Steep rise in settler attacks – Palestinians fight back

January 15, 2014
Sarah Benton

Palestinians confront Israeli settlers while others try to stop them before a group of settlers were detained by Palestinian villagers. They held more than a dozen Israeli settlers for about two hours on Tuesday in retaliation for the latest in a string of settler attacks on villages, witnesses said. Caption, Daily Mail, photo by AP.

Israeli settler attacks on Palestinians have increased fourfold, says UN

By Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh, The National
January 15, 2014

QUSRA, West Bank– Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians has almost quadrupled in eight years, supporting claims that Israeli security forces have failed to stem the “pricetag” campaign in which thugs cut down trees, deface mosques and beat Palestinian farmers.

Israeli leaders have repeatedly denounced such attacks — the defence minister last week branded them “outright terrorism” — and the military says soldiers are under strict orders to stop them.

Still, critics say Israeli governments stacked with pro-settler politicians have often been reluctant to confront settlers, even those seen as a hardline fringe.

“There is not enough pressure from the prime minister, the defence minister, the interior minister to prevent this,” said Gadi Zohar, a former senior army commander in the West Bank.

A dramatic incident near this Palestinian farming village last week highlighted the potential of such attacks to escalate and jeopardise fragile US-led peace efforts.

“Price tag” refers to settler attacks on Palestinians in response to army actions against any of dozens of West Bank settlement outposts.

Last week’s events began when troops uprooted olive trees planted on private Palestinian land by settlers from the Esh Kodesh outpost.

Later that day, about 20 Israelis moved towards nearby villages, including Qusra. Palestinians said the settlers damaged olive trees, and were caught by villagers after a stone-throwing clash and held by them for more than two hours before being handed to the army.

Footage of the settlers surrounded by an angry crowd led the news in Israel that day, with commentators saying serious bloodshed was averted by Palestinians who shielded the settlers.

A Palestinian man helps Israeli soldiers evacuate Israeli settlers after they were detained and beaten by Palestinians from the village of Qusra, Jan. 7, 2014. Photo by AFP

Seven Israelis were questioned and placed under house arrest, police said. The defence minister, Moshe Yaalon, warned he would show zero tolerance, but Palestinians are sceptical.

So far, there have been at least two cases of vandalism in apparent response to the Qusra incident. On Wednesday, residents of a village in the area said the door of a mosque was set on fire and some of the carpet was burnt. Graffiti read: “Blood for blood, Qusra.”

Settlers have damaged hundreds of trees in Qusra, killed 18 sheep, torched six cars and set fire to a mosque in dozens of attacks, said the mayor, Abdel Azim Wadi. The village has lost half its lands to settlements.

Israeli soldiers either stand by during settler attacks or fire tear gas, rubber bullets and occasionally live rounds at Palestinians if the attacks escalate into stone-throwing clashes, Mr Wadi said.

A Qusra man was killed by army fire and dozens were wounded by settlers and soldiers.

Palestinians say “price tag” is part of Israel’s policy of cementing control over the West Bank, the largest of three war-won areas the Palestinians want for a state. They note that Israel has been providing practical support for outposts even though they were set up without government permission.

“Who gives them water, electricity, who gives them security, and paves their streets?” said the Qusra resident Abdel Hakim Odeh, referring to the government’s policy towards the outposts. “These gangs are used by the government against the Palestinians.”

Colonel Eran Makov, deputy commander of an Israeli army division in the West Bank, said soldiers have clear orders to stop any violence between civilians in the territory.

“The policy of the IDF is to interrupt and stop every incident when a person attacks another person.”

Col Makov said soldiers cannot be everywhere at once to block attacks and that it was sometimes difficult to respond rapidly in rocky terrain. In last week’s incident, soldiers responded within 15 minutes, he said.

Col Makov said young conscripts were not necessarily trained for policing jobs, but that those who fail to intervene face disciplinary action. The military has overall authority in the West Bank and soldiers were usually the first to respond to unrest, while Israeli police deal with Israeli civilians, including investigating settler violence.

