Israel Must Stop Settler Violence

Destroying Olive Trees, Harassing Palestinians, Obstructing Any Chance of Peace

A Kind of Terror: A Palestinian woman holds onto at a destroyed olive trees in the northern West Bank village of Qarut on October 19, 2013.
Getty Images
A Kind of Terror: A Palestinian woman holds onto at a destroyed olive trees in the northern West Bank village of Qarut on October 19, 2013.

By Mairav Zonszein

Published November 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Jan Psaki, a State Department spokesperson, characterized Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement in early November of plans for thousands of new settlement homes as not conducive to “steps that create a positive atmosphere for continued negotiations.”

The mild and familiar American condemnation is certainly true, but off the mark, considering the very negative atmosphere created by daily acts of violence committed by Jewish Israeli citizens against West Bank Palestinians, their natural resources and their property. Hundreds of Palestinian olive trees have been destroyed by settlers in various incidents, so many it is hard to keep count. Six hundred in Nablus on October 30. Two days before that, a Palestinian farmer’s head was cracked open by settlers wielding iron bars from the illegal outpost Adei Ad. And just before that, settlers from Yitzhar attacked both Palestinian farmers and Jewish Israeli volunteers from Rabbis for Human rights with clubs, resulting in four injuries. The list goes on and on.

These incidents — now particularly heightened during the olive harvest season — are not the aberration from the norm, but a regular feature of life in the occupied West Bank. In 2012, over 7,500 Palestinian olive trees were destroyed. In the 5-year period between 2007 and 2011, there was a 315 percent increase in settler violence.

Saying there is no “positive atmosphere” because of new settlement plans is thus a glib understatement, almost disingenuous. The atmosphere Israel perpetuates has been anathema to any kind of goodwill interaction with Palestinians for quite some time. You don’t need new settlement plans to see this. It is clear from an array of factors both on the ground and in the halls of Knesset, among them, just to name a few: IDF arrests of Palestinian children, shooting at unarmed protesters, and the fact that numerous top ministers in the coalition openly oppose a two-state solution, the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the secession of East Jerusalem.

But the issue of settler violence is different not only because it is brutal violence in in broad daylight, but also because the Israeli government can easily — and does — shirk responsibility, conveniently pointing a finger at a small group of fanatics.

Settler violence happens primarily in areas of the West Bank (B and C) where Israel has full control over security, and is legally obligated as the occupying force to protect the Palestinian civilian population under its control. They go far beyond acts of revenge committed by settlers reacting to what they deem to be “anti-settlement” Israeli policy decisions (known as “price tag” attacks — which by the way, Netanyahu and the state prosecutor opted not to deem as “terror”). They are more than hate crimes. They are a concerted campaign of terror perennially waged against the occupied Palestinian population in the West Bank.

According to Yesh Din, 97.4 percent of the complaints submitted between 2005 and 2013 regarding damaged Palestinian olive groves in the West Bank were closed by the Samaria and Judea District Police without any indictments filed. There is countless footage and documentation (I myself have witnessed first hand many times) showing the Israeli army and police standing by as violence takes place, or failing to take action against those responsible, or simply failing to prevent the incident. In some cases soldiers and settlers are also clearly working in cahoots.

Amira Hass recently reported in Haaretz that defense officials have kept Israeli attacks on Palestinian olive groves a secret from public knowledge and the media. In Israel, it is only because of human rights organizations like Rabbis for Human Rights, Yesh Din and B’Tselem that these issues get any coverage at all. An Israeli soldier serving in the West Bank is trained to protect Jewish citizens first and foremost — it is after all, as Netanyahu constantly reminds the world, the Jewish state. Whether or not a Palestinian can access water from his well or graze his sheep or harvest his olives without being stopped by a vigilante settler is not Israel’s primary concern. And if that Palestinian comes to the conclusion that fighting to remain on his land is just too dangerous and he must move to a more populated city center, then Israel has achieved a win for its de facto policy: Maximum land, minimum Palestinians.

As Yousef Munayer wrote in the Daily Beast’s Open Zion blog, “As de facto state agents, the settlers are doing the work that might be too controversial for the Israeli military to be directly involved in for public relations purposes but still serves the larger aim of checking and demoralizing a Palestinian population.”

As the sovereign body in the occupied West Bank, the IDF — and by extension the Israeli government — is responsible for everything that happens there, whether they are directly involved or not. It is therefore time to call a spade a spade: Settler violence is a major component of the Israeli government’s war of attrition against the Palestinian population. It’s time the U.S. state not only that new settlements don’t help create a “positive atmosphere” for talks, but that the Israeli government and its old settlements and old policies have already created a very negative atmosphere — not just for talks, but for the basic human rights of millions of people.

Mairav Zonszein is a writer and editor based in Israel. She blogs at +972mag.com.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.