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August 12 2022 5:44 PM ˚
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Settlers’ terror against Palestinians, a ticking bomb

Osama al sharif
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. (Photo: Jordan News)
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They have been called “sub-human”, “terrorists” and their actions are often similar to those of “terror organizations”. Those being called out are the radical Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, and the labels were slapped at them not by Palestinians but by key Israeli figures, including former army officers.اضافة اعلان

Israeli bulldozers uproot a Palestinian olive tree near Deir Ballut Town in the occupied West Bank. (Photo: Twitter)

Last week, seven Israeli human rights activists were injured following a settler attack near the Palestinian village of Burin, in the West Bank. The activists were to show solidarity with Palestinian farmers whose orchards were damaged by Jewish settlers. According to Israeli press reports, around 15 masked assailants came from the nearby illegal outpost of Giv'at Ronen. They attacked the activists, hurling stones at them and setting one of their cars on fire. They fled the scene before the Israeli army arrived at the scene.

Footage of the attack went viral but this was not an isolated incident. Over the years, radical settlers got more daring and more provocative in their attacks against hopeless Palestinian villagers, uprooting olive trees, burning cars, attacking Palestinian children, setting houses on fire and, most recently, running down innocent pedestrians.

While the international community looked the other way as these attacks became the norm for Palestinian villagers, a growing number of key Israeli figures rose up to warn of the damage the settlers are doing to Israel’s image and of the dangers they now pose to Israeli society itself. Others have warned that such brazen attacks are making the West Bank “a ticking bomb” that could explode at any minute.

Retired general and former deputy military chief Yair Golan has come out to describe settlers as “sub-human” because of their attacks on Palestinians. Now a legislator with the Meretz party, he told the Associated Press this week that “you can’t have a free and democratic state so long as we are controlling people who don’t want to be controlled by us”.

He had previously prompted a backlash for comments that likened the atmosphere in Israel to that of Nazi-era Germany. His criticism of “fascistic trends in modern-day Israel similar to Nazi Germany” had cost him his job in the military.

Joining him in criticizing the settlers’ attack on human rights activists is Israel's public security minister, Omer Bar-Lev, who described the incident as the "actions of a terror organization”.

"In this case, it is apparently an organized action, in my view, of a terror group working together," he said.

This was not the first time that the minister criticized the settlers’ actions; recently he had said that he had received death threats not from Arabs but from Israelis. Bar-Lev was attacked by the Israeli right, with Minister of Interior Ayelet Shaked calling him “confused" after he told a visiting American official he was working on the problem, and insisting that violence against Palestinians is a real issue.

One retired Israeli general, Gadi Eisenkot, had warned that sympathy and support for Hamas in the West Bank is on the rise and that another round of violence taking place in the occupied areas is likely.

“The question is not whether there will be another outbreak, but when and how intense it will be. It is quite clear that this will happen. There’s no way that it’s not going to happen,” he said in an interview with Maariv, adding that it will happen “at the least convenient time and place for us”.

Ignoring all such warnings is right-wing Israeli Premier Naftali Bennett who called settler violence in the West Bank an "insignificant phenomenon". Bennett and far right Israeli politicians have become dependent on the vote of radical Jewish settlers in election cycles. That dependency started with former prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu who, in the end, could not compete with the likes of Bennett who promised the settlers free hand in the West Bank.

But the violence against Palestinians is increasing significantly and so are incidents of kidnapping, use of live ammunition and running down of Arabs.

According to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, this year saw a rise in settler violence of 28.6 percent compared to last year. Yesh Din, which also documents such violence, received reports of 540 settler attacks from 2018 to 2021. Palestinians filed police complaints in 238 of these cases, but only 12 – five percent – resulted in indictments, according to Haaretz.

Most of the attacks come from what Israel calls unauthorized or illegal outposts — settlements which had not been approved — and the settlers carry out almost daily campaigns to terrorize Palestinian residents, killing their cattle, shooting at their windows and uprooting their olive trees.

Such acts will continue to build up pressure inside the West Bank and it will take one major incident to ignite the occupied territories. Meanwhile, the Israeli government continues to authorize more illegal housing units, in defiance of international law.

These terrorist acts by Jewish settlers will continue to divide the Israeli society which is leaning further to the right and where support for a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians is waning. At one point, there will be an outbreak of violence and the crisis will put pressure on Israel internally, across the region and beyond. Bennett must be wary of the ticking bomb in the West Bank.  

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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