There are more than two settler attacks on Palestinians a day this year on average. According to two Israeli human rights experts, the violent settlers are working with the cooperation of the army and the Israeli government.
Settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank is rising rapidly this year, with more than 2 attacks a day on average, per the Israeli military- a far greater rate than a year ago.
According to two Israeli human rights experts, the violent settlers are working with the cooperation of the army and the Israeli government to take over more and more land for Jewish settlement under a policy of pushing Palestinians out of Area C. Just what Naftali Bennett said he wanted.
"Settler violence is a tool for achieving political aims. It's a tool that serves the government, serves the government policy of taking over land, and therefore it is flourishing; therefore it is successful," says Lior Amihai, executive director of the human rights group Yesh Din.
Amihai and Hagit Ofran of Israel's Peace Now movement explained the Bennett government's tolerance and use of settler violence on a podcast with Ori Nir of Americans for Peace Now on Friday.
Amihai described settler violence as a form of state terror that the state can deny responsibility for, but that has a very strong tradition in Israeli history.
There are so many ways of taking over lands. You can build settlements, outposts, you can declare land state lands and then allocate them to settlements, national parks, touristic sites, archaeological sites. And settler violence is just one of those tools...
The governments of Israel support this taking over of land. And it's not only the government... Just last year, Trump's plan basically stated that the last home that the settlers will be able to capture will be the border of the State of Israel. Now this is an incentive to take over more and more lands. This is an incentive therefore for settler violence.
The second goal is intimidation. It's to terrorize the Palestinian communities, and again under the occupation there's so many other ways to intimidate the Palestinians. You've got military trainings and checkpoints and invasions in homes and you've got the Secret Service and Shin Bet and cameras and you know, the bureaucracy of the occupation and the permit regime right. But unlike other sorts of intimidation, settler violence is not institutionalized.
Amihai said the settlers send a message to the state, "This is our war," and the army is supposed to serve the settlers. "We will attack these Palestinians because you're not doing it enough. .. The land that [the Palestinians are] living on is actually our lands."
And the state defers to the settlers.
Ofran said that settlers and the army are working together, as the famous May 2021 B'Tselem video pictured at the top of this post shows.
The involvement of the military and the settlers - it was always very much connected. You know, in the past, before the establishment of Israel, the civilians in settlements at the borders were the fighters to protect the borders. And they copied it into the way the Israeli army is working in the West Bank. And the settlers are part of the military forces there...The settlers will tell [the army], Here is where we are at... They carry the knowledge, to some extent.
The settlers have a new approach to settling the West Bank: in the last five years, individual families have set up 46 "farm outposts" using light equipment. Such a farm can quickly take over 200 square kilometers of Palestinian land, much more than a traditional settlement, Ofran said:
It's usually a small farm with several youngsters, usually one family, young couple, with maybe some children and volunteers who come and help them out in their farming. Usually it's about the sheep or cattle but they grow. And what they do every day is to go around with their sheep and to make sure that the lands around the outposts are Israeli controlled.
These outposts battle Palestinians for land and call in the Israeli military. They use drones to surveil Palestinians. Ofran:
How do they make sure that the surrounding area are controlled by Israelis? Here, I would like to share with you some things that the head of [the settler organization] Amana, Ze'ev Hever said in symposiums in February. They call it the battle for state land, the battle over Area C... which means that they want to kick out Palestinians from those areas.... We were lucky that the COVID started and they did it on Zoom...
And there were some people who live on such a farm, explaining how they do their thing. Every morning, they start with taking out the drone around the area to see if there's anybody approaching. And if they see a Palestinian shepherd or farmer that is going near to what they see as their land- which is state land, either officially or not - they would call the army and say that Palestinians here are not supposed to be here. If the army comes fast enough and and kicks out the Palestinians, they're satisfied.
And if not, they would go there to scare them away. And some of those settlers are more polite, and would use more the army. And some are more violent, and they will use more violence. Sometimes they use the drone to scare the the herds away, to scare the the sheep away.
The government funds these activities, Ofran says:
There is a lot of public money, mainly through the local authorities of the settlers, they get funds from the government to give all the services to the settlers, and they use those moneys also, to help set up those outposts...
Amihai called the attacks "pogroms."
It's pogroms, right, it's citizens of the state attacking non citizens, backed by the state, because... there's no accountability, because there's no law enforcement, etc. And what we were trying to argue is that this correlates with the same purpose... It's taking over land, it's another tool.
The settler violence gives the state deniability on a policy that the government supports, Amihai said.
It allows the courts to argue, it allows the state to argue that - the settler violence are extreme, they are marginal... It's only this minority we're dealing with. It's only 100 settlers, who do this sort of violence, but not us.
And that's why it's in the state's interest that this continues. Because it allows us to say, Oh, no, we're tackling settler violence. But then the main purpose continues. It allows the state of Israel to say, oh, we're good, we're okay, it's only them that are the bad ones.
In video after video, it is clear that soldiers are standing idly by next to settlers who are attacking Palestinians and telling them to "get out," Amihai said.
According to international law, according to minimum, the lowest standard of morality, you're supposed to protect those who are under occupation, they are the protected population. The Palestinians don't have any other party to protect them. And once there is a criminal offense being committed, the soldiers are in the shoes of the sovereign, they're the people who are supposed to be responsible for the situation. And they're supposed to hold the settlers while they're attacking to prevent them from doing so, to arrest them to stop them.
Ofran said that the Bennett government has not changed Netanyahu's policy of annexing Area C slowly.
"Unfortunately, it's becoming more and more clear to me that the policy towards settlement and issues of the conflict are not really changing. It's maybe the music that sounds a little different, since Netanyahu and and it's more like, less anti- Palestinian. But it's not at all changing anything on the ground.
Today the Bennett government is promoting its plan for E-1, outside Jerusalem, which is yet another lethal blow to the "potential two state solution," Ofran said. And in December the government is pushing forward plans to develop Atarot in Jerusalem, to encircle East Jerusalem with Jewish settlements.
"It's dramatic," Ofran said, and while anti-occupation activists have allies inside the new government "who are trying to help us... that doesn't mean that this government is moving anywhere in the direction we want it to go."
Amihai recounted recent statistics from Haaretz: In 2019, the Israeli military counted 363 incidents of settler violence; in 2020, 507 incidents. And in the first half of 2021, there were already 416 such incidents.
His organization, Yesh Din, has documented 540 settler attacks in three years, and in 56 percent of the cases, Palestinians chose not to file a complaint. "And the reason they did that is because they're intimidated by the system. They fear that if they'll file a complaint, then the institutions will retaliate."