Indictments were only filed in 8.5 per cent of 825 completed police investigations monitored by the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din. In most cases, investigators failed to locate suspects or collect enough evidence.

In Qusra and two neighbouring villages, residents filed 21 police complaints between 2011 and 2013, but none has led to indictments so far. Twelve cases were closed, including a February shooting in which Hilmi Hassan, 28, was seriously wounded in a confrontation with settlers.

“If a settler was shot, they would have imposed curfew on the entire area, but when a Palestinian like me is shot, they accuse him of provoking the settlers,” said Mr Hassan.

Police have formed special units to deal with “price tag” attacks. A West Bank unit with 30 officers began working a year ago, focusing on surveillance, intelligence gathering and undercover operations, the spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

The army said Palestinian complaints about settler attacks during the annual olive harvest dropped by half, to 20, from 2012 to 2013.

Despite such efforts, UN figures show a steady rise in the number of settler attacks.

There have been 2,100 such attacks since 2006, the year the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) started counting. The annual totals are up from 115 in 2006 to 399 in 2013.

In the past eight years, 10 Palestinians were killed by settlers, and 29 settlers were killed by Palestinians. More than 1,700 Palestinians were injured by settlers or by troops in clashes, while 324 settlers and 37 soldiers were hurt by Palestinians in confrontations.

Palestinians also initiate violence, including throwing stones at Israeli motorists. In 2011, Palestinians stabbed to death five members of a family, including three small children, in their settlement home as they slept.

The Yesha Council, an umbrella for more than 550,000 Israeli settlers, said it opposes violence and has distanced itself from price tag.

Mr Zohar said it was not clear if the events in Qusra will prompt a change.

“I don’t think there’s a problem of understanding [the situation],” he said. “There is a problem of [making] a decision.

watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7dEB_KsblF4 [Arabic]

Settlers from Esh Kodesh backed up by IDF soldiers enter Al Qusra, in one of many IDF-protected incursions. Photo by Saad Al-Wadi

To the self-righteous among us: The bleak statistics on West Bank attacks

The blood and gore of the latest attack in Qusra turned heads, but it wasn’t unique.

By Amira Hass, Ha’aretz
January 13, 2014

The frightened eyes and bloody noses of a few pogromchiks really do it for us. Suddenly, the army disclaims any connection to them, the defense minister describes their actions as terrorism that must be eliminated and the media rehash the item time and again. We have become so addicted to power that a pogromchik who was beaten up in Qusra makes us feel angry and disgusted. If those goons had just attacked a farmer, uprooted trees or torched cars, it would have been business as usual: The army would have invoked its right to ignore it, stand aside and use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the Palestinians under attack. The police would have deliberately dragged its feet in the investigation and closed the case. The reporter would have wondered whether to bother writing a report like the 107 other reports he or she wrote over the past year, and the editor, concerned about space, would have agonized over whether to run the story at the bottom of page 5 or put up a quick item on the website. And the readers? They would have skipped it.

An invader of Al Qusra with a bloody nose. Photo by AP

Qusra in their sights

Here are some bleak statistics: From January 3, 2011 to September 15, 2013, the pogromchiks who went down from the outpost of Esh Kodesh perpetrated 28 attacks of various kinds. Fifteen of them involved beating and shooting, nine involved damage to olive trees, one case involved the killing of animals, one mosque was torched, one car was set ablaze, and one case involved threats. Of the 28 attacks, two were directed against the village of Jalud, one against Qaryut and — get this — 25 against Qusra, according to the list kept by Yesh Din. In seven cases, no complaint was filed. The police lost three complaints that were filed (against damage to olive trees) and closed 12 cases, 11 on the pretext that the offender was unknown. Another case is under investigation, the events of still another are unknown, and four cases are “being studied by the prosecution.”

