Settler violence is nothing new

Settler violence (Sophie O’Brien)
Settler violence (Sophie O’Brien)

Settler violence (Sophie O’Brien)

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.

Awarta Under Seige

Palestine Monitor

Settler violence escalates as the military occupies and raids villages

Palestine Monitor, 14 March 2011
International Solidarity Movement activists in Awarta describe a horrific “collective punishment” of the Palestinian village: children taken from school, homes raided, imposition of a 24-hour curfew, constant drone surveillance, and massive imprisonments of the male population.

“The soldiers have locked us with the children and young men and are guarding me now,” said an International Solidarity Movement (ISM) member who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We can’t leave the house and right now we can’t even leave this room.”

Awarta has become a ghost town, with all the villagers confined to their homes, running out of gas, scared and crying quietly under the buzz of drones and detonations of sound bombs.

“The soldiers take people in every house. I don’t know how many hundreds of people they’ve taken now. The children are scared, of course. The women are crying. They take their sons and fathers away. All the village is very quiet, people can’t really talk, the children have to be quiet,” the member said. After gathering some of them from school, Awarta’s boys and men were taken by soldiers to the jail near Huwara. “Here they are collectively punished.”

ISM reports that the military has beaten people, cut off electricity and polluted water lines, and broken computers and phones.

Huwara to Hebron

From north to south in the West Bank (or Judea to Samara), settlers have lashed out this week at Palestinian civilians and their property. They have stoned cars on roads around Hebron, Kiryat Arba, Shiloh, Huwarra and Nablus, and two nights ago destroyed a nursery, a building, and smashed windows in Huwara.

Yesterday, settlers torched four cars near the junction towards Yitzhar. Down the road at Adam’s Burger King restaurant and confectionery, the owner was locking up a dusk yesterday.

“Last night we did not sleep,” the owner said. He described a dark, fearful night of listening to the synchronized mosques’ speakers blaring warnings down the valley. A caravan of settlers from the funeral of the killed Itamar family was returning soon, and the village feared a restless night of waiting to be attacked.

“We’d rather be open till midnight or one, but we’re closing,” he said as his businesses’ iron shutters squeaked shut. A rock flew out from a passing car with yellow license plates, quickening his work. “Be careful, move your car. They are crazy. Things are bad, very bad.”

Across the street lays a ruined construction project. The night before, settlers had come and ravaged the site, tearing down walls, breaking material and causing thousands of dollars worth of damage.

“They are terrorists,” Ismael said, holding broken marble slabs, standing on a pile of ruined construction material estimated to be worth $3,000.

“Every year it is worse in the West Bank,” said Mohammad Hassan, a Huwara resident whose house, the closest to the Yitzhar outposts, is guarded by a small Israeli squad. “If the situation stays like this, it will be ten time as crazy.”

“This is forever, believe me,” said Hassan. “I wish we could live in peace together but if they don’t take the settlers out of the West Bank we will never come to peace with Israel or the settlers.”

Across the valley, Maan News Agency reported that soldiers roamed Awarta yesterday with loudspeakers blaring a call for all 15-40 year-olds to gather at the local school, where the Palestinian New Network reported 12 were arrested.

More than a dozen settlers in white masks entered Jinsafout last night, incinerated a car to its chassis, and attempted to burn a tractor. Two more cars were reported burnt just north of Ramallah.

So far, Awarta has not witnessed any settler violence, perhaps because of the leadership of their neighbors from Itamar. While announcing plans to build a new residential area in the settlement named after slain patriarch and rabbi Udi Fogel, [the settlers expressed to Haaretz a complete denial of reprisal attacks against Palestinians-].

“People who know us ask us why we’ve come to study with all the crazies, but that’s rubbish. There is an extremist group in the area, they are reactionary, and their photographs are always printed in the papers,” Brooker adds. “But understand: ’price tag,’ demonstrations, it’s not even a part of our lexicon. Never has been, never will be.”

But the ISM member trapped in Awarta drew a different conclusion.

“The military does such a good job – the settlers doesn’t need to be here.”

