Israel's Defense Minister Calls Settler Attacks 'Terrorism'

Moshe Ya'alon calls conduct 'legally and morally illegitimate'; Chairman of Yesha council of settlements also condemns attacks, saying it damages settlement movement.

Gili Cohen
Jack Khoury
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Gili Cohen
Jack Khoury

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon criticized Wednesday attacks carried out by settlers in the West Bank, calling their actions “terrorism for all intents and purposes,” and promised that security forces would take strong action to curb the phenomenon.

On Tuesday, about 10 masked settlers from the Esh Kodesh outpost trespassed on land owned by Palestinians in the village of Kusra, near Nablus. Palestinian villagers apprehended the settlers and beat them. The settlers claimed they were out for a hike, but Palestinians reported that they were vandalizing Palestinian property.

Following Tuesday's incident, Palestinian cars were vandalized and graffiti was scrawled on buildings in nearby villages Wednesday morning.

Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian Authority official responsible for monitoring settlements in the northern West Bank on behalf, said Wednesday that settlers torched two cars with Molotov cocktails on the bypass road around Kusra and spray-painted graffiti on walls in the area with the slogan “Esh Kodesh revenge” and “price tag.”

Jewish extremists have used the term “price tag” to describe retaliatory acts targeting Israelis as well as Palestinians in response to what they see as acts harming the settlement movement.

“The State of Israel cannot permit itself to have phenomena of this kind emerge from within. They are legally and morally illegitimate,” Ya’alon said Wednesday, adding that such acts harm Israel’s image and do major damage to the settlements.

Settlers are law-abiding citizens, Ya'alon continued, adding, “There is no connection between these lawbreakers and the settlement [movement] and its upstanding people.”

“We will not permit marginal, extreme and violent groups to take control by force of land that is not theirs, in violation of the law, or to threaten Palestinian residents who are working their [own] land,” Ya’alon said. He condemned conduct by the settlers that endangers public order and could incite a conflagration. “We will continue to employ all means at our disposal to remove them from our midst.”

For his part, in an interview with Army Radio, Avi Roeh, the chairman of the Yesha Council of Jewish settlements, also condemned the settlers’ conduct, saying its was not only “problematic” and “inappropriate” but also hurt the settlement movement. “We don’t control everyone who takes the law into his own hands,” he added.

Roeh’s predecessor as chairman of the Yesha Council, Dani Dayan, was even more critical of the settlers. “I’m sick of the idiots who think that the Land of Israel is acquired through use of a club, a box of match and provocations,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “I’m sick of Jewish masked houligans, who harm soldiers, policemen and innocent Arabs. I’m sick of the irresponsible people who carry out acts of injustice and foolishness. It is not the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) that had to issue orders keeping them out of the area. We are the ones who need to issue the ‘restraining orders’ to stay out of our communities and away from us.”

“It seems,” Dayan added wryly, “that there are good Arabs who are not dead Arabs. Arab hooligans have been bravely confronted by a group of good Arabs—good people—who prevented harm to Jews. Who will thank them as they deserve?”
Daghlas said residents of the nearby Palestinian village of Madama reported that two masked men whom they said were settlers had come to the area early Wednesday by car and torched an automobile belonging to the village doctor. Several villages reported spotting them and said they gave chase, but that the settlers escaped.

The villagers said the Israeli army beefed up its presence in the area following the incidents on Tuesday and Wednesday out of concern that matters could escalate. Daghlas said someone had put up signs at the Tapuah junction checkpoint to the south vowing revenge at the treatment of the settlers by the villagers in Kusra, including threats against the residents of Kusra and the nearby Palestinian village of Jalud.

Prior to these two incidents, the IDF demolished a building in Esh Kodesh and uprooted olive trees that settlers had planted on Palestinian-owned land. After being held by a group of Palestinian villagers, the outpost residents were turned over to the IDF. Some suspect the settlers were seeking revenge for the army’s demolition of buildings at Kusra. After being turned over to the army, the settlers were taken into custody.

In other developments in the West Bank on Wednesday, an Israeli woman was lightly injured near the Palestinian village of Laqi, east of Qalqilyah, when stones were thrown at her car. She was treated for her injuries at a hospital. Damage was caused to her car and another vehicle. IDF troops searched the area.

A Palestinian man looks at his destroyed vehicle in the village of Madama, on January 8, 2014.Credit: AFP
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alonCredit: Olivier Fitoussi