The attack that took place on October 21, 2011 is still under the prosecutor’s consideration (as reported in Haaretz on August 18, 2012).

Israeli activists from Combatants for Peace joined the first olive harvest in Jalud on land that the residents had not been able to cultivate for almost a decade because of Jewish terrorism. Four masked men and one armed man who wore no mask went down from Esh Kodesh shouting, “Get out of here! This is our land! You were not here for ten years and did not cultivate the land. Now it belongs to us and we are cultivating it.” A stun grenade was suddenly thrown at the olive-pickers, gunshots were heard and stones were thrown from two directions. Then the masked men began attacking with clubs, according to A., 61, who thought they might go easy on him because he was an older man and a Jew. “At first they thought I was an Arab … and I tried to tell them, ‘Calm down, guys, I’m an Israeli, there’s no need for violence.’ The next thing that happened was that a fellow wearing a black mask grabbed my camera and tried to take it away from me. I argued with him, saying, ‘Have you no shame? Why are you using violence? You’re young enough to be my son.’”

No sooner had he uttered the words than he felt “a strong blow on my head with the club, and then I felt that my head was bleeding profusely. I fell to the ground and they kept hitting me with the sticks all over my body.” They stole both his cameras, his recordings and his glasses. Later he would realize he had two broken ribs. “I screamed with all my might, ‘Help! Stop it!’ but nobody heard me.”

But then someone heard: soldiers, who fired tear-gas grenades at the wounded olive-pickers and their escorts.

We should not shy away from writing the cliché: Imagine what would have happened if the attackers had been Palestinian. The army, the Shin Bet, the Border Police and the Israel Police would not have rested; within a week at most, they would have taken people into military court to have their remands extended until the end of proceedings. The headlines would have screamed “Terrorists.” The news anchors would have uttered the full name of each attacker with loathing.

Akram Taysir Daoud from the Palestinian village of Qusra, beaten unconscious by settlers, September 2012. Photo from International Solidarity.

Ladies and gentlemen! Stop with the nonsense. It is no accident, and there is no helplessness or error here. There is a single hand, and a division of labor among all those concerned. Thanks to the bullies, the valley of Shiloh is ours, with its vineyards and boutique wines. Thanks to the army’s duty to protect criminals and the Civil Administration’s duty to develop the settlements, the Palestinian villages have lost their land and the young people are leaving. Thanks to the pogromchiks, the organized robbery of land being perpetrated by the State of Israel on both sides of the Green Line is regarded as “law.”

Different means, 
same intention

Self-righteous ones among us, take note: Soldiers who stand idly by while masked Jewish men break people’s ribs; police officers who do not investigate incidents; a prosecution that does not budge, brigade commanders who keep activists of the Ta’ayush Arab-Jewish partnership from protecting shepherds and farmers from the cowboys of the southern Hebron hills, a lawyer from the State Prosecutor’s Office who states that the Palestinians are at fault for not having protected their olive trees from price-tag attacks – the difference between you and the thugs is merely in the means of expulsion, not the intention.

Postcript: For some reason, recent media reports have created the impression that the southern part of the West Bank is “quiet.” I had hoped to correct that impression by enumerating a series of new violent attacks whose purpose is identical to that in the northern West Bank: to expand the “legal” settlements and drive Palestinians off their land by making their lives intolerable until they emigrate. But space is short, and the list is as long as despair.

Meir Ettinger, wearing a white skullcap, escorted by IDF soldiers out of the West Bank village of Qusra, January 7, 2014. Photo by Zachariah, Rabbis for Human Rights

Palestinians capture and beat alleged ‘price tag’ attackers

Settlers held for hours before handed over to IDF; Palestinian leader: Villagers spared their lives ‘because they are human beings’

By Adiv Sterman, Times of Israel
January 07, 2014

A group of Israeli settlers was captured by Palestinians Tuesday, allegedly while en route to carry out a “price tag” attack, and held in a building in the village of Qusra near the West Bank city of Nablus. The settlers, some of whom were beaten by their captors, were handed over to the IDF after several hours.

