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Settler violence aims to dispossess, and it works

When A saw Israeli civilians approach, he did the sensible thing and fled. This is what quiet terrorism looks like.

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz

File photo of masked Israeli settlers threatening Palestinians while soldiers look on. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

File photo of masked Israeli settlers threatening Palestinians while soldiers look on. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A. is a resident of the village Faratha in the West Bank. He declined to have his name published, as he has become a regular target for attacks by Israeli civilians. He owns two plots of land; the illegal settlement outpost of Havat Gilad is built next to one of them. The establishment of the outpost led to the familiar pattern of dispossession in the West Bank: in order to protect the safety of the Israeli civilians who illegally took over land and settled, the army only allows A. to work his land during the olive harvest season, and only after coordination in advance with Israeli security forces.

But the military commander refuses to allow him to work his land, arguing that the plot contains no olive trees and that coordination is reserved for olive growers alone. And so, seven dunams of land were taken from A.’s possession and practically turned over to Israeli squatters as a reward. Once settlers seize land, it is almost impossible to liberate it.

A., who is 80 years old, was left with another plot of land, closer to Faratha itself. But the proximity to the village was not enough to protect it: for years he grew wheat there, and year after year his crops were set ablaze. Out of desperation, A. decided that this year he would grow sesame. After all, it’s less flammable.

Several weeks ago, A. went to his plot of land with a donkey and began plowing and preparing it for planting. Suddenly, he noticed three young men coming from the direction of Havat Gilad. A. feared for his safety, and fled along with the donkey. He left behind some clothes, his shovel and the donkey’s blanket. His sense terror was not baseless: A. remembered that a year ago his neighbor was working his land when suddenly Israeli civilians appeared and beat him severely. “It was only with difficulty that he was evacuated to the hospital,” he recalls.

After some 90 minutes, A. returned to the land. He found the clothes and the blanket, but not the shovel. Perhaps someone took a shine to it; perhaps he simply lost it while fleeing. The following day A. went back working his plot, planting sesame. Perhaps they will burn it, maybe not. Either way the land must be planted.

All of which, dear reader, takes place under the nose and with the tacit agreement of the strongest army in the Middle East — the ultimate sovereign in the West Bank. When the army demands that Palestinians coordinate their arrival to their own land, it does so by claiming that without such coordination it is unable to protect them from Israeli civilians. The High Court of Justice had some sharp words to say about this practice in the Murar decision (Hebrew): “A policy preventing Palestinian residents from reaching land belonging to them, for the purpose of protecting them from attacks directed at them, is as a policy ordering a man not to enter his house in order to protect him from a robber ambushing him there.”

And yet an army unfamiliar with its legal duty to defend protected persons, which is unaware that it has not only the obligation but also the authority to protect them from Israeli civilians, does precisely that.

Yesh Din has documented 21 cases over the last decade in which Israeli civilians were suspected of damaging agricultural property belonging to the residents of Faratha. In a series of cases, the witnesses describe the marauders as arriving from the direction of Havat Gilad; the incidents include burning fields and wheat, killing animals, and cutting down trees. These do not include the cases in which Israeli civilians attacked residents of Faratha — incidents which sometimes took place in the presence of IDF soldiers. If the army is aware of these incidents and does nothing, it is a passive partner in crime; if it is unaware of them, it is failing at its duty to protect the populace.

The incidents keep piling up. Palestinian residents do not believe the IDF is trying to protect them from the marauders. It appears that as far as the army is concerned, this is a tolerable situation – and, one suspects, even desirable. Terrorizing farmers paves the way for their dispossession. The Israeli civilians do their part, the army does its part, and A.’s land is set ablaze time after time.

After a while the fear works on its own. There is no need for physical attacks or direct threats. The mere appearance of some young men — the knowledge that the attackers have no inhibitions, that there is no reason for them to have any since no one will arrest them. No one will demand compensation for your pain and indignation – dammit, the attack against you won’t even be a newsflash. Self defense, of course, is out of the question.

A. does not intend to report the incident to the Israeli police, as he sees no point in doing so.

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.

