The quiet terror: settler harassment of Palestinian farmers
At the end of March, V., a villager from Burin, went to plow his field. This was a special day: Not every day can the farmers of Burin work their land, if it unfortunately happens to be near a settlement. Burin is adjacent to the Har Bracha settlement; therefore, in order to reach some of their lands, the farmers have to coordinate in advance with the military.
V. noticed three soldiers about 500 meters from him, on the hilltop, when suddenly a man popped up nearby, whom V. described as a settler: He described him as “a guy with a yarmulke, peos, beard, brown pants and a gray shirt, about 27 years old, blond and tall.” The settler started hurling stones at V. After all, what could V. do in return? Three soldiers stood nearby. Officially they were there to help V. work his land; in practice they were there, as always, to make the existence of the settler possible.
V. called the soldiers, and told them he was under attack. They went to speak to the settler. After five minutes of conversation, during which the soldiers refrained from arresting the Jew, they returned to V. and told him he should go on working, and the settler won’t bother him any more. The soldiers and settler took off. About a quarter of an hour later, says V., four men described by him as settlers arrived, and began attacking him, trying to pull him off his donkey. The soldiers leisurely returned, and the settlers escaped. At which point, the soldiers informed V. this can’t go on like this and he has to return home, without finishing his day of work which he coordinated in advance with the IDF.
Naturally, this could have ended differently. The soldiers could have provided him protection from those accosting him. This is their duty according to international law, the decisions made by the HCJ, and even according to the orders of the IDF itself. In practice, however, the soldiers served as the long arm of the settlers: the latter harass the Palestinians, the army then informs them that he cannot defend them and sends them home, and that’s how slowly a land – which everyone acknowledges is private Palestinian land – becomes in practice untilled land, because terrorists prevent it from being worked. That’s how the perimeter of the settlement is extended, and that’s how you accustom the Palestinians to abandon their lands.
For an agricultural community, and the B and C areas are mostly agricultural, the meaning of losing its lands is quite simple: Community collapse. If you can’t make a living, there’s no reason to stay. Large numbers of the residents of Burin, who find themselves crushed between Har Bracha and Yitzhar, abandon the village. The number of incidents around Burin is huge. The pattern keeps repeating: Attacks by people described by the victims as settlers, the stealing of equipment, cutting off trees, burning trees, attacks during the harvest.
The settlers, it seems, are very fond of attacks during harvest time: What better way to make it clear there’s no point for a Palestinian to work his land? Thou shalt build a house, and thou shalt not dwell there; thou shalt plant a vineyard, and shalt not gather the grapes thereof. Thine ox shall be slain before thine eyes, and thou shalt not eat thereof: thine ass shall be violently taken away from before thy face, and shall not be restored to thee: thy sheep shall be given unto thine enemies, and thou shalt have none to rescue them. The Palestinians face “a nation of fierce countenance, which does not regard the person of the old, nor shew favour to the young: which eats the fruit of their cattle, and the fruit of their land, until they are destroyed: which also shall not leave them either corn, wine, or oil, or the increase of thy kine, or flocks of thy sheep.”
V. himself no longer bothers with lodging a complaint: He has suffered from the settler attacks for many years, and has registered ten complaints. Nothing has changed. There’s no point in expending the effort and the energy, particularly the mental energy, in a complaint.
It could have been different, if the IDF had regarded its legal duties seriously. After all, when the IDF wants to, it can swiftly remove outposts even when it lacks the legal powers to do so. These, of course, are Palestinian outposts. The IDF soldiers, as the force responsible for keeping the peace, have the authority to detain rampaging settlers; yet, time after time, in incident after incidents, they refrain from doing so. Time after time, they serve as a tool of the settlers to widen their territory, through robbery.
The IDF keeps saying it does not choose its missions. That’s OK: The settlers are already doing that for it.