Opinion |

The Israeli Tango

The army and police’s failure to prevent settler attacks, as happened last weekend, isn’t a surprise. They’re in cahoots

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Jewish settlers throw rocks at Palestinians during clashes near the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar.
Jewish settlers throw rocks toward Palestinians during clashes near the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar.Credit: AP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Let’s not delude ourselves: It’s not helplessness when the law-and-order authorities don’t prevent a predictable attack committed by settlers and when they don’t hasten to arrest suspects. That’s what happened when settlers on Friday attacked Ta’ayush activists, and others on Saturday attacked Palestinians from Hawara and Urif, the villages that have the misfortune of having Yitzhar and its spreading outposts located on their land. The question isn’t where is law enforcement, but why isn’t the Jewish Israeli majority outraged?

The Israeli authorities in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the settlers of all kinds have a common goal: expelling the Palestinians from their land if not to Jordan, then at least to areas A and B in the West Bank. This unwritten objective is seen in the daily actions of the army, the police, the Shin Bet security service, the Border Police and the Civil Administration.

True, the savagery visited on the Ta’ayush activists Friday went beyond anything they had previously experienced. But for Palestinians it is nothing unusual. This is precisely why the volunteers of Ta’ayush, modern-day heroes, decided 17 years ago to accompany Palestinians at some of the places most prone to violent settler activity (southern Mount Hebron and now in the Jordan Valley too).

Each week they volunteer to serve as a “human shield,” still on the assumption that their presence will obligate the police and army to intervene. They’ve stopped counting how many times they’ve come under attack from settlers while doing this, and how many times the soldiers have stood by or heeded the settlers’ orders to get the Palestinians and their escorts out of there.

For every incidence of violence by settlers, especially against soldiers and other Israelis, there are dozens of physical and verbal attacks that go unreported in the Israeli media because the victims are Palestinians. Often when Palestinians dare try to defend themselves the army intervenes and attacks them with stun grenades and tear gas. And then the police don’t come up with any suspects and close the case. Or they arrest Palestinians.

Thus at the instruction or inspiration of settlers from an unauthorized outpost near the Kfir military base in the Jordan Valley, shepherds were recently detained, their flocks were chased away and their donkeys were confiscated. This outpost and another one to the north – both just a few months old – are expanding despite stop-work orders by the Civil Administration. Under the noses of law the enforcement authorities, the settlers continue to harass the local shepherds and farmers to push them off their land.

This tango has been going on for decades. Back in 1981 and 1982, a committee led by Deputy Attorney General Yehudit Karp was tasked with examining Palestinian complaints about settler violence. Already then it found “flaws” in the police’s conduct. And already then the committee’s report stated that the problem wasn’t technical but concerned conceptions about the rule of law. Today it can be stated more directly: The problem is the supreme objective since 1948: as few Palestinians as possible, as much land for Jews as possible.

An article by Ta’ayush’s Guy Hirschfeld on the website 972 describes the police’s indifference. He says that when activists from the group informed the police last Friday that Jewish attackers were approaching, they were nonchalantly advised to record it. The people wounded in the assault (erroneously reported as “lightly” wounded based on the police statement) were almost detained as well because they didn’t immediately agree to file a complaint.

The law-and-order authorities are not acting in the name of abstract law and universal order. They represent the average Israeli Jew who knows that anytime he can get a highly subsidized house in the West Bank with a garden and a spectacular view. The minor problem that the owners of the (public and private) land happen to be Palestinians is dispensed with by the use of force. The settlers are only a reinforcement of the government’s violence. Something the Jewish citizen profits from.

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