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On Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon released a special statement in which he said that he viewed "with the very gravest seriousness" the reports of the uprooting of hundreds of olive trees near the West Bank village of Inbus. Since then, the country has been holding its breath: What happens when the prime minister sees the behavior of the settlers as gravely serious vandalism? He even he instructed the security forces "to take all possible steps to apprehend those responsible and bring them to justice."

Sharon is a champ when it comes to making statements. His political behavior navigates skillfully between external gestures heavily laced with declarations of intent. In this he is reminiscent of a chef who quickly raises and lowers the flames under his pots. The trouble is that he continues to play with fire.

Thus, Sharon announces the removal of closures in the territory when American anger boils over the conditions of the Palestinians. He announces his intent personally to see to the problems of the Arab sector when foment there reaches a new flash point. And thus he promises the governor of the Bank of Israel that he will keep a lid on the budget in order to stop the governor from lowering the interest rate. Sharon changes his opinions and his statements with changing circumstances.

The special statement on Friday comes in the wake of the public relations damage done to Israel by reports (in Hebrew in Yediot Ahronot) of the destruction of the Inbus olive groves by settlers from the illegal outpost near Yizhar. The picture is certainly terrible in its cruelty: settlers prevented the villagers from getting to their groves at harvest time, just as they had done in previous years. When, a week ago, some villagers dared to try to approach their lands, protected by volunteers and a handful of police, they found that hundreds of trees, the source of their livelihood, had been cut down.

Anyone who watches television knows those types who live on the hills. Those peculiar bullies, raging as they spit out their personal manifestos, go wild in their confrontations with soldiers and police. Ordinarily they do not speak, but rather shout their expressions with an air of superiority, waving clubs and sowing terror around them. They are the cup of venom of the settlement movement. In theory, they are an exception, from which the Yesha mainstream demurs; in practice, they are the very embodiment of the entire settler idea.

These wild men from the Yizhar hills, like the hysterical women of the Jewish enclave in Hebron, and the aggressive young men from the settlement of Tapuah, come in the name of the right of the Jews to greater Israel. They conquer hill after hill in the name of the divine promise. The first settlers went to Sebastia in the name of that promise, and in its name they are still developing Jewish settlement over the Green Line.

The brutality with which the settlers from the Yizhar hills took over the lands of the Inbus villagers is only one example of the violent actions that the state of Israel has carried out in the Palestinian territories since 1967. In Palestinian eyes, the establishment of the "legal" settlements is rape, and the growth of "illegal" outposts is aggression, and so is the invasion of the Inbus olives groves by individual settlers.

That is true with regard to the individual cases of destruction wrought by the settlers: they are a reflection of the institutionalized attack by the state on the rights of the Palestinians. That is what the "denuding" of the land, the fencing off, and the expropriation is about. The violence of the hilltop youth is an unavoidable growth in the climate of Israel-Palestinian relations.

Back to Sharon's statement: What is more obvious than to send a battalion, properly outfitted for its mission, to the hills surrounding Yizhar and to dismantle the illegal outposts? Instead, the prime minister publishes a statement, dripping with pure olive oil.