Rampaging settlers shatter fragile calm
By Mel Frykberg | Friday, 07.24.2009, 07:47 PM

RAMALLAH (IPS) — The northern Palestinian West Bank is turning into a flashpoint as Israeli settlers continue to attack Palestinian civilians and their property as part of a "price tag" policy.

Jewish settlers attack a Palestinian woman in 2003 file photo.

On Tuesday Walid Assaf, a Palestinian Legislative Council member, was injured after Israeli settlers near the northern West Bank city Qalqilia threw a rock through his windscreen as he drove past a settlement.

On complaining to Israeli soldiers at a nearby Israeli army base, Assaf was told he would have to submit his complaint in writing.

On Monday over 1,500 olive trees belonging to Palestinians near the Yitzhar settlement south of the Palestinian city Nablus were set on fire and destroyed by settlers.

Several Palestinians were injured, and a number of their cars damaged when rocks were thrown at them as settlers blocked roads leading into the city.

Israeli security forces subsequently arrested five settlers in altercations which saw an Israeli soldier and a settler also injured.

This latest outbreak of violence followed the forcible evacuation of several illegal settler outposts by Israeli security forces, and are part of a calculated campaign by the settlers to take revenge on Palestinians for every evacuated outpost.

Under intense U.S. pressure to cease illegal settlement activity in the West Bank, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered his security forces to begin dismantling a number of outposts in the beginning of June.

The outposts comprise a few caravans, often not even connected to water or electricity, and are illegal under Israeli law.

The wave of violent attacks against Palestinians had started increasing in number and severity in the summer of last year when Israeli settlers started to make good on their threat to enforce their "price tag" policy with "protests" after each outpost forcibly evacuated.

These "protests" have come in the form of rioting, attacking Palestinians, throwing rocks at their cars, setting their property and farmland on fire, as well as attacking Israeli soldiers and police.

Attacks last year saw an Israeli soldier threatened at gunpoint by an armed settler, an Israeli policeman assaulted, and several security force vehicles damaged.

"The goal is to create a price for each evacuation, causing Israeli authorities to think twice about carrying them out," says Israeli rights group Yesh Din in a statement. Sarit Michaeli from the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem says there are fears that the violence could increase in the next few weeks when many settler youths are bored and on summer vacation.

"Our work against settler violence is ongoing. We have provided video cameras to Palestinians living in these volatile areas in the hope that any video evidence will help police to arrest the perpetrators as well as making the offenders more careful in the knowledge they are being filmed," Michaeli told IPS.

"On a policy level we have written several times to law enforcement authorities about their obligations under international law to defend Palestinians from the settler attacks and their 'price tag' acts of retaliation," said Michaeli.

"The authorities are aware that the violence is going to increase as more settler outposts are dismantled, so it is their duty to prepare for these acts and take the necessary precautions."

Israeli media has reported Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) carrying out preparatory drills in order to deal with possible settler rampage, which could spread to other areas of the West Bank, especially the volatile city Hebron, 30km south of Jerusalem.

Hebron has a particularly hardcore element of 600 Israeli settlers living right in the middle of a Palestinian population of over 100,000.

Baruch Goldstein, a U.S. immigrant doctor from the Kiryat Arba settlement machine-gunned 29 Palestinians to death in 1994 as they prayed during the holy month of Ramadan in the local Ibrahimi mosque.

He was beaten to death by survivors, but is regarded as a hero by many Kiryat Arba settlers who subsequently built a shrine to him.

Israeli analysts and political commentators believe the chances of a settler uprising are not improbable. "There is going to be a big mess and showdown in the near future," says Moshe Ma'oz, professor of political science at Jerusalem's Hebrew university.

"It appears that U.S. President Barack Obama has no sense of humor when it comes to Israel's settlements. He means business," Ma'oz told IPS. "Netanyahu is taking this action because of American pressure, and the settlers are not going to give up without a fight.

"In fact the Israeli government is largely to blame for the situation because it was the respective policy of successive Israeli governments to encourage and support the settlement movement from the very beginning," added Ma'oz.

While the settler issue remains a divisive issue amongst Israelis, the Palestinians are clear where they stand.

"We will not continue any peace negotiations with Israel until all settlement activity is stopped," Dr Ismail Da'iq, the Palestinian Authority (PA) Agriculture Minister told IPS. "We will not tolerate this land theft any more."

However, even if the small and isolated outposts are dismantled and evacuated, a bigger problem remains. There are more than 100 larger Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank which are home to nearly 500,000 settlers.

Under Israeli law, contrary to international law, they remain legal, and the Israeli government has told the U.S. that Israel has no intention of dismantling or evacuating any of them.

By Mel Frykberg

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