Don’t blame settlers for violence against Palestinians

Israeli soldiers are the ones who make the prolonged dispossession of the Palestinians possible. If the army wasn’t there, violent settler attacks could not take place.

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz

Border Police officer shaking hands with Israeli settler, March 2, 2013 (Guy, Ta’ayush activist)
Border Police officer shaking hands with Israeli settler, March 2, 2013 (Guy, Ta’ayush activist)

One morning in late February of this year, J., a resident of a village in the Nablus district, went to work in his field along with his two cousins, M. and A. (We are not using the complainants’s full names for the same reason members of the Shin Bet are only known by a single name: the fear, perfectly justified in this case, that by exposing complainants’ names we will be putting them at risk). The three reached the field with a horse, a donkey, a chainsaw and various other tools. They worked for several hours, and at about noon were alarmed to see an armed mob approaching them, reportedly composed of Israeli citizens, coming from the direction of the settlement of Yitzhar.

The mob was composed of twenty to thirty settlers with their faces covered, accompanied by three or four soldiers. One of the soldiers pointed his gun at M. and demanded his ID card; J. and A. started to leave with their tools when they noticed the settlers beginning to break branches of the olive trees, their source of livelihood. J. started crying “thieves, thieves,” and begged the soldiers to do something to stop the damage.

Just 100 meters separated the settlers from the soldiers, and yet, according to the testimony, the soldiers stood idly by guarding the hoodlums and doing nothing to prevent the property damage. J. watched helplessly as the settlers stole his horse, his chainsaw, and his coat, which contained a very precious possession, his ID. “Look at these thieves,” said J to the soldier in desperation, “they are taking my things.” “Relax,” replied the soldier; “we’ll talk to the police.” M followed the settlers, who returned to the settlement. He noticed a settlement security vehicle, as well as a military jeep in close proximity. No one intervened.

This blog often deals with the depredations of the settlers, but it must be acknowledged that when all is said and done, it’s not their fault. The settlers who go out on “price tag” attacks strongly believe they have rights to the land and the Palestinians don’t, so they do not feel they are stealing from the Palestinians. The patron saint of religious Zionism, the convicted terrorist (Hebrew) and former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, has given explicit permission to the settlers to loot the fruit of the labor of Palestinians (Hebrew); Other rabbis, such as the writers of the “Torat Ha’Melech” tract — incidentally, they too reside in Yitzhar — have gone further, permitting the bloodshed of Palestinians and their children (Hebrew). Why bother complaining about the Price Tag settlers? They don’t consider the Palestinians to be human and they don’t consider Israeli law, much less military law, as binding. The Talmud says that “it’s not the mouse that steals, it’s the hole”: if the mouse didn’t have a hole to run to, it would not steal.

There is a sovereign entity, or at least someone filling its shoes, in the West Bank; that sovereign entity is the IDF. And this sovereign body is not at all enthusiastic about enforcing the law of the land over the whims of the settlers. Generations of officers have learned from experience that enforcing the law can be a major hindrance to their careers. Soldiers have absorbed the lesson that there’s simply no point in trying to prevent the settlers’ raids. If they try to, they know that the military wing of the settlers – aka “a small number of fanatics over whom we have no control” – will make them pay the price. So the soldiers resign themselves to serving as the settlers’ violent backup, without which this reign of terror could not continue.

It’s unpleasant but it needs to be stated: the soldiers, or the power that comes from the barrel of a gun, are the ones that make the prolonged dispossession of the Palestinians possible. For a generation, the IDF continuously claimed it should be left out of the political debate, since it “does not choose its missions.” Apparently, one of the missions it has no choice but to carry out is escorting settlers on their vicious raids. And we all know that this is not an isolated incident.

Let it be known to every mother in Israel, let it be known to every Israeli taxpayer, that when it comes to the systematic dispossession of a poor, humiliated population, the IDF does not shirk its duty. Let it be clear, if the army wasn’t there, these incidents could not take place.

The image of a Palestinian farmer begging an apathetic soldier for the return of his chainsaw, his horse, his poor ID card without which he cannot live, as he is being robbed by gangsters, should be seen by every member of the Israeli civic community. We sent that soldier there. He is our emissary. He is doing what we, by action or inaction, ordered him to do.

The Israeli civic community? That’s assuming there is one.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.