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Prisoner issue and settler violence drive escalation of West Bank protests

Tensions are rising following the death of a Palestinian in Israeli prison and a settler attack on a Palestinian village, which took place despite the fact that IDF soldiers were on the scene. Indifference to the Palestinian issue and lack of progress on the ground are building up frustration and anger among Palestinians. 

Settlers attack Palestinians in Qusra as IDF soldiers stand by (photo Sa’ad Al-Wadi)

This weekend saw a series of confrontations between Palestinians, soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories. Hundreds of Palestinians confronted soldiers in Beitunia (near Ofer prison), in several places near Road 60, in Hebron and near the village of Qusra, where at least two people were reportedly shot by settlers from a nearby Jewish outpost.

These protests are still much smaller than the ones that took place in the first Intifada and the first few weeks of the second Intifada, but their frequency is unique, and it suggests not only a growing frustration with the status quo but also a certain willingness by the Palestinian Authority to challenge the occupation on the ground – something Ramallah avoided in the last five or six years. The Palestinians are absent from the political debate in Israel and the planned visit by President Obama next month is not expected to lead to any breakthroughs in their situation – hence the Palestinian incentive to remind the world that they cannot be ignored.

Much of the protest is focused on the prisoner issue and the hunger strike of four Palestinians, two of whom were released in the Shalit deal only to be arrested again by Israel on minor charges. One prisoner was reportedly arrested for traveling to a nearby village, the other for joining a political organization which is recognized by Israel. Eight-hundred prisoners took part in a one-day hunger strike in solidarity with the four last week.

Yesterday, a young Palestinian man named Arafat Jaradat who was suspected of stone throwing, died in Israeli prison under unclear circumstances. Reports in the Israeli media claimed that the prisoner collapsed after his meal (he wasn’t on hunger strike) but Palestinian sources claimed that his health deteriorated during or following an interrogation. The investigation of the death was transferred from the prison service to an external unit, and a Palestinian doctor, Saber Aloul from Al-Kuds University, was participating in the autopsy.

This morning, 4,500 Palestinian prisoners returned their meals as part of a hunger strike in protest of his death. Palestinian factions in Gaza held an urgent meeting Sunday morning to discuss their response to Jaradat’s death, according to a BBC journalist.

The father of the deceased Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat, is seen after identifying his body at the Abu Kabir Forensic institute, February 24, 2013
(Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Less reported but not less important is an increase in settler violence against Palestinians. There are several reports every week on “price tag” attacks by settlers against Palestinians and their property – those usually include torching trees, cars and mosques, spray-painting threatening and insulting graffiti, and violent attacks on civilians.

On Saturday, several armed settlers – some of them with their faces covered – entered a Palestinian plantation near the village of Qusra (in the Nablus region) and confronted local Palestinians, who threw stones at them. The settlers uprooted several olive trees and tried to torched a house. Last week, six of the village’s cars were torched.

A couple of Palestinians were wounded by live ammunition, apparently fired by the settlers. As can be seen in the photos below, soldiers who were present at the site didn’t try to stop the settlers, even those who threatened the Palestinians with their guns.

The settlers came from the outpost “Esh Kodesh” – officially an illegal settlement according to Israeli government documentation, but one which enjoys government support and financing. A spokesperson for Rabbis for Human Rights has confirmed to +972 that the pictures were taken in the plantation area of Qusra, where representatives of RHR participated in planting trees with local farmers a couple of months ago.

A settler (far on the right) pointing a gun to Palestinians at the plantations of Qusra village, February 23 2013 (photo: Saad Al-Wadi)

Settlers storm Palestinians from Qusra (photo: Saad Al-Wadi)

As can be clearly seen in the pictures above (and many more from the series that I have received), the soldiers are not even trying to prevent the settlers from confronting the Palestinians – but those same soldiers use force against Palestinians who try to defend themselves against the settlers – the army used rubber coated bullets and tear gas in Qusra yesterday – resulting in a (justified) Palestinian feeling that the army and the settlers are two faces of the same threat.

The settlers claim that the reason for the confrontation this weekend was damage done by Palestinians to their olive grove, yet even if this is true, one should examine the events in the West Bank in the larger context of the occupation. The settlers have the army on their side so they don’t “need” to take the law into their own hands. The Palestinian farmers, on the other hand, have nobody to protect them. The legal authority – the military – views them as the enemy and is actively aiding and protecting the settlers, even when they break Israeli law. This, by the way, is the reason that young Palestinians often throw stones at settlers and soldiers who enter their villages – they view it not just as a form of resistance to the occupation, but as a way to protect their lands and property in a reality where no one else does.

