Palestine Monitor, 17 March 2011
Nablus and the surrounding villages is one the worst effected areas for settler violence. Both government sponsored settlements and so-called ‘illegal outposts’ dot the hills and serve as a constant reminder to the local Palestinian population that they are surrounded by hostility. The recent murder in the Itamar settlement has temporarily brought media attention to the area but the local Palestinian population has long had to deal with the devastating effects of living in close proximity to many in the settlements who want to forcefully exert their perceived right to the land.
Written and photographed by Sophie O’Brien
Ziyad Othman, official spokesperson for the governorate of Nablus explains that there is a variety of factors which make Nablus and the surrounding areas a hub for settler violence. ‘There are a high percentage of religious, violent settlers in the area’ he claims. Significantly, ‘Five members of the Knesset live in the surrounding settlements belonging to a coalition of right-wing parties’ he asserts, thus demonstrating the infiltration of the settler ideology into the highest echelons of government. The Itamar settlement is also home to one of the most ideologically fervent Rabbis who has been known to ‘issue decrees for the killing of Palestinians.’ As a final factor compounding the propensity for violence against Palestinians, Ziyad reminds of the fact that many of the settlers are ultra-orthodox and so do not have jobs whilst receiving compensation from the government. In this sense, many of the settlers simply have too much time on their hands. All these factors, he asserts, ‘encourage the settlers to act violently.’
The most recent case of brutal settler violence in the Nablus region occurred in Qusra on the 7th of March where local Palestinians where attacked on their own land by settlers from a surrounding outpost using live ammunition. Two people still remain in a critical condition. This case gained only cursory attention from Israeli media sources yet is but one example of settler violence which has had devastating effects on the local Palestinian population.
A local woman who was working on her field with her son at the time of the attack detailed the sequence of events. ‘My son saw the settlers approaching and alerted the municipality of Qusra,’ she asserts. Their intention for violence was clear from the outset as she explained that they were visibly wielding ‘knives and stones.’
The violence quickly escalated as the local woman noted that a settler was using live ammunition and ‘shooting indiscriminately.’ More ominously, according to Maria Delgado, a worker with the EAPPI who was in Qusra at the time, soldiers used both rubber bullets and live ammunition. The presence of the IDF, who arrived soon after merely acted as an additional force which the local villagers had to contend with. Their official purpose of halting the violence and dispersing the crowd was subordinate to their true intentions: ‘its not for the sake of the Palestinians it’s for the sake of the settlers…of course they are there to protect the settlers,’ Maria asserted.
The recent murder of five family members in the Itamar settlement is undoubtedly tragic but it highlights a more disturbing trait within Israeli media which appears to prioritise Israeli suffering over Palestinian suffering. A recent article from a national Israeli newspaper which suggested Palestinian responsibility for the attack stated that the murder had occurred during a ‘period of relative calm.’ This renders the recent attacks on the livelihood of local Palestinians through the uprooting of 500 olive trees and the incident in Qusra not to mention other settler antagonism in the Nablus region as irrelevant. Maria affirms the marginalisation of settler violence within Israeli media, ‘the Israeli public knows little about the settler violence,’ she asserted.
Furthermore, the blatant manipulation of the murder by the Israeli government for its own political interests, evidenced by the speedy announcement of plans to build 500 new homes in West Bank settlements angers Ziyad, ‘The Israeli government was waiting for a case like this to bring it out of isolation, to continue building settlements and to maintain its unilateral programme of establishing new facts on the ground…they don’t even know the details’ Ziyad asserts. The double standards of the Israeli government can also be seen in plain sight, ‘they accuse the PA of not condemning the murder but they never condemned the killing of children in Gaza’ he continues. For Ziyad, the solution to the ongoing settler violence is obvious ‘the simple fact is that any settler that commits a crime should be held to account…settlers are never tried for their crimes, for all the killing’ he asserts.
In the same way that the Itamar killing brought so much media attention so too should attention be brought to the ongoing settler violence in the Nablus region and throughout the West Bank. The silencing of settler violence in the Israeli media, the failure of the Israeli government to take any effective action against those committing the crimes and the complicity of the Israeli army creates a vacuum in which settlers can persist in terrorising the local population. Moreover, this trend continues to deny Palestinians the possibility to live peacefully on their own land.