Archive for June, 2008

In my last post, (oh so long ago) I made a slightly drunken assertion that all of the Gazans killed during “Operation Hot Winter” were civilians, because Palestine has no army. While most of the time I actually do make a distinction between civilians and armed fighters (whether or not they belong to a state army), I have a tendency to vacillate between the two positions. Often it depends on how angry I am. But mostly it is because there is quite an area of grey, for me at least, between these two categories.

Especially in Palestine how one becomes categorised is largely a racial matter. The moment a Palestinian picks up a weapon, they become categorised as a combatant – a viable target for the Israeli military. But there’s a huge swathe of armed Israelis who wander around with the supposed protection that civilian status affords – settlers.

A lot of people don’t really know what settlers are or what they do, so at risk of boring those who do, here’s a brief outline. Many Zionists (those who believe that the land of Palestine is the spiritual birthright of Jews) are not content with the huge part of Palestine that was given to them by England and the UN in 1948. They want the whole land – Eretz Yisrael – extending from the Nile to the Euphrates river, and so, armed with M16s and with the support of the Israeli military, they enter the West Bank (and in the past Gaza), and take it by force. Usually they take hilltops, land where Palestinians haven’t built, and put down their caravans. Then the Israeli military is obliged to move into the area to protect them from Palestinians. Then they convince more and more settlers to join them, and then create further outposts, usually on neighbouring hilltops, until they have stolen huge tracts of Palestinian land. The state of Israel then further obliges them by building big security fences around their settlement, and any other land they wish to appropriate. This is considered to be stage two of the building of the apartheid (also known as annexation) wall. This whole process is illegal under international law – it is illegal to resettle your population in lands you have occupied. But as very few members of the international community are willing to call Israel to account for this, it continues apace. And it is this process that essentially renders impossible the dream for a viable Palestinian state – because the settlements have carved up the West Bank in such a way that there is no contiguous territory; just a vague promise of transportational contiguity. Also these settlements are often positioned in prime locations – stealing the most fertile land; or worse, stealing precious aquifers, such as Ariel settlement in the Salfit region.

Settlers, however, do not limit themselves to just these nefarious land-grabbing activities. Once they have installed themselves, and have virtually zero accountability, they have tendancies to take out their racial hatred (and, I suspect, boredom) on neighbouring Palestinians – harassing them; burning or stealing their crops; beating and killing them.

While settler harassment goes on all the time, in the past week two incidents in particular have angered me such to prompt me to write. One was a particularly brutal attack happened in a village called Sousiya, in the south near Hebron. Sousiya is a tent-village mainly reliant on its shepherding activities. When we have the numbers, internationals try to maintain a presence around the area, just accompanying the shepherds because of the dangers they face from nearby settlers. On Monday 9th June, 6 masked settlers came down from the nearby settlement outpost of Havat Ya’ir and, after telling the Palestinians that they had ten minutes to leave the area, viciously attacked an old couple with baseball bats, hospitalising them, as well as some others from the village who tried to come to their aid.



The phenomenon of settlers covering their faces is quite new, and clearly a response to the increased use of video cameras by Palestinians and internationals, who have a few times been able to press charges against settlers with the aid of video evidence.

Four days later in the north, in the village of Huwarra near Nablus, two Palestinians were attacked in their home at dawn by settlers from nearby Yitzhar settlement – one was stabbed and the other hit on the head with a wrench. As a friend of mine noted, if a Palestinian had managed to stab a settler inside a settlement, the whole West Bank would be shut down. The surrounding villages would be placed under curfew for up to a week while they searched for the attacker, and likely the house of the attacker’s family would be demolished. In the case of these settler attacks, there has been no response.

The Palestinians who were attacked last week have all survived, but even in cases where settlers kill Palestinians, there is no police or army follow-up. In the case of 15 year old Hammad Khadatbh from the village of Beit Furiq, who was found murdered and mutilated in the lands of a settlement on 16th April – clearly tortured and dumped, naked with a broken neck, missing fingers and puncture wounds across his torso – Israeli police immediately concluded that he had been murdered, but there has since been no indication of any investigation of the settlement.


Nor was there any investigation of the case of 15 year old Sharaf Ishtayah, who was murdered by an Israeli bus driver in what eye-witnesses report as an intentional act of the bus-driver swerving towards the young shepherd who was leading his sheep across an Israeli-only road.


Not only do the Israeli authorities fail to investigate settler attacks, they often aid them. Stories abound of Israeli soldiers standing by doing nothing while settlers attack Palestinians. Common also are the situations such as in the village of Asira al Kibliyia, where soldiers handed Palestinians to settlers to beat; and reportedly handed their guns to the settlers to shoot out the water tank on a Palestinian home. In this same village, however, Nahla Machmoud, whose water tank was shot out by the soldiers and settlers, was told by Israeli police that if she ever did anything to a settler who came to her house to harass her family, even just hit one, she would be imprisoned.

Whilst there has been, in recent years, a public backlash against settlers in mainstream Israel, they form the very backbone of the apartheid state that Israel has established through its occupation. And while officially it is impossible for the Israeli government to acknowledge the strategic importance of the settlements (given their illegality) through their armed beligerance settlers have created the seemingly irreversible facts on the ground – thousands and thousands of dounums (a quarter of an acre) in the West Bank annexed to Israel; connected by a series of “Israeli-only” roads justified by “security purposes”, which then work to annex even more land – that for Sharon were the fundamental necessities for his “system of control”.


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