In the last week and a half alone there have been more than four cases of Israeli settler violence directed against Palestinians and activists helping them with the olive harvest in the West Bank.
In a particularly daring demonstration, settlers seized a playground in the Palestinian village of Susiya on a Saturday afternoon. As in almost all of these cases, the military allowed them to enter the village, break into the playground and use the children’s facilities. The authorities took almost an hour to disperse them.
Israel uses innumerable lies and excuses to deflect accusations of settler violence: it is a “seasonal” event, limited to the olive harvest; it’s the work of “bad apples” – a bunch of disgruntled fundamentalist teenagers; it happens out of sight, in remote illegal outposts; Law enforcement agencies are at it, the police are investigating, and the military is refining protocol once again.
The truth is that settlers use violence against Palestinians year-round, on a daily basis, throughout the West Bank: in established settlements, in isolated outposts and on the dozens of “farms” formed in recent years; at the hands of adolescents or adults, ordinary settlers or settlement officials. Some areas suffer more, but none are exempt.
Every few years, violence reaches a new level of sophistication. Twenty years ago, settlers at the outposts violently expropriated private Palestinian land. Then came the “price” incidents, in which settlers smashed Palestinian houses and burned fields, groves and mosques in the name of revenge. Now, we are in the midst of a violent takeover of tens of thousands of dunams by settlers from outposts called “agricultural farms.”
The result: tens of thousands of dunams of land were misappropriated from the Palestinians using the same methodical violence that we are now witnessing. For example, the “Uri farm”, an outpost established in late 2016 in the land of Khirbet al-Mazuqa, a Palestinian village in the northern Jordan Valley destroyed in 1967, has violently seized almost 15,000 dunam. that local Palestinians used to graze herds. That is roughly the size of the Israeli city of Holon. And it is only one of 50 “farms”.
Over the years, the state has protected violent settlers. The military protects them while they carry out raids and seize land; Branches of government subsidize outposts – settlements established without formal permits – on expropriated lands, while the State Attorney’s Office and other authorities protect them from eviction. On the few occasions when the state has been forced to evacuate settlers from Palestinian land – in Migron, Amona and Derech Ha’avot – it has generously compensated them.
Furthermore, violent settlers and those who send and finance them enjoy almost complete immunity from the resulting harm to the Palestinians. They are very rarely arrested, investigated or prosecuted. Soldiers often stand idly by while settlers wreak havoc. Last May, an armed settler wearing military trousers was filmed shooting at Palestinians in the village of ‘Urif, near Nablus, while standing next to a soldier.
There are never enough soldiers or police to stop violent settlers, but always enough to demolish a water cistern in an isolated Palestinian community (which Israel refuses to connect to the water network), or to prevent volunteers from making a solidarity visit to children. from Susiya, armed with markers and a coloring book, as we saw last Saturday.
None of this is random. The intimidation of Palestinians by settlers in the West Bank is a tool in the hands of the Israeli regime. After all, the regime does exactly what these settlers do: it expropriates land, water and natural resources and blocks sustainable Palestinian development.
Officially, the state complies with the law, with the help of a series of military orders, civil and military court rulings, and detailed Civil Administration procedures. Unofficially, but under the auspices of the state, violent settlers use other means of oppression: attacking Palestinians with sticks, pepper spray, stones, live fire and dogs, raiding houses, driving herders off the grasslands, stealing crops, logging trees, instigating fires and more. Both the formal and informal routes serve the same purpose: an attempt to expel Palestinians from their lands and homes.
It is convenient for Israelis to play fantasy: pretending that settler violence is separate from us, a vandalism that has nothing to do with the state. However, it is more of the same violence carried out through other channels. When violence is legitimate, allowed and supported for so many years, it is not the work of a handful of settlers, it is state violence.
Eyal Hareuveni is an Israeli journalist and human rights researcher for B’Tselem.