West Bank Settler Riot: What the Media Left out

By Kim Bullimore

On September 13, in response to a 9-year-old Israeli settler child living in the ‘wildcat’ outpost of Shalhevet, about half a kilometre from the illegal Israeli colony of Yitzhar, being stabbed by a lone Palestinian, hundreds of illegal settlers rioted en-mass and terrorised several thousand villagers in the Palestinian township of Asira al Qibliya. In the course of the riot at least 8 Palestinians were seriously injured, six by live ammunition fired by the illegal settlers, who also vandalised residential homes and beat unarmed children and adults, while members of the fourth strongest army on earth stood by and let the settlers riot [1].

While much has been made by the illegal settlers and some of the Israeli and international press of the stabbing and “terrorist” attack on Yitzhar, little was said – if anything at all – about the fact that for the past decade the heavily armed settlers of Yitzhar and other nearby illegal Israeli settlements have been violently terrorising the unarmed Palestinian villages around them. Neither was it mentioned that in the last twelve months, such unprovoked attacks by the Yitzhar settlers have increased substantially. Nor was it mentioned that there had also been an increase in similar attacks by other illegal settlers against Palestinian villages in the Qaliqilya and Hebron region of the Occupied Paletinian Territories (OPT).

The intensification of these attacks in all the various regions throughout the occupied West Bank have been well documented by the Israeli military, international and Israeli human rights workers and have also been intermittently been reported in the Israeli media.  In the Nablus region where Asira al Qibiliya is located, the attacks carried out by the illegal settlers – in many instances just before, during or after the Jewish Shabbat – have included the poisoning of Palestinian herds of goat and sheep, the torching and burning of hundreds of dunums of Palestinian agricultural land, the invasion of Palestinian villages by armed settlers, the beating and stoning of unarmed Palestinian residents, the destruction of Palestinian property and the firing of homemade missiles at Palestinian villages on several occasions [2]

On May 16th of this year, myself and my team mate from the International Women’s Peace Service (IWPS) and members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) were called out to one of the many ongoing attacks carried out by the Yitzhar settlers against Asira al Qibiliya.  On this particular occasion, 30 armed illegal settlers attempted to enter the village, hurling stones at houses and attempting to set alight the wheat fields belonging to the village.  Over the next couple of hours an intense standoff occurred between the dozens of well-armed Israeli occupation forces and approximately hundred unarmed young boys and men from Asira al Qibiliya who had attempted to prevent the illegal settlers from entering the village and terrorising the inhabitants. The Israeli military rather than coming to the aid of the unarmed Palestinian villagers, instead opened fire on them with teargas and rubber bullets.  One villager was hit in the face with a ricocheting bullet fired by the Israeli occupation forces and a woman and her four children, including a 2 month old baby and three other children under the age of 10 years suffered respiratory problems when the Israeli military threw teargas into their home [3].  According to the family, whose house lies on the outskirts of the village, close to the illegal colony this was not the first time their house had come under attack by either the settlers or the Israeli military.  At around 7pm, the Israeli military finally left the village but at the request of the people of Asira al Qibiliya, ourselves and the activists from the ISM  -who had arrived in the village during the middle of the standoff – stayed in the village overnight due to fears by the villagers that another attack would be carried out against them.

Because this was not the first attack on the village, over the next few months, IWPS, the ISM, the Ecumenical Accompaniers (EA) and Rabbis for Human Rights developed a roster to allow internationals and Israeli anti-occupation activists to either provide a presence in the village or to be on-call should any more settler attacks occur. Over the next few weeks, the illegal settler of Yitzhar and other illegal colonies attempted to carry out attacks on Asira al Qibiliya and other nearby villages. On a number of these occasions (but not all) the illegal settlers were prevented from entering the various villages or their surround fields, when the villagers demanded that the Israeli military stop them. While the Israeli military did on occasion prevent the illegal settlers from entering into the Palestinian villages, the settlers were never arrested or detained by the Israeli forces for attempting to carry out premeditated, unprovoked and violent attacks.

Despite this, however, settlers were still able to carry out a range of attacks on unarmed Palestinians. On June 16 illegal settlers from Yitzhar physically attacked three Palestinian sheppards from the village of Burin (located about a half hour from Asira al Qibiliya).  According to the report issued by UN OCHA oPt (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories), the settlers also stabbed and killed three donkeys [4]. 

