Why Palestinians don’t want settlers in their midst

Israel/Palestine
on 12 Comments

An anonymous “well-placed official” in the Israeli Prime Minister’s office set off a brouhaha in Zionist politics the other day by telling journalists he would insist that settlers left on the Palestinian side in a potential division of the West Bank have the option of choosing to remain in their homes and live under Palestinian rule.

For this suggestion Netanyahu was immediately slammed from all directions, starting with even-further-right-wing members of his coalition. (For choice quotes, see The Times of Israel‘s roundup “Rift between prime minister, right flank grows over settler statement.”) The latest development: Netanyahu is supposedly going to “reprimand” his colleague and former aide Naftali Bennett for his harsh comments, including “Whoever advocates for the idea of Jewish life in Israel under Palestinian rule is undermining our ability to sit in Tel Aviv,” once Bennett gets back from his current pilgrimage to Auschwitz. (As of Monday night, though, Bennett was safe from Netanyahu’s dressing-down, because he and other Israeli dignitaries were stranded at a Polish military airport near Krakow because of “technical issues” with their Israeli plane. )

Among Palestinian Authority leaders, reaction to Netanyahu’s plan was also quick and  sharply negative. “Anyone who says they want the settlers to remain is actually saying they don’t want the establishment of a Palestinian state,” declared chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat. In turn, Netanyahu’s office denounced the PA’s position as “radical and reckless.”

It’s hard to guess exactly what inspired Netanyahu’s surprising suggestion. Most likely, as 972 Magazine‘s Noam Sheizaf (among others) suggested, it’s just one more effort to guarantee the failure of the current negotiations, in case recent demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” and that Israel retain control of the Jordan Valley – on top of Israel’s previously established list of unfair conditions – don’t do the trick. Maybe Netanyahu felt it necessary to toss out something he thought would appeal to the “liberal” John Kerry (who may not have been happy after Netanyahu said a few days earlier that he did not intend to evacuate a single settlement or settler from the West Bank). Or perhaps, as his Justice Minister and fellow negotiator Tzipi Livni implied, the PM was just trying to bait the Palestinians into making statements the Israelis could paint as “rejectionist.”

The PA’s position might indeed sound intolerant, perhaps even anti-semitic, to most Americans, despite the efforts of the ever-diplomatic Hanan Ashrawi and other PA officials to clarify that their objection is to settlers remaining in their state, not to the presence of Jews as law-abiding citizens. After all, Americans typically have little grasp of the realities of the occupation and may not realize that Israel would undoubtedly demand the right to protect any settlers left behind in a putative Palestinian state, and that such protection would mean stationing soldiers and weapons in and around the settlements, giving them free passage to come and go through the Palestinian state, and so on. In effect, it would amount to a continuation of military occupation in a new guise.

PLO official Hanan Ashrawi (photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli/Flash90 via The Times of Israel)

PLO official Hanan Ashrawi (photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli/Flash90 via The Times of Israel)

But Israeli soldiers are hardly the only problem Netanyahu’s proposal would entail for the Palestinians – there are also the settlers themselves, because in many parts of the West Bank they routinely take advantage of the impunity their military guardians ensure to harass and attack their Palestinian neighbors, with the aim of making their lives so miserable that they’ll eventually abandon their homes. That’s especially true in Hebron, the south Hebron hills, the villages around Nablus, and other outlying areas, which are precisely where settlements would most likely be left under Palestinian sovereignty, in the unlikely event such a plan materializes.

Even among Americans with some sympathy for the Palestinian cause – which is already a tiny minority – few seem to appreciate the pervasiveness and viciousness of these attacks. How could they, unless they’ve spent time in Hebron or rural Palestinian areas (visiting Ramallah, Bethlehem, or even Jerusalem’s Old City doesn’t necessarily make this point clear) or regularly follow  “Today in Palestine” and the columns of Amira Hass and Gideon Levy? If the American mainstream media report at all on settler violence – indeed, there have been occasional stories about “price tag” attacks and unruly “hilltop youth” – they present the problem as one of a radical fringe, a handful of “extremists,” the proverbial “rotten apples” – not as the day-to-day problem it is. Above all, they never acknowledge that Israeli government action and inaction – and the blind eye the “international community” turns on the situation – is what makes these pogroms possible.