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    1. Ben

      If the offensively duplicitous missives of settler Yishai Kohen don’t convince you there is no reasonable negotiation to be had with the Israeli right wing, nothing will. It’s unabashed Jewish supremacism he’s touting. Note the entitlement and the cockiness. And note the heartlessness. Real attractive, huh? Kohen thinks he’ll just come on in and teach us all a lesson he is sure we need. He is imparting a lesson, just not the one he thinks he is. In the face of this extremist hatefulness, in the face of this monster Israel created, who thinks now boycott is such a very terrible thing? Really? And if you think it so terrible, then ask yourself by what other peaceful means you’ll ever get people like Kohen, and there are thousands like him, to retreat from one square inch of illegally occupied land? Kohen wants “war.” Of course he does. Our ersatz pioneer playing Cowboys and Indians in the Wild West Bank has a massive army to coddle him and protect him to the hilt. To my mind he’s classic bully. A bully who hides behind the apron of Mama IDF. Otherwise he’s all tough talk. Give him steadily increasing boycott, sanctions and divestment instead. No, not to “destroy Israel” as the propaganda line goes, but simply to motivate Israel to sign a peace deal consistent with the API; not to “delegitimize Israel” but to delegitimize the occupation.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bernie X

      Yossi’s article, well written and informative, leaves out details that Yishai provides.

      No need to get snooty, Ben. Be happy that you have a chance to hear both narratives.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Bernie X


      “In 1845, Dr. Ernst-Gustav Schultz, the Prussian Consul in Jerusalem, discussed the Jews living in Shechem (Nablus) and Hebron in his book, “Jerusalem, Eine Vorlesung”. ”

      What kind of Jews? Karaites? Could Dr Schultz have confused Samaritans for Jews?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      Berniex, as I said, Kohen’s narrative complements Gurvitz’s, but in the direction opposite that intended by Kohen. Thanks.

      Note to Kohen: And when you gonna let Arabs live where Arabs have always lived? Oh, that’s different. I see. But you want “peace.” Got it. Let me reiterate: your comments are always informative. Keep up the good work. It nicely documents for us just how ugly and just how duplicitous the settlement “enterprise” is and always has been.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bernie X


        I’m at pains to understand a single thing you’ve said.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      @kohen: “I’m not the one that says Arabs can’t live here.”

      That’s false. Blithely saying one thing and doing another. With Lord of the Land ease. Both in the occupied territories and west of the green line. In a thousand ways every day. I’ve yet to read one statement of yours actually that does not harbor some easy ignoring of reality, some evasion, some dissimulation, or some blatant dishonesty. Not that I’m picking on you, mind you. You’re unexceptional. You’re a standard practitioner. The whole enterprise depends upon it. The “a priori” modifier, by the way, I read as either just a weasel word, an evasion (“some day” all will be equal and fair, “some day” there will be no distinction between Jew and Arab. And some day that clause would inevitably be modified with “oh, well, I didn’t mean *that*…”) or a blunt hint that all sorts of conditions stipulating Jewish supremacy in perpetuity apply.
      Unless forced to, someone like you will never give up Lord of the Land status. Both sides are human, all too human. Both sides will need to be brought to reality by outside intervention. Time to put the fantasizing fanatics in their place like in any sane society. You can’t be left to yourselves. I think this has been proven by events.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Average American

      Equip the farmer with a rifle to defend his land, just like the settlement is equipped, and we’ll see a fair exchange between land owners.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ben

      @Kohen: “The Arabs CAN live here in OUR land…we won’t tolerate their racism, violence, and intolerance here in OUR land.”

      You tolerate LOADS of racism, state violence and intolerance all across “our Land.” So you reserve the right to plunk down a “settlement” anywhere you want east of the green line but severely restrict where Arabs can build east or west of the green line and of course absolutely forbid any Arab east of the green line to live or build west of the separation wall. Including East Jerusalem. And you do it with violence. Read the article!
      And yet you spout the above claptrap about freedom and equality? Kohen you display all the mind boggling arrogance, entitlement and dishonesty of the settlers in one tidy paragraph. And then, after that, you go on in your response to Average American to just come out with the real Jewish Supremacist project! Totally unabashed! You’re a case study in the mentality of the settlers. It’s a total waste of time responding to you except that you’re always informative. People can read this and see what the Palestinians are really up against, and it’s not the disinformation Bibi and Lieberman are momentarily cooing about. But the real Bennett-Shaked-ist deal.

      Reply to Comment