More and more settlements

After the funeral for the killed Fogel family, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu approved expansions in Gush Etzion, Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel, and Kiryat Sefer with 500 new buildings.

“It’s not because of a particular terrorist attack that we will build a few more houses in [Gush Etzion] or in Maaleh Adumim,” said Elyakim Levanon, a rabbi from Elon Moreh. “Rather, we have to convene at our own initiative and decide where and how we want to build; this is our land and our country.”

“We have to stop once and for all with this nonsense about ‘illegal outposts’,” Levanon said on the temporary postponement yesterday of his new position as Samaria’s first Chief Rabbi. “This is our home and our inheritance, and we must continue building, and Itamar must become a city and a new center in the [northern West Bank].”

35 tree vandalism cases in 6 weeks


B’Tselem Press Release, 28 Oct 2010

Bodies of olive streets cut by settlers sit on the highways sidelines

Bodies of olive streets cut by settlers sit on the highways sidelines

Four Israeli human rights groups – The Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights and Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights – sent an urgent letter today to senior Israeli military commanders, in which they called on the commanders to take all necessary steps to ensure that Palestinians and their properties are protected from violence and damage during the current olive harvest season.

The letter, signed by Attorney Maskit Bendel of ACRI, Attorney Michael Sfard of Yesh Din, Jessica Montell of B’Tselem and Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights, was sent to Central Command Chief, General Avi Mizrahi, and to the commander of Israeli military forces in the West Bank Brigadier Nitzan Alon. The letter contains a list of 35 incidents in which damage was caused to Palestinian olive trees or property. The incidents occurred between early September and mid-October – at the start of the olive harvest season. In most of the reported cases, a complaint has been filed with the authorities.

Seven out of the 29 incidents took place in the villages of Burin and Hawara, which border with the settlement of Yitzhar; there were also attacks on olive trees have reported in the villages of Far’ata, Til, Imatin and Yanoun, adjacent to the outpost of Havat Gilad. The worst incident so far has been reported in these four villages – the arson of hundreds of olive trees on October 15th.

The organizations’ letter states that according to eyewitnesses, the aforementioned arson attack occurred in the presence of Israeli soldiers, who did nothing to prevent it. Moreover, eyewitnesses claimed that some soldiers even barred Palestinians from accessing the scene and extinguish the fire.

According to human rights organizations, this is not the first year that Israeli citizens damage Palestinian olive trees in the West Bank – in fact, this is a recurring phenomenon which peaks every year around the beginning of the olive harvest. The organizations have called on the Israeli authorities many times before to take all necessary steps to “fulfill duties and obligations and protect the rights of residents who live in the occupied region”. Nevertheless, the letter states, “the regrettable outcome of the incidents described herein proves once and again that the steps taken by the defense forces are insufficient, and the result is a blow to the livelihood of many Palestinian residents”.

Human Rights Groups Document 35 Tree Vandalism Cases in 6 Weeks

RamallahOnline Note: If you have original photos, please help by contributing your work to RO. Click here for more information.

Stopping the Water

Editor Palestine Monitor 7 September 2010 At 7:00 am in the morning, the Israelis arrived too late to help a poor farmer. The men with guns were already there, sitting on the farmer’s well.

Editor Palestine Monitor, 7 September 2010

At 7:00 am in the morning, the Israelis arrived too late to help a poor farmer. The men with guns were already there, sitting on the farmer’s well.

 Editor Palestine Monitor 7 September 2010 At 7:00 am in the morning, the Israelis arrived too late to help a poor farmer. The men with guns were already there, sitting on the farmer’s well.

Editor Palestine Monitor 7 September 2010 At 7:00 am in the morning, the Israelis arrived too late to help a poor farmer. The men with guns were already there, sitting on the farmer’s well.

An argument broke out in Hebrew between the settlers and the Israeli human rights group Taayush. Every week, they enter the West Bank to work alongside Palestinians threatened by settlers and soldiers.