Last year, a settler named Tzi Struck was sentenced to 30 months in prison for kidnapping and abusing a 15-year-old Palestinian from Qusra in July 2007. Struck’s mother, Orit Struck, a settler from Hebron, was elected to the Knesset in the last election as part of Naftali Bennet’s Jewish Home list.

And then there is the larger picture: the Esh Kodesh outpost sits on Palestinian land – partly public land and partly private land. Even according to Israel’s distinction between legal and illegal settlements, Esh Kodesh is illegal and should have been removed the same way Israel evacuated villages Palestinians recently tried to construct, or the way Israel destroys homes in the south Hebron Hills every month or so. But like so many outposts, Esh Kodesh has existed since 1999 and it enjoys government support and defense like all other settlements. Netanyahu’s government not only refuses to take actions against the outposts, except when it is forced to do so by the Supreme Court, it also created a legal panel to help it to avoid future evacuations.

Most of the people – who live or work in the West Bank – whom I’ve spoken to recently still think the chances of events escalating into a large-scale confrontation are still relatively low. Palestinian society was badly hurt during the second Intifada. Thousands lost their lives, and many more were imprisoned or injured. The civilian infrastructure took years to rebuild. While still feeling the pressure of the occupation, many Palestinians do not seem eager to welcome the chaos that another round of violence might bring into their lives. The problem is that during periods in which there are no direct confrontations in the West Bank, the Israeli government feels no urgency to end the occupation, and the international community believes “the problem is contained,” thus leaving the Palestinians no options other than more active resistance.

UPDATE: Rabbis for Human Rights and Yesh Din have sent an urgent letter to the army’s regional commander and to the West Bank’s police demanding that the people of Qusra be protected from the violence of the settlers, in accordance with the duties of the military force during occupation. 

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    1. rsgengland

      The threats of, and attempts to start a third intifada have been going on for well over a year now.
      I really don’t think it’s a problem of settlements and prisoners or anything else.
      It is just the temerity of Israel attempting to even exist.
      Let the Palestinians have elections, so that an elected group can legitimately represent them in negotiations.
      Then let the Palestinians state in explicit terms what they want.
      And the Israelis must do the same.
      Then when both sides have stated their cases, and given their proper reasons for rejecting certain demands of the other side, proper talks can begin.
      And the first and foremost issue must be refugees.
      Both sets of refugees
      700000+ Arabs from what is Israel.
      1000000+ Jews from the Arab/Muslim lands, including Jews Ethnically Cleansed from what was pre-1967 Egyptian occupied Gaza(Palestine), and Jordanian occupied West Bank (Palestine)

      Reply to Comment
      • Palestinan

        It’s a problem of greedy foreigners/thieves/terrorists immigrating to Palestine ,massacring its people and establishing an aggressive entity there ,more like a huge terrorist organisation or a military base.

        Reply to Comment
        • rsgengland

          Your reply to my post illustrates exactly my point.
          It is not settlements or occupation.
          For you it comes solely down to Israels existence.
          Irrespective of what Israel does, or does not do, just the fact that she exists is the problem.
          The Ethnic Cleansing of the Jews in the Arab/Muslim/Palestinian lands was fueled and fed by a wave of ANTISEMITISM that swept the Middle East/North Africa after Israels creation.
          Israel has no intention of disappearing, and therefore all the issues, including both sets of refugees, needs to be sorted.

          Reply to Comment
          • Palestinan

            You cant ask people who live under brutal occupation to recognize the legitimacy of the entity that is terrorizing them.You dont isolate the existence of Israel from the ongoing crimes done by Israel.Whatever we think of Israel ,nothing gives Israel the right to commit crimes.

            There was no ethnic cleansing of Jewish Arabs,you may be able to manipulate people’s minds but it wont change history.Abusing the Jewish Arabs issue wont cancel out our ROR.

            Reply to Comment
          • rsgengland

            If it was such a paradise for the Jews in the Arab/Muslim lands, why did a million+ Jews leave the Middle East/North Africa in just one generation.
            And they mostly left with nothing.
            Their property and possessions and thousands of years worth of community and history were wiped out.
            They were not Zionists, as if they were, they would have been able to dispose of their assets in a orderly manner and arrive in Israel with money.
            As it was most arrived in Israel, the only country that would take them, penniless and destitute.