As it happens, though, Israeli Jewish columnist Larry Derfner posted a timely and pertinent analysis of the phenomenon of settler violence to 972 Magazine just a few days before Netanyahu offered his proposal. Derfner is still a Zionist of sorts, as far as I know, but by my standards his politics have improved considerably since the Jerusalem Post fired him in 2011. In any case, his discussion of settler violence is terrific. Some excerpts:

 The phenomenon of settler violence against Palestinians, which is as old and as vibrant as the settlements themselves, tells you everything you need to know about how serious Israel is about ending its rule over a foreign people. It also tells you everything you need to know about how serious the world is about forcing Israel to end it.

Settler violence, lately characterized mainly by masked young men roaming the West Bank and attacking Palestinian farmers with stones, clubs or rifles and burning their olive groves, their fields, and occasionally their schools, mosques and homes, is a unique feature of the occupation. Unlike every other aspect of it – the conquest of another people’s homeland by military force and land theft, the brutality, the house demolitions and expulsions, the whole system of officially sanctioned subjugation – settler violence is something nobody outside the radical fringe in Israel will defend. This, alone, they’ll denounce.

And yet it goes on. …Settlers attack Palestinians in the West Bank on an average of once a day, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Last year there were 399 assaults – 93 in which Palestinians were injured, another 306 in which their property was damaged or destroyed. The frequency of these attacks has stayed fairly stable over the last four years, but it is quadruple the rate in 2006, when OCHA began tracking these incidents.

Derfner recounts a few of these attacks in detail. The most dramatic story concerns the firebombing – the most recent of three, over the last few years – of a home in the village of Sinjil. The targeted family – Khaled Dar Khalil, his wife Rowaida, and their five children, ages 16 months to eight years – barely escaped the last attack, when young settlers drove up around 2 a.m., poured gasoline under the porch of the house, then threw Molotov cocktails through the windows.

That whole family happens to have U.S. citizenship – Rowaida told Derfner she lived in Springfield, MA, for many years. What did that get them? “People from the American consulate came here after the [latest] fire,” Rowaida told Derfner. “They’ve called me a couple of times since to see how we’re doing.” But not a word of protest to the Israeli authorities, and no visible effort to protect the family from future attacks.

Derfner insists on something that should be obvious: the Israeli government could certainly prevent most if not all of these attacks – if it chose to make the effort.

It’s understood that Israel could stop the violence if it wanted to, but for obvious domestic political reasons it doesn’t want to: Israel has no intention of taking harsh, extended measures against any part of the settler movement. Thus, the general view is that Israel chooses to turn a blind eye to these Jewish terrorists.

“Israel is a country that zapped Sheikh Yassin from the skies, that seemed to know about every terror bombing a day before it happened. Israel can get shit done. They really can stop this,” said the Israel-Palestine bureau chief of a major foreign news organization.

“The clearest proof that there is no serious intent to stop the violence is the olive harvest. There’s always a spike in violence during the harvest, which comes in October, and the army accompanies the farmers to the olive groves, so it knows exactly where the violence is taking place. It’s a perfect opportunity to catch the settler attackers, but they don’t,” said Reut Mor, spokesperson for Yesh Din.

The columnist also leans hard on the complicity of the “international community,” at least by its silence: “In the seat you’re sitting in,” a Palestinian field worker for Rabbis for Human Rights tells him,

”the ambassador from Belgium sat, diplomats from the EU sat, the UN, the U.S. Next week I’m taking someone from the American consulate so he can see what the settlers are doing. I take foreign VIPs on tours about once a month, and they’re all shocked at what they see.”

After they get over being shocked, do they do anything with what they’ve learned?

“No,” said Sadah. “Some of them say they’re going to talk to somebody, they’re going to change things. Nothing happens.”

Derfner also zeroes in on the extraordinary case of Hebron, where the frequency of settler attacks on Palestinians is messured not in weeks or days but hours:

If there is a single image that illustrates how settler persecution of Palestinians is an accepted fact of life, it is the chain-link and cloth netting hung over stretches of the souk in Hebron to catch at least some of the rocks, bricks, bottles, soiled diapers, eggs, urine, bleach and other ammunition tossed over from the adjacent Avraham Avinu and Beit Hadassah buildings, where most of Hebron’s settlers live. Above the souk are two Israeli army lookout posts with a clear view of what goes on below.