Both groups broke the rules of Shabat: settlers and activists used video cameras and cell phones as tempers rose with the temperature. One settler sat silently behind black sunglasses, a handgun tucked into his pants and a large machine gun hanging across his chest. Behind the escalating debate, the Palestinian farmer packed up his water house and readied his empty water tanker for the road home.

Armed settler sitting on well of a Palestinian farmer.

Armed settler sitting on well of a Palestinian farmer.

The army arrived soon after, slowly climbing the hill in the early dawn light, wearing olive-green uniforms, black boots and big rifles. The squad numbered fifteen when they finally confronted Taayush and told them to leave – the farmer had not scheduled the water pumping.

“The Army has an obligation to maintain the Palestinians access to their land – it should not be a precondition to schedule access,” said Dolev Rehat, a Taayush member. “It is completely and utterly in violation of the law, and in this situation we decided not to go along with it.”

The army surrounded the group as the settlers mounted the ridge. They stood and watched the soldiers and activists argue, comfortable in their immunity from the law.

“Israeli settlers, unlike Palestinians in the West Bank, are not subject to Israeli military law and the army, though usually present near settlements, does not arrest settlers; rather, the soldiers have often made it clear that their task is to protect the settlers, not Palestinians… Palestinians may complain to the Israeli police, but their complaints are rarely followed up and many Palestinians do not report settler attacks for fear of retaliation,” according to Troubled Waters, a report by Amnesty International.

Taayush group surrounded by army, just before mass roundup and detention.

Taayush group surrounded by army, just before mass roundup and detention.

A police officer came and escorted the activists to a van where they were then driven to a detention center. The activists were not charged, ordered to keep out of the entire West Bank for ten days, and released within hours.

The well at Beit Al-Aid reflects a greater policy not just In the south Hebron hills, but throughout the West Bank: a devastating program of thirst enacted by the occupation. By either direct actions or indirect bureaucratic controls, water is withheld, and impoverished Palestinians pay exorbitant water prices, migrate, sicken, or die.

Water’s primacy makes it a pressure point in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Settlers have not just sat on wells – they have specifically targeted Palestinian water sources like wells, pumps and cisterns and destroyed them throughout the West Bank. During Operation Cast Lead, the 2009 invasion of Gaza, the army destroyed water sanitation plants, pumps and other water infrastructure. But the destitution of Palestine’s water happens every day of the occupation.

“In the past eight years the water tanks on the roofs of Palestinian houses have been frequently targeted by Israeli soldiers for no apparent reason other, than, it would seem, shooting practice,” according to Amnesty International. “Tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of water tanks have been shot at and damaged – many beyond repair. In some neighborhoods virtually every water tank has at least one bullet hole visible.”

Ninety-five percent of Gaza doesn’t have access to clean, reliable water, according to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. The population resorts to polluted sources, with horrendous consequences. The United Nations Environmental Program reported high levels of nitrate in the Gazan water supplies, and found the odorless, tasteless contaminant effects methemoglobinaemia – a blood disorder causing children’s hands, lips and feet to turn blue. These “blue babies” have chocolate-brown blood, respiratory difficulties, and die frequently from high nitrate levels.

The water relationship between the Israelis and Palestinians is legally defined by the second Oslo Agreement Article 40: Israeli is required to support water development in the West Bank and Gaza. But, according to a 2009 Palestinian Water Authority statement, while “keeping this recognition only on paper”, the Israelis effected control on Palestine’s water sources by keeping wells, treatment facilities and irrigation schemes shelved and by virtually blocking the Jordan River.

“This is the big problem of the occupation,” said Baha’ Ishaq, a researcher at the Palestinian Wildlife Society. “There is a lot of water, but the Israelis control everything [with] the water.”

Jordan, Syria and Israel divert most of the flow of the Jordan River. What does trickle down the historically verdant valley is mostly sludge so unclean the Friends of the Earth Middle East has warned pilgrims not to baptise in it. Downstream, all is drying up. The Dead Sea is in effect dying – shrinking a meter annually. The old Jericho Biological Garden is an arid ruin. The millions of birds who depend on the Jordan Valley for their international migration between Africa and Asia now perch on parched earth.

