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Threat of Israeli settler violence casts dark shadow over 2019

Following a year of escalating attacks by settlers against Palestinians, Israel's security agency is warning of a continued upward trend

On the night of 12 October 2018, Aisha al-Rabi, a Palestinian in her 40s, was riding in her family’s car, seated next to her husband and with her two daughters asleep in the back. 

These would be the final minutes of her life. The mother-of-seven was killed moments later, after being struck in the head by a stone thrown by a group of teenage Jewish settlers on a road near the settlement of Rehelim in the occupied West Bank.

Rabi’s brutal murder was just one of 482 attacks carried out by Jewish settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank during 2018, a threefold increase over the previous year.

Even more worrying, Israel’s security agency, Shin Bet, forecasts a continued upward surge in settler violence against Palestinians this year, warning that extremist Jewish groups are “committed” to terrorising Palestinians in the occupied territory. 

Clear and sinister motive

It’s hard to imagine how 2018 could have been any worse for the more than six million Palestinians who live in Israel and the occupied territories. Not only did the US sanctify an Israeli war crime in relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but it also cut funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, jeopardising the lives of hundreds of thousands Palestinian refugees who depend on the agency for their daily survival. 

Also last year, Israeli snipers assassinated around 200 peaceful Palestinian protesters in Gaza, including women, children, medics and journalists, all killed since the Great March of Return began on 30 March.

These attacks are occurring and increasing for one very simple reason: The perpetrators are neither deterred, arrested nor punished

Added to this misery is the fact that illegal Jewish settlers are now seemingly hell-bent on going after the more than two million Palestinians who legally occupy the West Bank.

While only a small number of the 482 settler attacks in 2018 were fatal, the objective of this violence has a clear and sinister motive: to terrorise the indigenous population into fleeing their homes for refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and elsewhere.

Acts of settler violence have included physical assaults and the vandalism and destruction of Palestinian-owned farmland, homes and vehicles. In addition, “price tag” attacks have been designed to “exact a price” from local Palestinians for residing on the land that Israeli settlers deem desirable for themselves.

Apartheid system of governance

Palestinian residents in the village of Yasuf described to Middle East Eye how they awoke to find their car tyres slashed, and their homes and local mosque covered in racist graffiti, including: “Death to Arabs”, “Price tag” and “Revenge”.

These attacks are occurring and increasing for one very simple reason: The perpetrators are neither deterred, arrested nor punished. In the occupied West Bank, there is one set of laws and rules for Palestinians, and another for Israeli settlers. This is the hallmark of an apartheid system of governance: two laws for one land. 

Israeli settlers are pictured in the settlement of Sa Nur in the occupied West Bank on 24 July (AFP)

In fact, the entire Israeli judicial system is based on racism and prejudice against non-Jewish people, so much so that it refuses to recognise the rights of Palestinians who live lawfully on their land, while at the same time granting extraordinary legal rights to Jewish settlers who live in settlements that defy international law.

It’s also easy to argue that in the Trump era, which has effectively given Israel a green light to do whatever it pleases against Palestinians - no matter how repressive, illegal or immoral - there is a climate of impunity for settlers in the West Bank. This is illustrated by the fact that the Israeli government issued its highest number of new settlement construction tenders in more than a decade during the past year.

‘Green light’ for settlements

When I spoke with former Palestinian health minister Basem Naim, he identified four factors behind the surge in settler violence, including the Israeli government’s tacit support of right-wing extremism; the refusal of the Israeli judicial system to hold violent settlers accountable; the US government’s “green light” for building more settlements; and the “collaboration” of Palestinian Authority security forces with Israel.

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Omar Baddar, a Palestinian American and deputy director of the Arab American Institute, told me: “Donald Trump’s administration is the most viciously anti-Palestinian administration in the history of the US.

"[As a result], Israeli settlers have picked up on the climate created by their own extremist government and the unconditional backing of the Trump administration, which in turn emboldens them to carry out further aggression against the Palestinians, knowing accountability is a very distant prospect.”

With these political winds favouring Israel’s settler movement - one that’s enthusiastically led by the Netanyahu government and underwritten by the Trump administration - 2019 promises to be every bit as violent towards Palestinians living under the boot of an ever-expanding settler population, one that’s becoming increasingly emboldened and radicalised.

CJ Werleman is an opinion writer for Salon, Alternet, and the author of Crucifying America and God Hates You. Hate Him Back. Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: The Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim is pictured on 17 November (AFP)