Hebron actually has its own official international monitors, known as the Temporary (ha!) International Presence in Hebron, an operation originally established by the U.N. Security Council in 1994, after the Baruch Goldstein massacre, then renewed in the “Oslo II” agreement in 1995. TIPH puts a rotating cast of retired cops and civil servants from northern Europe on the streets of the old city and the adjacent Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron. But Derfner notes that the TIPH monitors do nothing to stop the harassment – all they do is take notes and produce secret reports that go into the file cabinets of the Israeli authorities, the PA, and their home countries’ foreign ministries. As I myself experienced in 2006, when I spent two months in those same streets as a volunteer with the now-defunct Tel Rumeida Project, the settlers are by now fully aware of TIPH’s impotence, so the monitors’ presence does next to nothing to deter the constant attacks.

After recounting the recent settler retaliation for the Palestinians’ success in foiling an attack on the village of Qusra earlier this month, Derfner concludes by putting his topic in wider context:

This is nothing new in the annals of the occupation, nor in the annals of colonialism; the bold young men of history’s settler movements have never been known for their decency toward the “natives.” The only unique thing about Israeli settler violence is that it grows out of the Israeli occupation, which is the only outpost, excuse the pun, of colonialism still standing in the so-called democratic world. And as long as that occupation lasts, so will settler violence. Literally, it comes with the territory.

 

12 Responses

  1. DICKERSON3870
    January 28, 2014, 4:17 pm

    RE: “The clearest proof that there is no serious intent to stop the violence is the olive harvest. There’s always a spike in violence during the harvest, which comes in October, and the army accompanies the farmers to the olive groves, so it knows exactly where the violence is taking place. It’s a perfect opportunity to catch the settler attackers, but they don’t,” said Reut Mor, spokesperson for Yesh Din. ~ Derfner

    FOR INSTANCE, SEE:
    “Jews protect Palestinians in harvest of hate”, By Donald Macintyre in Awarta, West Bank, The Independent (U.K.), 10/10/08
    Israelis cross religious divide to shelter olive farmers from settlers’ attacks

    [EXCERPTS] . . . Born in Tel Aviv, Ms Siew served in the army, took a university degree, then a teacher’s diploma. Thirty-six years ago, she took the tough decision to emigrate to London, telling her parents: “I won’t come back until there’s peace.” Ms Siew, who is now 64, remains an Israeli citizen but now lives with her British husband in Hebden Bridge. She has kept to her word, except that each autumn she comes back to stay in her hometown with her relatives and spends each day of the two-month harvest season picking olives on Palestinian farmland in the West Bank.
    And Ms Siew does that for a purpose. Up on the ridge above us, you can see the red roofs of Itamar, a notably hard-line Jewish settlement [5 kilometers southeast of Nablus], and she is here to help protect the Palestinian farmers from the threat of settler violence which has so often scarred the olive harvests. . .
    . . . Last year, she was in a group in the South Hebron Hills confronted by settlers who fired shots from a pistol and an M16 assault rifle, despite the presence of the army and police. “Then one of the soldiers said, ‘Look, one of them is coming down with a jug of water for you’. The settler emptied the jug over me. It was full of human shit.” . . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to independent.co.uk

  2. LanceThruster
    January 28, 2014, 4:56 pm

    History will show that there were “Good Israelis/Jews” and good Israelis/Jews.

  3. Abierno
    January 28, 2014, 5:01 pm

    Great article. Unless I missed something, it is also the case that all of those settlements have been built on land that was expropriated from the legal, documented owner-Palestinians on the basis of “security.” It will take a UN tribunal to sort out the land ownership (as well as compensation) issues in the separation of Israel from their occupied territories. Although Kerry will never address these issues,
    reparations for those expropriations in Israel as well should also be on the table.
    Although there is considerable attention to refugee’s right to return, virtually no attention is being paid to property right/expropriation issues. The expropriation
    starts as a “closed military zone” and then rapidly moves to the building of settlements.

    • ritzl
      January 28, 2014, 6:55 pm

      Yep. And compensation weighted more toward the current value because it wasn’t expropriated with the intention of using it as farmland.

  4. Stephen Shenfield
    January 28, 2014, 7:44 pm

    Is anyone preserving the evidence of these attacks — not just in general terms but with names and addresses of perpetrators and accessories, who did what where and when, so that when circumstances make it possible these thugs can be properly charged and tried for their crimes? Whether or not anything effective can be done right now, awareness that this material was being prepared for future prosecutions might have some deterrent effect.