“If the Israelis give us permission [to drill wells] then there is no problem,” Baha’ said, who lives in Beit Sahoor near Bethlehem. “We didn’t have water for twenty days this summer.”

Behind the office of the Palestinian Wildlife Society in Beit Sahoor, across a olive tree-speckled valley, looms a well-watered settlement. The hill was once covered in forest, full of animals like hyena whose populations now dwindle behind the separation wall in a land increasingly barren. In the southern Hebron hills, water thefts are increasingly common, cisterns and wells are consistently demolished by Israeli forces, and many go thirsty. Yet the settlers’ water flows freely.

“In complete contrast in the area – the [settlements] are not only connected to running water and energy but enjoy subsidies,” Rahat said.

Taayush will visit El-Aid’s well again, to pump the farmer’s water. But just a few settlers can simply sit and stop the water, above the law and bent on desiccating Judea and Samaria of Palestinians.

Justifying Pogroms and Infanticide

“There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults,” wrote Rabbi Yitzhar Shapira in The King’s Torah. Photo from 2008 rally, by Rita Castelnuovo.

Editor Palestine Monitor, 19 August 2010
With thick beards, wide-brimmed hats, black suits and long curls, almost 300 rabbis and settlers filled the Conference for the Independence of Torah last night in Jerusalem’s Ramada Renaissance Hotel. From wrinkled elders to pimply adolescents, they all came to proclaim rabbinical autonomy from the law. Rabbis should be able to argue within their religious teachings without legal consequence – even if they call for blood.

“There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults,” wrote Rabbi Yitzhar Shapira in The King’s Torah. Photo from 2008 rally, by Rita Castelnuovo.

“There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults,” wrote Rabbi Yitzhar Shapira in The King’s Torah. Photo from 2008 rally, by Rita Castelnuovo.

The rabbis congregated after an investigation focused on the publication and promotion of a book called Torat haMelekh or The King’s Torah, allegedly inciting violent settler attacks in the West Bank.

“It’s just disgusting,” said Pesach Housfter, a rabbi protesting the meeting and angered by it’s tacit support of The King’s Torah, written by rabbi Yitzhak Shapira. “[The book] says Judaism allows killing of children who aren’t Jews – this is blasphemy.”

“The King’s Torah = Blasphemy” in Hebrew. Protesting rabbi said, “Show this to the Palestinians - so they know not all Jews are like this.” Photo by ST McNeil.

“The King’s Torah = Blasphemy” in Hebrew. Protesting rabbi said, “Show this to the Palestinians - so they know not all Jews are like this.” Photo by ST McNeil.

Outside the Ramada, Housfter and five other rabbis were fiercely confronted, outnumbered to fifty to one. They held fast, Housfter said, because this is a “turning point in Israeli society” towards bigotry or equality.

“Our struggle is to protect Israeli democracy,” Housfter said, decrying the racism inherent in the conference’s protection of incendiary intolerance. “They are against democracy. They are against the law.”

Before dawn on 27 July, Israeli forces stormed the author Shapira’s home. The details of the religious Zionist’s arrest led to the Ramada conference. Shapira was held overnight, blindfolded and questioned by Israeli security agency Shin Beit over alleged incitement of a fiery assault on the village of Burin the day before.

Using the Talmud, Shapira condones and requires murder and aggression against threatening goyim or gentiles: non-Jewish youth, parents and communities.

It is the second time police have questioned Shapira this year – in January he was detained for alleged involvement in torching a mosque’s carpet in the town of Yusuf.

Car pushed down hill by Yitzhar’s settlers outside Nablus.

Car pushed down hill by Yitzhar’s settlers outside Nablus.

Shapira lives in the Yitzhar settlement less than ten kilometers south of Nablus, teaching at the yeshiva Od Yosef Hair. Their neighbors bear deep scars of his vicious dogma.

In 2008, seven cars carried 30 people from Shapira’s settlement to Burin. They threw stones and smashed cars before burning the village’s olive grove. On the same day, other settlers savaged the surrounding lands. The settlers continued to violently harass their Palestinian neighbors in 2009: they chainsawed Khallit Sewar’s groves, they set aflame 400 dunums of land, they stole livestock and farming equipment.