            Reply to Comment
          • Palestinan

            Why dont you ask Shlomo Hillel? Maybe you can ask him about what he said “I do not regard the departure of Jews from Arab lands as that of refugees. They came here because they wanted to, as Zionists” .

            Reply to Comment
          • Rauna

            The jews left not because of ethnic cleansing but voluntarily returned to the so called “promised land”.

            On the contrary, the way the government of Israel treat the Arabs in jerusalem and area C is ethnic cleansing.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >Whatever we think of Israel,nothing gives Israel the right to commit crimes.

            But you are not merely thinking – you are acting, which is a sufficiently good reason to take whatever measures necessary to safeguard the security of Israel.

            Reply to Comment
          • Palestinan

            Who is acting ? Who is building illegal settlements ? Who is stealing land ?Who is burning olive trees ?Who is terrorizing the other everyday ?

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Oh, yeah, sorry. I forgot that “Palestinians” do not exist, therefore they can’t “act”

            Reply to Comment
          • Palestinan

            When trolls are unable to handle facts and reality they resort to …trolling.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Yeah, a familiar pattern…

            When Arab are unable to handle facts and reality they resort to …killing.

            Reply to Comment
          • Palestinan

            Just like when Zionists want something,they resort to manipulation,deceit,dirty games,terrorism and destruction,they may even make a deal with the devil.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Deal with devil lol.

            It is quite a problem, when advanced society has to deal with a primitive one.

            Reply to Comment
          • Palestinan

            Primitive people are kind,honest,decent and generous (I know you arent familiar with these qualities in your community),while colonists and occupiers are processional terrorists who take advantage of primitive people.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Nevil9

      The settlers and Israel are one and the same ,in policy ,ideology and principales. The west bank, and its Palestinians residents are occupied people and land. Under International law, israel and the settlers are unlawful, and committing a crime against the Palestinians and humanity. The Palestinians, have the right to a strugle and resistance, yet you accuse them of wanting to destroy Israel. If israel and settlers policies have been to deny the existance of the Palestinians and their right to national freedom and life, why are you so in shock and surprised repeating that the Palestinas hold the same sentiment, that Israel have been practicing for over 64 years against the Palestinians? If your logic, is one sided,as it seem to be, then it is the problem, not the Palestinians wanting what Israel and the settlers have been trying to take away from them with violence. Justice and fairness should apply to all, not be one sided.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Palestinian Arab congress denied all justice and fairness to Jews in 1919. Whatever happens since is solely due to the hostility of (some) of Arab Palestinian population.

        Reply to Comment
    3. As I keep saying, under present IDF policy, the settlers are the State. Those wounded in Qusra were assaulted by the State. Rsgend,’s initial statement, above, completely ignores the events related in this piece, moving to a global structural “us v them” narrative which, at least in outcome, seems designed to erase these events from our mind. The law does not work that way; rights do not work that way. Irregardless of Rsgend’s narrative, the IDF must prevent its citizens from destroying property or imposing bodily harm–even if that harm is in supposed retaliation for prior acts.

      4500 prisoner’s returned their meals. This evidences the symbolic power of prisoner abuse and detention unchecked by independent law. My fear is that some will, through violence, try to inflame others and the IDF. As resentment grows, there will be fewer checks on the potentially violent. A larger uprising may not be wanted, but it might nonetheless evolve. It is NOT true that the abuse of law does not exact a price; rather, that price is merely delayed.

      People will demand to live. And no outsider can indefintely impose an external standard on how to live.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Aaron Gross

      “The problem is that during periods in which there are no direct confrontations in the West Bank, the Israeli government feels no urgency to end the occupation….”

      Actually, I think it’s pretty much the exact opposite. Olmert’s “consolidation” plan was proposed and “approved” (by his election) in a time of relative nonviolence. Violence from Gaza mooted the plan.

      The Aksa Intifada was caused partly by the government’s urgency to end the occupation, during a time of relative peace and security. The plan to end the occupation was mooted as a result of the violence.

      From a purely practical viewpoint, low-intensity Palestinian violence is not the way to get Israel to end the occupation.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Zephon

      Far too many chimpanzees haunting these blogs. We should do what east Asians do and feed them whiskey. They’ll be a lot happier when they get hit by intelligent traffic.

      Chimp: Look LIGHTS!

      * DONG*

      Ape: Well…one less idiot in the world. Please pass the toilet paper.

      Reply to Comment
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