Analysis |

Settler Violence Isn't 'Insignificant,' It's an Add-on to Israel's Institutional Violence

The prime minister's assertion is correct if he counts the number of people who take part in the violence. However, it hides a greater evil. Israel builds settlements, prevents Palestinian villages from developing, and expels Palestinians from their land

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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A smashed car after a settler attack on Khirbat Mufkara, in September.
A smashed car after a settler attack on Khirbat Mufkara, in September.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

An inspector from Israel’s Civil Administration posted a stop-work order on the fence of a playground in the West Bank village of Sussia on Wednesday morning. Putting up the order is not in itself a violent act – just the opposite, it’s a legitimate law enforcement measure, because the playground was built without a permit. But this act carries within it layers of violence that Public Security Minister Omar Bar-Lev ignored when he spoke only about settler violence.

He is right in seeing in their violence a disturbing trend. He is dissembling, however, by not discussing their goal, which is identical to that of the state and the government of which he is a member: to take over as much Palestinian land as possible and empty it of as many Palestinians as possible.

About a month before the order was posted, a group of religious Israeli Jews entered the playground, which is at the edge of the village. A group of armed soldiers guarded them. Nothing violent about this, supposedly. Just the opposite; who wouldn’t smile at the sight of young men swinging on swings meant for children of eight or nine? We all miss being children.

Settlers on the playground in the Palestinian village of Sussia, last month.Credit: Guy Butavia‎

But these young men weren’t there in order to recall their childhood. They spread out among the swings, the merry-go-round and the slide of Palestinian children to sound the alarm about what they see as the Civil Administration’s helplessness: Like all the structures in Sussia the playground was built, for lack of an alternative, without a permit. That’s because Sussia is in Area C, which according to the Oslo Accords is under exclusive Israeli control, and while Sussia’s Palestinian residents live on private land (after the Israel Defense Forces expelled them from their village in its original location in the mid-1980s), the Civil Administration will not give them construction permits.

The Israeli invaders of the Palestinian playground could not have done so without the physical protection of armed soldiers, and without the protection of the entire Israeli judicial and policing system in the West Bank. They went there to pressure the Civil Administration into destroying the swings, the merry-go-round and the slide. The mere threat of demolition is violent, since it constitutes use of force to harm, in this case, Palestinian children. The Jewish children in the adjacent settlement of Susya have a playground. All discrimination is a form of violence perpetrated by the powerful, even if no one is killed or injured as a result.

It wasn’t only the playground that disturbed the invaders from last month. The nonprofit association Regavim and the Susya settlement, which was established and is thriving thanks to Israeli military control in the West Bank, have for years demanded that the Civil Administration raze all of the homes in the Palestinian village. Residents of Susya have already taken control of some of Sussia’s land. They didn’t need to use direct violence to do this; it was enough for them to take advantage of their military and economic power.

The Civil Administration, for its part, rejected the master plans proposed by the Palestinian village’s residents, and has recommended that they relocate, “for their own good,” to an area adjacent to the city of Yatta – that is, adjacent to Area A – which according to the Oslo Accords is under full Palestinian control. The stop-work order against the playground – a procedural technicality, necessary because it was not issued during the site’s construction – will be followed by a demolition order.

Wednesday’s order symbolizes everything that Bar-Lev, a Labor Party stalwart, evaded by focusing his criticism on the violence of individuals: Under the cover of its institutional violence Israel, as a military regime, builds settlements in occupied territory, prevents Palestinian villages from developing and even from existing, and expels Palestinians from their land to too-densely populated Palestinian towns and cities. In this sense, settler violence is only an add-on.

Nevertheless, it is an important and difficult add-on for Palestinians. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, too, is simultaneously both correct and disingenuous when he treats settler violence as an insignificant phenomenon. He is correct if he is talking about the attacks that for one reason or another drew the attention of Israeli media outlets: They are negligible in comparison to the number of attacks that are not reported and not covered.

And he is being disingenuous – because he undoubtedly knows just how much profit the reported and the unreported attacks yield and have yielded for the entire settlement enterprise and its goal of emptying more territory of its Palestinian inhabitants: For example, as B’Tselem has documented and calculated, in the past five years persistent violence by a small number of settlers in four small settlement outposts in the West Bank have enabled them to take control of Palestinian territory equal to the area of the Israeli city of Hebron – about 7.3 square miles, or 4,700 acres. And that’s just one small example. A few dozen small illegal and unauthorized and violent settlement outposts have managed to take control of about 10 times that amount of Palestinian land, double the built-up area of all the settlements combined.

The prime minister is correct if he is counting the number of people who have taken part and continue to take part in the violence themselves. You don’t need an entire Kiryat Arba; 12 young men from this settlement can wake up an entire neighborhood in Hebron, frighten dozens of children and destroy 10 cars. A single Jewish shepherd, riding a tractor or a horse, armed with a pistol and a drone, can destroy the livelihoods of at least 12 Palestinian sheepherding families who can no longer take their flocks to pasture and grow the grain and vegetables to support them.

All it takes is one such Jewish shepherd in every area, aided sometimes by young high school dropouts. For example: In the Umm Zuqa nature reserve, in the northern Jordan Valley; on the lands of Uja, north of Jericho; on the lands of Kobar and Umm Safa, west of Ramallah; on the lands of al-Tawani. In the same manner, just a handful of settlers have and continue to take control of dozens of springs that have been used by Palestinian farmers for centuries.

But the prime minister dissembles when he addresses only the most recent attacks, and makes his audience forget that this “marginal” phenomenon has been going on for decades. For obvious political reasons, Bennett does not calculate the enormous number of people who close their eyes to the violence of the few: in the Israel Police, in the IDF, in the state prosecution and in the settlements themselves. In so doing, they encouraged and encourage the few to continue, and to bring in others. Not many – but bold enough to destroy the work and the lives of dozens more Palestinian families.

Bennett also makes us forget, in his comment to Bar-Lev, the great army of collaborators that these few assailants have among the settlers: They are the soldiers who defend the attackers or simply stand to the side when they assault Palestinians; the police, who don’t investigate or don’t bother to find suspects or who close investigations due to lack of interest to the public; the prosecution, which doesn’t file charges; and the settlement councils and government offices that fund the small number of supposedly violent individuals.

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