Olive trees in Burin after Yitzhar attack. Photo by Keren Manor.

Olive trees in Burin after Yitzhar attack. Photo by Keren Manor.

“We’re afraid to use the ground floor, even though it has bars on the windows, out of fear that settlers will fire bullets or tear gas into the house,” said Nahlah Ahmad, mother of four, in a testimony to human rights group B’Tselem. “In the evening, we can’t sit in the yard because the children are afraid. Every time they hear a noise, they ask me: ‘Is that the settlers?’”

“We heard stones hit the roof and walls of our house,” Ahmad said, describing when Yitzhar settlers attacked her home in 2009.. “I didn’t know where to take the children. I was afraid that the settlers would shoot us through the window, and I told the children to sit in the corner of their room. My husband and I sat with them to calm them. We were very frightened, but hid our fear from the children. The children held onto us and wouldn’t let us move away from them, even to bring water or go to the bathroom.”

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called one of Yitzhar’s attacks in 2008 a “pogrom” – using a Russian-derived word historically connected to anti-Semitism now used to define mob violence with ethnic targets.

On 26 July, 120 settlers descended on Burin. With fire and saw, they ravaged the olive groves and rioted across the land. A settler stole a gun from Israeli police inside Yitzhar and fired skyward. Tires were burned on a nearby Highway 60 intersection. Settlers stoned police investigating an illegal construct at Aid Ad. That night, the police arrested Shapira.

These attacks reflect the settlers’ “price tag” policy – retaliation to Israeli enforcement of the internationally-supported freeze on settler expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As an example, Burin’s latest attacks were instigated by Israeli Occupation Forces demolishing an illegal caravan inside the Havat Shaked settlement. Attempting to force public opinion, to terrorize Knesset into inaction or complicity to ensure further growth, the settlers have a clear message for President Benyamin Netanyahu’s coalition: restrict the settlements and we will brutalize Arabs.

Villager wounded by settler attack on Burin. Photo by Keren Manor.

Villager wounded by settler attack on Burin. Photo by Keren Manor.

Inspired by the rabble-rousing rabbis like Shapira, the settlers’ violence has one obvious goal – the ethnic cleansing of Eretz Israel exclusively for Yahweh’s chosen people.

The settlers enjoy stout support within Knesset and Netanyahu’s coalition – regardless of peace talks with the Palestinian Authority and international pressure since the violent Gazan flotilla clash. The political power of staunch-settlement proponents like Benny Begin and Avigdor Lieberman, himself a former member of Zionist terrorist group Kach, belies their small population.

“Although it is a handful of people, it’s a serious cause for concern,” said Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights, which works with communities like Burin and Silwan to confront the settlers. “They do a lot of damage.”

When Shapira was arrested, a coalition of Knesset members, rabbis within the Religious Zionist Movement and the moderate organization Tzohar rallied to decry his treatment – a rabbi should have been treated better.

“Regardless of the level of halachic [rabbinical jurisprudence] legitimacy of his opinions, it is unreasonable and illogical that a rabbi in Israel be treated like the worst of criminals,” Tzohar leader Rabbi David Stav told Ynet. “For some reason, they are treating him in a way they would not dare treat public officials or even Palestinians.”

Palestinians are, however, subject to treatment much harsher than a blindfold. According to a Public Committee Against Torture in Israel report, Israeli forces routinely abuse prisoners and detain them for lengthy periods of time. Defence for Children International documented 700 cases of Israeli security services torturing, threatening, blindfolding and binding minors. In some cases car battery leads were connected to children’s body parts.

Shapira was released less than 24 hours after his arrest. Currently, no legal action is being taken against Burin’s assailants.

“Like my mother used to say – you’ve got freedom to swing your first until you hit someone’s nose,” Ascherman said. After finding a complete copy, he plans to challenge the arguments of The King’s Torah.

“It’s disgusting, antithetical to Judaism as I believe it, and it’s damaging to God’s name,” Ascherman said. “We have to take this seriously.”