An Unending Settler Pogrom

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It is night time and the children are sleeping. The tranquility is broken by a group of masked men rampaging through the village, yelling obscenities. Stones are thrown, breaking windows. The children wake up in terror. A Molotov cocktail is thrown into the house, engulfing the curtains in flames.

South of Nablus, between the settlements of Yitzhar and Har Bracha, the village of Burin is groaning. How many of you have heard of Burin, or know that it’s been assaulted 2-3 times a week in the last month, some of the attacks occurring at night? The perpetrators are groups of Israeli youths whose aim is to make the villagers leave.

Of course you haven’t heard of Burin. Why would you?

Burin was once a magnificent village, with thousands of acres of tilled and productive land, with thousands of residents living peacefully as they made their living off the land. Since then Yitzhar and Har Bracha were established on these lands, as well as a string of illegal settlements, such as Har Bracha B and C, Mitzpe Yitzhar and probably others I’ve forgotten. In addition, the Hawara military base and checkpoint were erected on Burin’s lands. Travel restrictions were imposed on the villagers, as is the fate of every Palestinian village that finds itself too close to the masters of the land.

Over the years, and especially under the cloak of the intifada, a significant part of its tilled lands underwent official Judaization. Residents estimate that a quarter of the inhabitants have left the village over the last decade. Some went in search of a livelihood while others fled in fear of assaults by Jewish settlers. Burin is a village under siege, at risk of being wiped out. It’s not the only one.

In January 2014, new guidelines set by the European Union take effect, designed to prevent the use of European funds for directly or indirectly supporting the settlement enterprise. Last week, we witnessed the opening round, with the negotiations over Israel joining the Horizon 2020 funding program for research and scientific collaboration. Public and diplomatic discussions of the EU guidelines dealt only with the political ramifications and the impact on peace negotiations. This discourse serves Israel well, since it makes the issue a political one, over which a compromise can be reached.

However, discussing the settlement enterprise in the occupied territories only in political terms is like discussing an ecological disaster only in financial terms, while ignoring the long-term damage to the environment, to animals and to people living nearby.

In addition to its being illegal according to international law, the Israeli settlement of the West Bank (sanctioned and non-sanctioned by successive governments) is an egregious violation of Palestinian’s human rights. According to longstanding documentation compiled by Israeli human rights groups and peace activists, every settlement, even when its residents refrain from directly assaulting their neighbors, becomes a focal point, around which layers of human rights violations are created. This violation expands over the years, as the settlements grow.

Every settlement is surrounded by a cordon of land, often including Palestinian farming land, in which travel is restricted or completely prohibited. Some of the extreme settlements serve as bases from which assailants emerge to harass their neighbors, destroying their property or defiling their places of worship, preventing them from leading their traditional way of life. Israeli settlements also suck up all natural resources in the area for the benefit of Israel’s economy, leaving Palestinians with the only option of performing manual labor in the service of this robbery, all for a pittance in wages.

The settlement area constantly expands, officially or unofficially, accompanied by violence and illegal construction, often with forcible confiscation of land and tilled orchards. This increases the space in which Palestinian rights are violated and reduces their already meager land reserves.

The military regime in the West Bank, in which Israelis and Palestinians are subject to different laws and regulations, modern and respectful for the former and draconian for the latter, creates a methodical and systemic violation of the Palestinians’ rights to equality and dignity. Shamefully, it has created two parallel realities there: Judea and Samaria for the settler lords of the land, and the lowly West Bank for Palestinian subjects, devoid of any rights.

The military authorities have also failed to protect Palestinians from violent settler elements. According to human rights group Yesh Din, 90% of complaints against settlers in 2005-2013 were closed with no charges filed. In 97.4% of 200 cases of assaults on orchards, mainly olive groves, the police did not charge those responsible.

These are not by-products of the settlement enterprise, but are direct results of the one-sided and aggressive colonization drive which directs natural resources away from the original inhabitants to benefit the newcomers.

The current debates over EU guidelines are not serious. These guidelines are a belated attempt to evade historic and legal culpability for these crimes, for which all are responsible, settlers and their supporters and enablers

It’s time we removed our earplugs and listened to the sounds emanating from the shtetl of Burin. We might recognize familiar sounds from our own collective past.

A Palestinian farmer from Burin inspecting the remains of his olive trees in February 2013. Settlers from nearby Yitzhar allegedly pulled them down. Credit: AFP

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