In the West Bank, a horror story

Israeli settlers frequently attack Palestinians; now, the settlers are turning on the Israeli army.

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Palestinian protester Mustafa Tamimi, left, was killed when Israeli forces shot a tear gas canister at his face [AFP]

There is a famous scene in Mary Shelley’s classic where Victor Frankenstein realises that he created a monster and that this monster might be the end of him. Such is the scene that comes to mind when thinking about the news emerging from the occupied West Bank in recent days. Israeli settlers, living in illegal colonies in Palestinian territory, rioted again. This time, however, they did not go after their usual target – Palestinian civilians – rather, they raided an Israeli military base where they injured an Israeli soldier.

Suddenly, the Israeli government sprang into action. An emergency meeting of the Israeli cabinet was called. Officials – Israeli officials – even began to use the term “terrorist” to describe the perpetrators.

 Olive harvest reaps animosity in West Bank

Just a day earlier, Israeli settlers from the Settlement of Yitzhar raided the Palestinian village of Asira al-Qibliya, causing damage to property and terrifying residents. Also, in the past week alone, three different Palestinian mosques in Ramallah, Salfit and Jerusalem suffered arson attacks at the hands of Israeli settlers.

These sorts of attacks against Palestinians are a regular occurrence. Arsons, stonings, destruction of property, shootings, physical attacks and harassment are but a few of the daily occurring categories we have kept track of in the Palestine Centre’s Settler Violence database. In 2011 there have been a record number of violent settler attacks. In fact, in each of the previous five years, settler violence has increased from one year to the next.

Despite this undeniable fact, the Israeli government has done little to crack down on this type of violence. The main reason why settler violence has been able to increase, year after year, is because the settlers continue to feel emboldened when their attacks against Palestinian civilians go undeterred.

The Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into three geographic areas. In Area A, in which most Palestinian urban centres fall, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for security (although the Israelis routinely enter Area A at will) but in Areas B and C, which comprise over 80 per cent of the territory, it is the Israelis which are responsible for security. This means Palestinian police are not permitted to protect Palestinian civilians from Israeli settlers in most of the West Bank. The problem is, of course, that the Israelis are not doing this job either and so it should come as no surprise that 95 per cent of settler violence occurs in Areas B and C.

Often the Israeli Army turns the other way when Israeli settlers attack Palestinians. In some cases caught on video, Israeli soldiers stand idly by while settlers rampage. In other cases, like the one earlier this year in Qusra, the Israeli army intervenes to protect settlers once they’ve started altercations with villagers. That is how Isam Oudeh was killed – defending his own village – in September.

Israeli settler violence against Palestinians and the Israeli state’s failure to adequately respond to it highlight an important aspect of the Israeli occupation’s Apartheid-like policies. The Israeli Human Rights Organisation B’Tselem documented 835 cases of Palestinian minors being arrested for stone-throwing from 2005-2010. Of these, 99.88 per cent were convicted in military trials. There have been hundreds of stone-throwing attacks by Israeli settlers in 2011 alone, yet few are ever arrested – let alone convicted – and throwing stones is among the least of their crimes.

Last week, a 28-year-old Palestinian named Mustafa Tamimi in the village of Nabi Saleh was protesting the continued expansion of Israeli settlements and particularly the confiscation of land and water resources belonging to his village. These had been taken by the neighbouring Israeli settlement of Halamish with the support of the Israeli military.  

Tamimi was shot and killed at near point-blank range with a tear-gas canister to the face.

For years, the Israeli military that governs the West Bank and the state that directs it have supported deplorable policies to repress protesters like Tamimi, who oppose settlement expansion. But the state fails to implement policies to crack down on settlers who seek the exact opposite, and often use violent means to achieve their objectives.

No one should be surprised. The problem of settler violence is a monster that Israel has created, nourished and supported. Now, with attacks on Israeli military bases, the monster may even have turned on its creator.

When will this tragic horror end?

When we realise that it is the military occupation and its underlying policies that have brought it to life.

Yousef Munayyer is a writer and political analyst based in Washington, DC. He is currently the Executive Director of the The Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.