It is easy to imagine what would have happened had Palestinians invaded an Israeli military base and vandalized vehicles, burned tires, thrown rocks at the brigade commander and injured his deputy. It would have ended in death, injury or arrest for many of them. But the perpetrators of this week's incident were Jews, not Palestinians, and they threw rocks at both soldiers and Palestinians.

The explanation voiced for the killing of Mustafa Tamimi, who died after being hit in the head by a tear-gas canister during a demonstration in Nabi Saleh on Friday, was that the young Palestinian man had been throwing rocks at an armored Israel Defense Force jeep. Even had that been true, one cannot ignore the disparity in the response to the stone-throwers in each case, where the only difference was their being Arab in one case and Jewish in the other.

The increasing incidence of settlers throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers and at Palestinians, without incurring return fire from the IDF, proves the hypocrisy of claiming that shooting is a justifiable response to Palestinians who throw rocks. And Tamimi didn't invade a military base; he was trying to protect his village from the settlers who seek to invade and expropriate it.

The proximity of the two incidents invites comparison, but the disparity in the response has long been evident. Demonstrating Palestinians are met with force - sometimes deadly - and arrests. Jews in the territories, even when they riot and use violence against Palestinians or the army, are usually accorded what amounts to immunity by both the military and the judicial establishments.

The disparity of response is the symptom of the broader problem, that of the fact of two populations living in the same territory, where each one is under a different legal system and is treated differently by the military. Israel is selective in its imposition of its law on the settlements and the settlers, creating a regime that discriminates on the basis of national identity. Sometimes Israeli law even applies to Jews who live in the West Bank but are not Israeli citizens.

There is a reason why international law prohibits occupying powers from settling its population in occupied territories. One of the outcomes of such a practice is the de facto annexation of the territory, with the occupying power giving its own nationals broader rights than it does the occupied population. That is the scenario that had played itself out in the West Bank.

Under the current circumstances, when one population and its army are allowed to rule over and use violence against another populuation, it should not come as a surprise that sometimes violence is also directed at the IDF.