Three days later on June 19, both IWPS and UN OCHA oPt documented settlers from Yitzhar and other illegal setters attacking two houses in Burin, stoning Palestinian plated cars and setting  fire to the farm lands of Palestinians villagers from Burin, Asira al Qibilya and Urif, destroying more than 800 dunums of olive groves.  On the morning of this attack, myself and my team mates at IWPS had received an emergency call from locals in Asira al Qibiliya informing us that the illegal settlers were in the process of torching hundreds of dunums of Palestinian farmland in the area and were carrying out an attack on the nearby village of Burin. Two of my team mates quickly headed to Burin, while myself and another team mate alerted the media and other activists to the attacks. 

As my team mates travelled to Burin, I rang contacts in the village. While talking to a Palestinian journalist who was on location in the village, I could hear yelling, shoots being fired and scuffles breaking out as villagers attempted to get to their fields to put out the fires set by the illegal settlers.  The Israeli military, however, who had refused to stop the settlers setting the fire, also physically prevented the Palestinian farmers and villagers from getting to their fields to put the blazes out.  Our field team also rang to tell us that despite being 15 minutes away from the village, they could see large plumes of smoke in the air and fields burning.  Our field team were later to report that around 250 illegal settlers on board coaches who arrived in the area. According to our field team, the Israeli military accompanied the settlers and did not attempt to prevent them from endangering the lives of the villagers or destroying their property [5].   Instead, when the villagers of Burin attempted to defend themselves against the settler attacks, the Israeli military open fire on the unarmed villagers throwing teargas canisters into two of the houses under attacks.  As a result an elderly Palestinian woman and a 3 month old baby suffered tear gas inhalation and needed medical attention.  In addition, UN OCHA oPt noted that due to the settler attacks, the Israeli military were forced to close the road between Yitzhar colony (in the Nablus region) and Jit village (in the Qalqilya regioni) for seven hours between 11 am and 6pm. [6]

The following month on July 27, IWPS received yet another emergency call from Burin where 25 – 30 illegal settlers were using petrol to set fire to the village’s olive and almonds trees after attempting to carry out a stoning attack on Palestinian sheppards [7].   The villagers reported to IWPS that this was the third attack the village had suffered at the hand of the illegal settlers that week. 

The failure to mention the growing number of attacks on the Palestinian villages of the Nablus region by the illegal settlers from Yitzhar and other illegal colonies, however, was not the only thing left out of the coverage of the settler riot by much of the Israeli english-language and international media.  Also left out was that illegal settlers who reside in Yitzhar are some of the most hardcore and ideological of settlers, with a great many of them being adherents of the violent, racist anti-Arab ideology of American-born Israeli, Rabbi Meir Kahane.

Kahane, who was assassinated by an Egyptian-born American in 1990, was the founder of the racist Jewish Defense League in the USA and Kach (Thus) in Israel. He was also the inspiration for Kahane Chai (Kahane Lives) which was founded by his son.  Kahane, who was elected to the Knesset in 1984 called for the expulsion of all Palestinians and Arabs from the Holy Land, the banning of sexual relationships between Jews and non-Jews and also believed that democracy and Judaism were not compatible [8] 

In 1994, Kach and Kahane Chai were declared terrorist organisations by the Israeli government (and later the USA) after one of Kach’s members, American-born Israeli doctor, Baruch Goldstein, massacred 29 Muslim men, women and children at prayer in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and wounded at least 100 others.  At the time of the attack Kach issued statements supporting Goldstein’s act of mass murder.   The following year in 1995, a follower of Kahane, Yigal Amir assassinated Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin [9].

Jessica Stern in her 2003 book, Terror in the Name of God: Why religious militants kill, notes that prior to Goldstein’s murderous attack and the assassination of Rabin, Kach and Kahane Chai had also claimed responsibility for a range of other attacks on Palestinians and Israeli government officials, including the murder of four Palestinians in 1993. Stern also documents that in 2002 Kach leader, Baruch Marzel, was arrested in connection “with a plot to leave a trailer laden with barrels of gasoline and two gas balloons outside a Palestinian girls’ school in East Jerusalem” [10].

In the wake of the attacks carried by the illegal settlers, the Israeli english-language and international media reported that Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, stated that his government would not allow “pogroms against non-Jews” to be carried out.   However, what was not mentioned in the media coverage was that the Israeli Prime Minister only found his voice after the Israeli television media aired extensively footage, obtained by Palestinian, International and Israeli anti-occupation activists, showing the intensity of the attack and that the Israeli military and police had accompanied the settlers to the village and stood by watched as the settlers to carry out the attack on the unarmed village, doing nothing to prevent it. Prior to the footage being shown, Olmert had little to say about this latest settler attack.