  5. Henry Norr
    January 29, 2014, 12:07 am

    Yossi Gurvitz just posted another good piece on this theme at 972:

    link to 972mag.com

  6. judithbell
    January 29, 2014, 1:23 am

    So how do you go from being a settler to just a “Jew” Right now the Palestinian law calls for the death penalty if you sell land to a Jew (not Israeli.)

    Also, the Jews were massacred in Hebron in 1929 and then the British made them leave in the late 1930’s. Hebron is Judaism’s second holiest city and there are people who will want to live there for religious reasons. Is Abbas saying they can just take out Palestinian citizenship? What about people born in the West Bank. They did not “settle’ there. It is just where they were born because others’ settled.

    As for obstructionist, how is the right of return which would end Israel’s Jewish majority or the demand for exclusive jurisdiction over the Old City of Jerusalem not non-starters?

    When the negotiations fail – which they will – the media and certainly you will blame Israel. Israel will face worse boycotts.

    But in the end, the world will do its usual nothing. Israel will unilaterally withdraw if it can’t make a deal.

    The Europeans will began to want to pull back on funding UNWRA because it is too expensive. The refugee problem will be less important because of the millions of other refugee’s in the region who are also not being integrated. All through the Middle East, you have tons of non-citizens. UAE’s population – only 12% are citizens. The issue will become more one of how to deal with a region which is so tribal as we watch the various countries fall apart.

    This may not fit the Mondoweiss narrative of good vs evil but the world is very complicated.

    • K Renner
      January 29, 2014, 4:12 am

      >> “So how do you go from being a settler to just a “Jew” Right now the Palestinian law calls for the death penalty if you sell land to a Jew (not Israeli.)”

      The horror! Those monstrous nasty Palestinians should just sell what land remains theirs to the Israelis, right?

      I don’t know how else to respond to this part of your comment apart from making fun of it– I mean, if you don’t get why Palestinians would see Israelis taking more Palestinian land as a bad thing (and also take into account that there’s not going to be any Palestinian who’s going to sell his or her land to some Israeli, and that Israelis take more land regardless, when they feel like it) then I guess you’ve not been paying attention?

      >> “Also, the Jews were massacred in Hebron in 1929 and then the British made them leave in the late 1930′s. Hebron is Judaism’s second holiest city and there are people who will want to live there for religious reasons.”

      Always remember that the 114 dead of the Hebron massacre are worth more then everyone killed by Jewish factions before the creation of the state and during that state’s existence, right? The people killed by the Irgun and Lehi especially don’t deserve a single word, because they brought it on themselves or deserved it or something.

      Add on a helping of sympathy for some of the most vicious “settlers” as the ones that are trying to “reclaim” Al-Khalil/Hebron.

      What about the people that they piss on on a daily basis, with IDF complacency if not encouragement?

      >>” What about people born in the West Bank. They did not “settle’ there. It is just where they were born because others’ settled. ”

      Yes, the rights of the Palestinians born in the Palestinian West Bank should take precedent over those marauders and violent ones who think that they can claim the West Bank as their own “because it was ‘ours’ thousands of years ago, maybe”.

      It would be nice to allow the PA to be able to properly economically develop to improve the lives of the Palestinians living–

      oh, you’re talking about the “settlers” and how bullied and mistreated you think they are and how we show cry for them. My bad, I thought you were saying something that made an ounce of sense for second there.

      >> “As for obstructionist, how is the right of return which would end Israel’s Jewish majority”

      How does one defend the so-called “right of return” for Jews who have zero physical connection whatsoever to Palestine and then categorically deny the right of return to Palestinian families that lived and owned property in Palestine who were displaced or ethnically cleansed by Jews several times in the 1940’s and 50’s and in 1967?

      They have infinitely more right to return to Palestine then some Jew from America or France or Germany or Russia does.

      >> “When the negotiations fail – which they will – the media and certainly you will blame Israel. Israel will face worse boycotts.”

      They’ll fail because Israel doesn’t care or actively wants them to fail–due to Israeli behaviour– so they can complain and blame the Palestinians for the talks failing, as has been the case as long as the talks have been failing.

      Israel is to blame, and Israel should be boycotted– it’s not really something that they can complain about, or allege “collective punishment” over, considering the rabid enthusiasm in the Israeli political street over the boycotts and sanctions directed at Iran– a country far more politically fractured and with an infinitely more active and developed political opposition.

