'Don't touch my land. Price Tag' is sprayed on a wall.
'Don't touch my land. Price Tag' is sprayed on a wall in the West Bank village of Sinjal. Photo by Amira Hass
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For 20 years, until the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987, the government of Israel was praised for an "enlightened occupation," one that was meant to enable peaceful coexistence between the Palestinian population and Israeli settlers. Since the second intifada erupted in the fall of 2000, that approach has been supplanted by colonialist politics that aim to dispossess the "natives" of their land and rights, and expel them from their country.

According to a report by Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass in today's newspaper, each day settlers attack Palestinians, kill their farm animals and destroy their property. A map of the violence - based on cross-checked reports and eye witness accounts from Ta'ayush (an Arab-Jewish human rights partnership ), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Israeli human rights watchdog B'Tselem - details no less than 40 attacks by Israeli settlers in just one month.

More than a decade ago, the state comptroller warned of the failure of the Israeli police in the occupied territories to enforce the law on settlers. From time to time the media feature photographic evidence of the worst incidents of settlers' violent behavior, including the use of live fire against Palestinians. The European Union and the Middle East Quartet (which includes the EU, the United States, Russia and the UN ) have condemned such assaults on Palestinians in the southern Hebron Hills. Yesh Din, the Israeli NGO monitoring the legal situation of Palestinians in the West Bank, analyzed 781 files handled by the Israeli police in the territories from 2005 until this March, and found that less than 9 percent of complaints lodged by Palestinians against apparent lawbreaking by settlers led to criminal indictments. More than 84 percent of the files, most for incitement, destruction of property and farm produce, and the theft of crops, were closed for reasons that testify to the failure of Israeli police investigations. Only 3 percent of these cases led to indictments.

These violent incidents are taking place in Area C, which is under the complete control of the Israeli government. The message being sent to the Israeli police command and the military, however, is that the settlers are in charge. Their hooliganism in Hebron and the Old City of Jerusalem has led to the silent deportation of many Palestinians. This silence won't last forever. When Israel forms a committee to investigate the next intifada, the prime minister and the defense minister won't be able to shake off their responsibility.