Also not mentioned by Olmert or the subsequent media coverage was that such large scale “pogroms” are perpetrated on regular basis by illegal settlers against Palestinians civilians and that the Israeli military and police do nothing to prevent them. This fact has been regularly document by Israeli human rights groups such as B’Tselem. In 2001, they noted in their report, Free Reign: Vigilante settlers and Israel’s non-enforcement of the law, that “settler violence against Palestinians is extensive and has been prevalent in the Occupied Territories for many years [11].  B’Tselem noted that between December 1987 and the beginning of October 2001, that 124 Palestinians had been murdered by Israeli settlers, 11 of them between the one year period between September 2000 and October 2001.  The report went onto note that the Israeli military and police regularly failed in their duties to protect Palestinians from violent attacks.

Seven years after B’Tselem’s Free Reign report, the organisation’s website notes that nothing much has changed.   According to B’Tselem’s website, “when Palestinians attack Israelis, the authorities invoke all means at their disposal – including some that are incompatible with international law and constitute gross violations of human rights – to arrest suspects and bring them to trail. Defendants convicted by military courts can expect harsh sentences” [12 ].  However, according to B’Tselem, “in contrast, when Israeli civilians attack Palestinians, the Israeli authorities employ an undeclared policy of leniency and compromise towards the perpetrators.  This policy is reflected in the actions of the officials in charge of law enforcement – the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and the Israel Police Force (IPF) – which do not do enough to prevent harm to the life and property of Palestinians and to sop violent attacks by settlers while they are taking place.  All law enforcement agencies and judicial authorities demonstrate little interest in uncovering the substantial violence that Israeli civilians commit against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories”.

The recent “pogrom” carried out by the illegal settlers of Yitzhar is not an isolated incident or an aberration.  Such pogroms happen with frightening regularity and are regularly ignored by the Israeli government who view the illegal settlers as their front line shock troops against the Palestinian population. These attacks are also regularly ignored by the mainstream media, who as media researchers Greg Philo and Mike Berry in their 2004 book, Bad News from Israel, regularly fail to accurately report what happens in Occupied Palestinian Territories [13]. The failure of the media to do its job and to accurately report what is happening in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza is why it is important for those of us concerned about human rights to support B’Tselem’s “Shooting Back” program (where video cameras are provided to vulnerable communities in the OPT), as well as the work of groups like IWPS and ISM who regularly document on the ground the reality of what is happening.

The recent settler riots in Asira al Qibiliya will not be the last to take place in OPT.  Until Israel’s illegal and brutal occupation is ended and occupation infrastructure such as the illegal colonies, outposts and the apartheid wall are dismantled and the Israeli military that protects them is removed, Palestinians will not be safe in their own homes and there will be no chance at a real peace, which will bring an end to bloodshed on both sides of the conflict.

-Kim Bullimore has recently spent 12 months living and working in the Occupied West Bank with the International Women’s Peace Service  www.iwps.info . Kim writes regularly on the Palestine-Israel conflict for the Australian newspaper, Direct Action www.directaction.org.au and has a blog at www.livefromoccupiedpalestine.blogspot.com. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

Notes:

[1] Weiss, E., (13 September, 2008) Palestinian stabs Yitzhar boy; settlers riot
[2] Associated Press (13 July, 2008) Settler arrested in failed rocket attack on Palestinian town
[3] Settlers attack Asira al Qibliya, ISM Report (17 May, 2008) [4] Protection of Civilians Weekly Report (11 – 17 June, 2008) UN OCHA oPt
[5] IWPS Human Rights Report 360
[6] Protection of Civilians Weekly Report (18 – 24 June, 2008) UN OCHA oPt
[7] Mergui, R., and Simonnot, P., (1987) Israel’s Ayatollahs: Meir Kahane and the Far Right in Israel. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Saqi Books
[8] IWPS Human Rights Report 371 [9] Kahane Movement, Anti-Defamation League
[10] Talking with Jewish Extremists (excerpts from Jessica Stern’s 2003 book, Terror in the Name of God: Why religious militants kill) Israel’s next war, Frontline, PBS [11] Dudai, R., (2001) Free Reign: Vigilante settlers and Israel’s non-enforcement of the law, B’Tselem: Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (Jerusalem)
[12] B’Tselem: Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories
[13] Philo, G., and Berry, M., (2004) Bad News from Israel , Pluto Press, London

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