An attack by settlers on a Palestinian elementary school last month showed the degree of hatred some are willing to stoop to in these vengeance-based attacks.

In the village of Jalud, settlers “threw rocks at the classrooms as well as at five parked cars belonging to teachers,” Amira Hass reported in Haaretz.

Four settler outposts, which even Israel considers illegal, surround Jalud. Four Israelis were reportedly arrested in connection with the attack, but students at the school said at least 20 settlers participated.

This is part of the problem. Not all settler violence against Palestinians can be attributed to the price tag motivation—a desire for revenge over Palestinian attacks on Israelis or Israeli government actions against settlements. According to a report by the Palestine Center, “so-called ‘price tag’ attacks only make up a very small part of the explanation behind why settler violence occurs.”

Settler violence can also be explained by demographics and Israeli security arrangements in the West Bank, which create “pockets where there is little or no deterrent for settler attacks.” In other words, Israeli forces are failing to stop violence against Palestinians, and settlers in some areas are given free reign to attack Palestinians with impunity. In some cases, IDF soldiers appear to be collaborating with violent settlers.

The settler attack at the elementary school occurred despite the fact that Israeli soldiers were patrolling the area due to the recent rise in West Bank violence. Israeli police and army forces arrived at the scene 45 minutes after the school was broken into, children were traumatized and some 400 olive trees were damaged by arson.

Attacks on school children send the message that Palestinians living in the West Bank, especially near settlements, will continue to pay a heavy price if they don’t leave. The attackers are intimidating Palestinian kids into submission, saying with every graffiti tag left for them to see, “Do not resist the occupation. We will win. You will lose.”

In March, seven children were injured when settlers allegedly threw rocks at two Palestinian school buses returning from a class trip. Extremist settlers frequently assault Palestinian children walking to school, and some students have to rely on Israeli military escorts in order to commute safely.

Those who perpetrate these attacks on children—and the kids are being attacked, not always physically, but always psychologically and socially—are multiplying existing tensions and the potential for open violence. For most Palestinian children who already only know Israelis as soldiers and settlers, when they find out what the Hebrew graffiti written on their school wall says, the hate will only grow.

Palestinian second graders traumatized by extremist settlers (some wielding the same rocks that Palestinian youth are regularly criticized for throwing at Israeli soldiers) will likely never forget the day their school was attacked or vandalized.

Israel apologists love to bring up the racist language and warped histories in Palestinian textbooks, especially those recently put into use in Gaza by Hamas. This hate speech is wrong, inaccurate and a disservice to learning. But sadly, outside West Bank schools, racist language is literally written on the wall.