They allegedly approached Qusra in an attempt to carry out an attack, in protest over the Israeli Civil Administration’s uprooting earlier in the day of a settler olive grove near the West Bank outpost of Esh Kodesh. The settlers, said to have come from the outpost, were reported to have clashed earlier with the Palestinian village’s residents.

They were surrounded and held captive for more than two hours, Channel 2 said. Conflicting Israeli and Palestinian reports put the number of settlers detained by the villagers at between eight and 16. During that time, the village elders prevented younger Palestinians from inflicting severe violence on the settlers and called the IDF to the area, the elders said.

One resident of Qusra said that the group had “attacked a Palestinian youth” and were “surrounded in a house” in the village. The village mukhtar, Abed Al-Ain Wasli, told Channel 2 that the villagers “could have killed them” and buried their bodies in the hills, but spared their lives “because we are Muslims, we are responsible people… and because they are human beings even if they were hostile.”

The captive settlers were allowed to leave only after a Palestinian Authority liaison force came to the village, and the group were then handed over to the IDF one at a time. An Associated Press photographer said about 200 Palestinians had gathered by the time the troops arrived. People in the crowd kicked and spit at the settlers as they emerged one by one from the building under construction where they had been held, the photographer said. Police later arrested four of them for questioning, while three others were hospitalized for treatment.

“I was tending my fields when a group of around 30 settlers came down the hill and attacked us with stones,” one local Palestinian farmer told Reuters. ”We chased them and they fled to a house under construction. They were cornered there and some of the people here beat them — they had attacked us on our own land.”

However, Pinchasi Bar-On, one of the settlers injured in the clash, said he and his friends were merely hiking in the area and were attacked unprovoked.

“We were a group of about 30 Israelis who went on a hike between Esh Kodesh and the nearby community of Eli,” Bar-On was quoted by the news site Walla as saying. “It’s a regular hike that we do every Tuesday. We’re all family men and we came without weapons, without clubs; we only wanted to take a hike. In the middle of our route, we were attacked by Arabs with trucks who pushed us into a house.”

The Israeli settlers held captive  on the roof of a building in Al Qusra. Photo by Ahmad Telat Hassan /MaanImages

Ziad Odeh, who leads prayers at Qusra’s mosque, disputed the claim that the settlers were hiking. He showed a Channel 2 reporter a sledgehammer that he said was brandished by one of the settlers and said they were also armed with metal pipes and wooden clubs.

Settlers from the Esh Kodesh outpost, leaving the West Bank village of Qusra, January 7 (photo credit: Zachariah, Rabbis for Human Rights)
Settlers from the Esh Kodesh outpost, leaving the West Bank village of Qusra, January 7 (photo credit: Zachariah, Rabbis for Human Rights)

If they were hiking, he said, “Why do they need to veil their faces? They came to attack farmers. They broke olive trees.”

“Of course we hit them,” he continued. “I have to defend myself. The [Palestinian] guys could have killed them. They held them for three hours. We told them we could have killed them but didn’t. ‘Next time maybe we’ll kill you,’ we said.”

The IDF said in a statement quoted by the AFP news agency: ”During the confrontation mutual rock-hurling took place, injuring some of the Israelis.”

“Initial inquiry suggests the confrontation erupted following a law enforcement activity which took place earlier today in Esh Kodesh,” the statement added, alluding to allegations of price tag violence on the part of the settlers.

Price tag attacks, acts of vandalism usually performed against Arab property and typically carried out by Jewish nationalists in retribution for government moves, have become increasingly common in recent years. Mosques, churches, dovish Israeli groups and Israeli military bases have been targeted in such attacks.

In late December, a home and three vehicles in a West Bank refugee camp were vandalized, in a suspected “price tag” attack related to the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners and ongoing peace talks.

Israeli officials have vowed to crack down on the attacks.

AP contributed to this report.

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