All Of It
III. JEWISH SETTLERS ON THE WEST BANK
B’Tselem. Since 1989, more than three decades, it has meticulously chronicled Israel’s myriad violations of Palestinian human rights. The name, literally “in the image of,” comes from Genesis 1:27, “And God created humankind in His image. In the image of God did He create them,” and expresses the Jewish and universal moral imperative to respect and uphold the human rights of all people.
Founded by civil rights lawyer David Zucker, along with Avigdir Feldman and Zehava Gal-On, two former Knesset members, chaired by David Zonsheine, who served in elite IDF units and is now senior vice president of Galil Software in Nazareth, and funded by a diverse donor group, including the European Commission, New Israel Fund, UNICEF, Catholic Relief Services, Church of Scotland and European Endowment for Democracy, B’Tselem has unimpeachable credentials for integrity and truth telling.
According to B’Tselem, “Violence by settlers (and sometimes other Israeli civilians) toward Palestinians has long since become part of daily life under the occupation in the West Bank, . . . blocking roads, throwing stones at cars and houses, accosting Palestinian children on their way to school, raiding villages and farmland, torching fields and olive groves, damaging crops and property, physical assault, sometimes . . . hurling Molotov cocktails or using live fire.”
Olives are literally life sustaining for Palestinian farmers and their families. But in the last 20 years, Jewish settlers and the IDF have burned or uprooted more than 800,000 Palestinian olive trees. According to PA agriculture minister Walid Assad, olives now make up less than 6% of West Bank GDP, down from 28% in 1994.
All done with theological imprimatur. Former chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu once opined, “Since the land is the inheritance of the People of Israel, planting on this land by gentiles is planting on land that does not belong to them. If someone puts a tree on my land, both the tree and the fruit it yields belongs to me.” Settler: “The rabbi made me do it.”
In April 2021, 100 members of Breaking the Silence signed a letter to Benny Gantz, Defense Minister under Benjamin Netanyahu, demanding an end to settler violence. “We are the ones who witnessed how the ‘lords of the land’ behave and what this violence looks like on the ground.”
And it is getting worse. Much worse. IDF active duty soldiers, who in the past often watched passively as settlers assaulted Palestinian civilians, are increasingly joining in attacks.
Case in point, Urif, a small village of 2,800 ten miles south of Nablus, overlooked by the illegal settlement of Yitzhar, home to the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva infamous for encouraging its students to inflict violence on Palestinians.
On May 14, 2021, two dozen armed and masked Yitzar settlers and six IDF soldiers stormed Urif, uprooting 60 fig and olive trees, and at the boys college on the outskirts assaulted students and demolished the school’s solar panels. Mazen Shehadeh, head of the village council: “The soldiers pointed for the settlers, where to go, what to uproot, who to shoot.” One villager was killed with four bullets to his torso, two students wounded.
Urif has endured a half-dozen similar attacks dating back to 2015, but that day there were coordinated attacks at precisely the same time, 2:00 p.m., on Urif, Al Qibliya and four other Palestinian villages, with three more killings, 11 in all on the West Bank that day.
Yitzhar spokesman Zvi Sukot soon boasted on Facebook, “The security situation in Samaria (northern West Bank) is excellent, . . . there are lots of people injured and serious trauma on the Arab side, . . . in all my years . . . I do not remember the army being that determined.” To kill Arabs.
Another incident, one of many: March 10, 2021, ten masked settlers from the illegal Mitzpe Yair settlement south of Hebron brutally attacked a Palestinian farmer, Sa’id Alayan Awad, cracking his skull and jaw with an iron pipe, then stoned his car with his terrified wife and small children inside.
Despite daily threats from settlers, Sa’id was determined to work his farm because Israeli courts have ruled that, under old Ottoman land laws that still apply in the West Bank, if a farmer stops tilling his land, the state can declare it abandoned and then sell it to the same settlers who ran him off.
Yuval Abraham, the Jewish peace activist, says, “I’ve seen a quantum leap in the boldness of attacks. For people to enter a village and drag people out of their homes, like what happened on Simhat Torah, is something I hadn’t seen before. . . . Masked people come to a village and attack the inhabitants. . . . especially on Shabbat, days when they get together, plan and execute it together.”
“Someone screams, ‘Masked people on the way, they’re coming in,’ and we run with our cameras to film it. The masked people begin stoning the village, the Palestinians throw stones back at them. . . I’ve seen it so many times, settlers attack a village, escorted by soldiers, and when the Palestinians try to defend themselves the soldiers shoot them. Their self-defense is later presented as violence on their part, even though everything happened inside the Palestinian village.”
