Israeli settlers are becoming increasingly brazen in their violence

Israeli settlers are becoming increasingly brazen in their violence

Settler violence is nothing new; it has been plaguing the people of the occupied West Bank for many years. (Reuters)
Settler violence is nothing new; it has been plaguing the people of the occupied West Bank for many years. (Reuters)
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Settler violence is nothing new; it has been plaguing the people of the occupied West Bank for many years. But the perpetrators have grown increasingly brazen and the term “settler terrorism” is now probably the best definition of the phenomenon. After all, they aim to terrorize the local Palestinian population and scare them into submission, if not into abandoning their land altogether.
There are several explanations for the spike in impudence among the hardcore, ultranationalist, religious settlers in their attacks on neighboring Palestinian towns and villages. These include the presence among them of some of their more extreme representatives in the current Israeli government; a shift in international attention to the war in Gaza; the recent hostilities between Israel and Iran; and the fact that the Israeli security forces do almost nothing to stop the attacks.
Moreover, in the distorted mindset of those who commit these abhorrent acts of violence, and their political masters, the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks has made it open season on harming Palestinians for nothing more than simply being Palestinian.
Last week, the trigger for one of the worst few days of settler pogroms against neighboring Palestinians was the disappearance of a 14-year-old shepherd who had taken a flock out to graze from the settler outpost of Malachi Hashalom. The violence intensified after his body was found, likely the victim of a terrorist attack by a Palestinian assailant.
This was a case for the security forces to investigate and bring to justice whoever was responsible for the crime. Instead, the usual pattern of settlers going on the rampage, burning houses and property in nearby Palestinian villages immediately ensued in the area where the body of Binyamin Ahimeir was found.
During three days of continuous and intense violence, hundreds of settlers did whatever they wished. It was reported that at least two Palestinians were killed by live ammunition and dozens were wounded. Furthermore, houses and cars in the Palestinian villages of Mughayir and Duma were set ablaze, and water tanks, electricity supplies, and internet networks were shot at.
The Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din shared a video on social media platform X that showed settlers setting fire to a vehicle in Deir Dobwan, under the noses of soldiers who did nothing to stop them.
This incident was not an isolated one and while anger over the killing of any innocent person, let alone a child, is understandable, there is no excuse for the members of settler militias to assault and harm thousands of other innocent people in response. They might think they are judge, jury, and executioner, but that is only because Israel’s security forces allow those things to happen. By extension, the government and wider Israeli society are complicit in the behavior of the settlers.
It should be made absolutely clear that it is the duty of the occupying power, in other words Israel, to ensure the safety and well-being of the people living under occupation, not to protect those who harm them and steal their land.
Violence, on either side, is not going to resolve the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians; the past six months of war in Gaza should have convinced everyone of that.

It is the duty of the occupying power, in other words Israel, to ensure the safety and well-being of the people living under occupation. 

Yossi Mekelberg

One of the few issues relating to the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict on which there is an international consensus is the illegality of the entire settlement project — even if the international community is doing very little to limit its expansion.
Already this year, during the first quarter a record amount of land in the West Bank has been declared state-owned property, much of it in areas deep within the territory, nowhere close to the Green Line. This has increased the sense of resentment and friction among Palestinians, who see this not only as their land being confiscated but also as their dream of a viable independent state being destroyed.
The illegal nature of the entire settlement project should be dealt with as part of the overall relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and resolved when a peace agreement is eventually reached. In the meantime, however, containing its expansion must be a matter of priority. In addition, the violent behavior of a minority of settlers, though by no stretch of the imagination a negligible group in terms of numbers and determination to cause harm, must be immediately quashed.
If the Israeli government is reluctant to end the settler violence for political reasons (not least Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dependence on settlers’ representatives for his own political survival), then it is up to the international community to maintain the pressure on the settlers themselves, while also bringing pressure to bear on the Israeli government.
To say that this extremist, supremacist minority is a stain on Israeli society is an understatement. According to a recent UN report, settler violence has been on a steady and worrying rise for the past few years. In 2022, two settler-related incidents were recorded each day. This had risen to three a day immediately before the Oct. 7 attacks last year, and now the number has surged to seven a day.
In other words, the combination of a government that supports settler violence and a sense of legitimacy following the horrific attacks by Hamas opened the floodgates for settler aggression against Palestinians, ranging from criminal harassment to sheer terrorism.
At the beginning of February, US President Joe Biden crossed the Rubicon in his country’s relations with Israel by “imposing certain sanctions on persons undermining peace, security and stability in the West Bank.” The measure was imposed on four Israeli settlers to punish them for violence against Palestinians and Israeli peace activists.
The following month, the US government announced further sanctions against two Israeli outposts which, according to the State Department, were being used as bases to perpetrate “violence against Palestinians.”
Authorities in the UK also took action, announcing sanctions against four extremist Israeli settlers with a proven track record of abusing the human rights of Palestinians.
At last we are seeing signs that such behavior will not continue to go unpunished, if not by the Israeli government then at least by some members of the international community.
It is somewhere between difficult and impossible to extract from the current Israeli government any rational or logical policies that might actually serve the interests of their country. Not when the prime minister is desperately clinging to power by the skin of his teeth, an effort that requires the support of those who support the worst kind of settler behavior. Indeed, several members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet have been actively involved in settler violence and continue to encourage it.
At this point in time, when the entire region is on the brink of a conflagration, settler violence can only contribute to the growing instability. The situation therefore calls for international intervention to stop an ugly phenomenon that is no longer the exception but has become the norm as well as the rule.

  • Yossi Mekelberg is a professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the Middle East and North Africa Program at international affairs think tank Chatham House. X: @YMekelberg
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