      A mutable, and actively changing country, what’s more.

      >> “This may not fit the Mondoweiss narrative of good vs evil but the world is very complicated.”

      Ha, you’re sure not one to lecture on this. Not in the slightest, especially after all of the above you just wrote.

      • amigo
        January 29, 2014, 9:53 am

        “They have infinitely more right to return to Palestine then some Jew from America or France or Germany or Russia does.” KR

        You forgot Canada, where missy bell is in exile.

    • talknic
      January 29, 2014, 5:40 am

      @ judithbell “Right now the Palestinian law calls for the death penalty if you sell land to a Jew (not Israeli.)”

      A) Quote it …thx and;
      B) Selling land to a citizen of their occupiers, a state they have been at war with for 65 years, is surely the equivalent of treason! BTW;
      C) Can a Palestinian citizen buy Israeli land?

      “the Jews were massacred in Hebron in 1929 and then the British made them leave in the late 1930′s”

      Terrible, but irrelevant to the legality of the sovereign extent of the State of Israel from the moment Israel was proclaimed as “an independent republic within frontiers approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its Resolution of November 29, 1947 link to trumanlibrary.org .

      Now Israelis, be they Jew or non-Jew, have no legal right to settle in territories under occupation by the Jewish state.

      Go whine to the Zionist Federation who demanded a separate state, THEY took away the right for Israelis to settle anywhere in the historic Jewish homeland (which was also the historic homeland of a lot of other folk) link to wp.me

      ” Hebron is Judaism’s second holiest city and there are people who will want to live there for religious reasons.”

      Also irrelevant to the legal status of Israeli sovereignty and its illegal actions as the Occupying Power over non-Israeli territories. Go complain to the Zionist Federation

      “What about people born in the West Bank. They did not “settle’ there. It is just where they were born because others’ settled. “

      What about them? Does PALESTINIAN civil law give the children of illegal settlers automatic citizenship? They should bitch to the Israeli Government for encouraging their parents who were stupid enough to become illegal Israeli settlers

    • amigo
      January 29, 2014, 8:10 am

      “When the negotiations fail – which they will – the media and certainly you will blame Israel.”missy Bell

      Israel!–“We made them an offer they could not accept”It has worked up to now , so why change.

      Of course we will blame Israel.Who the hell else is to blame.

      ” Israel will face worse boycotts. “Ding dong”

      I sincerely hope so.Nothing else has convinced them to make peace.A drop in income and life style just might get them to figure out the way to avoid the end of your precious apartheid rogue nation.Although that possibility does not bother me one little bit.You zios do not deserve a state.You made a hash of the one you were given.

  7. phylliprezzel
    January 29, 2014, 1:23 pm

    “Why Palestinians do not want settlers in their midst” was beautifully told in a book which I just finished reading: “Palestinian Walks; Forays into a Vanishing Landscape” by Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian lawyer (founder of the human rights group Al Haq) and writer who lives in Ramallah.
    From the book jacket:
    “Raja Shehadeh is a passionate hill walker. He enjoys nothing more than heading out into the countryside that surrounds his home. But in recent years, his hikes have become less than bucolic and sometimes downright dangerous. That is because his home is Ramallah, on the Palestinian West Bank, and the landscape he traverses is now the site of a tense standoff between his fellow Palestinians and settlers newly arrived from Israel.

    In this original and evocative book, we accompany Raja on six walks taken between 1978 and 2006. The earlier forays are peaceful affairs, allowing our guide to meditate at length on the character of his native land, a terrain of olive trees on terraced hillsides, luxuriant valleys carved by sacred springs, carpets of wild iris and hyacinth and ancient monasteries built more than a thousand years ago. Shehadeh’s love for this magical place saturates his renderings of its history and topography. But latterly, as seemingly endless concrete is poured to build settlements and their surrounding walls, he finds the old trails are now impassable and the countryside he once traversed freely has become contested ground. He is harassed by Israeli border patrols, watches in terror as a young hiking companion picks up an unexploded missile and even, on one occasion when accompanied by his wife, comes under prolonged gunfire.

    Amid the many and varied tragedies of the Middle East, the loss of a simple pleasure such as the ability to roam the countryside at will may seem a minor matter. But in Palestinian Walks, Raja Shehadeh’s elegy for his lost footpaths becomes a heartbreaking metaphor for the deprivations of an entire people estranged from their land.”

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