Israel Must Deal With Settler Violence Sooner Rather Than Later

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Graffiti sprayed on a building in El Bireh, on Tuesday. The Hebrew reads 'enemies live here.'

For decades, the pattern of Israeli violence toward Palestinians in the West Bank has been one of “private rampages,” the declared goal of which was to expel Palestinians from their public and private spaces, thereby gradually gaining control of yet another dunam, another spring or another cistern.

A B’Tselem report calculates how much land was closed off to Palestinians through systematic violence just by residents of five illegal outposts and one settlement in five different parts of the West Bank that were surveyed. It amounted to 28,000 dunams (7,000 acres).

Long-time settler leader Ze’ev Hever estimates that the approximately 150 outposts and individual farms have succeeded in gaining control of about 200,000 dunams across the West Bank – more than twice the built-up areas of all the settlements combined.

The sanctity of this mission is evidenced by the fact that attacks on Palestinians justify violating the religious prohibitions of Jewish holidays and Shabbat. They include cutting down and burning olive trees, torching mosques, vandalizing cars, grazing sheep in Palestinian pastures and orchards, stealing harvests, using drones to spy on Palestinians and attacking farmers and shepherds with dogs, stones and even live fire.

The helplessness of the forces of law and order in the face of this settler violence and the culture of the outposts proves that this is not just a case of bureaucratic failure. If the political and legal establishment wanted to, it could find ways to put an end to this Jewish terror. The reason for this official helplessness is simple. The B’Tselem report explains: The government and the settlers share a common goal of wresting control of as much Palestinian territory in the West Bank as possible and pushing the Palestinians into densely populated, non-contiguous enclaves.

Israel does this by fictitiously declaring areas live-fire zones or nature reserves; prohibiting Palestinian building, urban development and connections to water and electricity in Area C; destroying buildings and cisterns; and cutting off water supplies.

Many Palestinian communities continue to live on their land despite the difficult conditions that Israel has imposed on them. Armed attacks by settlers, protected by the army and granted immunity by the legal system, have succeeded where official actions have failed: Often Palestinians can no longer reach their land and even abandon their homes. The settlers are flexing their muscles more than ever.

Greater determination and a greater sense of urgency are needed both by Israelis and the international community to curb the growing number of expropriations and deportations that the settlers are undertaking in cooperation with the Israeli establishment. The indifference of Israeli civil society is tantamount to consent, and it will pay for it dearly.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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