Opinion |

Settler Violence Is an Integral Part of the Israeli Occupation

Zehava Galon
Uprooted olive trees taken down by settlers.
Uprooted olive trees taken down by settlers.Credit: Yesh Din
Zehava Galon

For years we’ve been hearing from the settlers about the need to “regularize” the “young settlements,” an Orwellian name given by the settler establishment to the illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank. But the lovely name deliberately conceals the reality on the ground. According to figures from Peace Now and Yesh Din-Volunteers for Human Rights presented at a Knesset debate on settler violence (organized by MKs Mossi Raz, Ibtisam Mara’ana and Osama Saadi), 63 percent of acts of settler violence against Palestinians take place in the vicinity of outposts.

All of the settlements, including the outposts, violate international law, according to UN Security Council Resolution 2334. And in a 2004 advisory opinion on the West Bank separation barrier, the International Court of Justice found that the settlements violate international law. Israel has recognized the settlements as legal, but even according to the Israeli government, the settlement outposts are illegal.

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Which explains the use of the Hebrew word “l’hakhshir” (to prepare or to make kosher) in regard to them: The settlements are impure by definition, but the government will twist the law and call them kosher. Since the promise of the government by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush to remove 105 outposts, Israeli governments have only added to them.

Settler violence has risen in recent years. The figures of the Israel Defense Forces, which do not always identify all the incidents, indicate that in 2020 there were 507 violent incidents on the part of the settlers, and in the first half of 2021 there were already 416 – in other words, an average of 2.5 incidents per day. Of the 1,256 incidents of settler violence documented by Yesh Din since 2012, 685 were physical assaults against Palestinians themselves and 500 were cases of damage to their property.

Damage to property has a strategic goal. Many Palestinians are denied access to their land during most of the year, with the IDF claiming that it cannot protect them from the settlers. Frequently, when they finally do get access to their land, they discover that it was set on fire, or that their trees have been uprooted. The purpose: to cause the Palestinians to despair over their land, to understand that they are risking violence and that they won’t have any crops, and to abandon their land.

The legal advisers of the IDF Central Command will declare these plots abandoned land and transfer them to the settlers. Yesh Din considers the outposts “the military posts of Jewish terrorism in the occupied territories.” In the final analysis, the hilltop youth are an arm of a government whose goal is to take control of Area C (which the Oslo Accords placed under both Israeli military and civil control).

Peace Now estimates that only about 5 percent of the settlers, about 22,000, live in the outposts. Presumably the IDF could have dismantled them, yet it has repeatedly failed in its attempts to do so. The violence of the settlers is also directed at soldiers and policemen, if they fail to act according to the wishes of the outpost youth. The far right fantasizes about incidents of violence by left-wing activists against soldiers; there are none. Violence by settlers against the security forces occurs on a weekly basis.

But not only the hilltop youth are to blame. Some of the media have also made an editorial decision not to talk about it. Once it had correspondents for the territories, now it has “settlement” correspondents. Every Shabbat there is a pogrom, and most of the Israeli public doesn’t hear a word about it.

This situation must change. If Israel does not want to look like an apartheid state, at a minimum it must uproot the weeds of the outposts.

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