Just a few bad apples? No. “That’s a propagandistic facade for Israel,” says B’Tselem’s executive director, Chagai Elad, who is Jewish, “The story is, there’s just a few bad settlers on one side, on the other is the good state of Israel, which seeks to enforce the law. But that isn’t the truth. Both the state and the settlers want the same thing – to dispossess Palestinians of their land.”
Jewish settlers are increasingly focusing their anti-Arab animus on school children. Case in point, Lubban al-Sharqiyah, a village of 4,000 south of Nablis, has two elementary schools, one for boys, one for girls. For these children, education is their only path to a better life.
But settlers from Ma’aleh Levona, Eli Shiloh and Givat Harel, expanding rapidly on 1,250 acres of expropriated, stolen, Lubban village land, routinely curse and beat children on their way to school. When they run in groups to school, IDF soldiers fire tear gas to stop them, and often chain the gates shut. More than once soldiers have stormed into classrooms and forced teachers down onto their knees, humiliating them in front of their students.
Yakub Iwassi, head of the village council: “We were used to [settlers] chopping down our olive trees, but attacks on our children are new.”
One settler warned Iwassi that sooner or later the Lubban schools would be transferred to the settlements, indeed that they had already chosen new names for the schools, “Brooklyn” for the girls, “Bnei Yisrael” for boys.” Iwassi says, “They want an empty school, an empty village and a country empty of Palestinians.”
Yesh Din cataloged 1,293 settler attacks on Palestinians between 2005 and 2019, which amidst “an atmosphere of impunity” spiked to 771 attacks in 2020, injuring 133 and damaging 9,646 trees and 184 vehicles, and 210 more in just the first three months of 2021. Terrorist attacks, all of them.
Impunity indeed: only 4% of settler assaults result in a criminal charge, much less a conviction. On the rare occasion a settler is charged, or when Israeli police dismantle an illegal settlement or take any action that angers settlers, they routinely exact a “price tag,” yet another violent attack on Palestinian villagers.
The message: cross us in any way and we will always, always, take it out on Palestinians.
OCHA, the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, has concluded that the violence by settlers is “ideologically motivated and primarily designed to take over Palestinian land, but also to intimidate and terrorize them, . . . and make [their] daily lives untenable,” and in the end to fulfill the longstanding Zionist imperative, “maximum land, minimum Arabs.”
All of this prelude to Israel’s outright annexation of most, if not all, of the West Bank. It has embarked on a massive road building scheme to link settlements deep inside the West Bank with Tel Aviv and Jerusalem via east-west highways and tunnels. The new roads – Israeli plates only – will effectively erase the Green Line and seamlessly integrate West Bank settlements into Israel proper.
The main north-south road, two-lane Route 60, follows the ancient “Road of the Patriarchs” from Nablus to Hebron, most of it inside the West Bank. If a Palestinian state was ever established on the West Bank, Route 60 would be its Main Street, connecting both ends and everything in between.
But Route 60 is scissored by IDF checkpoints and flanked left and right by ever-burgeoning Jewish settlements. South of Jerusalem, Israel has expanded it to create a settlers-only road between two giant concrete walls, dubbed the “Tunnels Road,” all the way to Bethlehem and Hebron, part of a segregated road system throughout Israel and the West Bank (for finer detail, right click on image in a new tab).
Starting in 1948, Arabic, as then one of Israel’s two official languages, should have been on all road signs. But 80% of all signs were in Hebrew and English only until 1998, when Adalah, an Israeli civil rights NGO, successfully sued government authorities for violating Israel’s Basic Law – essentially, its constitution – against discrimination.
Never underestimate Zionist diligence. Israeli authorities have long banned the Palestinian Authority from erecting its own road signs on the West Bank, and after the Adalah decision, Arabic went on road signs, just not directions to any Palestinian towns. As if they don’t exist.
There are, for example, signs to Yitzhar, population 1,900, but not Urif, with 2,800. And Israel is now replacing Arabic place names, e.g., al-Quds for Jerusalem, with the Hebraicized version, “Urahalim,” in Arabic script. Relentlessly erasing Arabic and the places it names.
Yehuda Shaul, co-founder of Breaking the Silence, calls all this “de facto annexation on steroids,” concrete confirmation that, no matter what, Israel will relinquish only fragments, if anything at all, of the occupied West Bank. Bottom line, any two-state solution worthy of the name is already dead on arrival.
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