‘Settler violence is part of Israel’s official policy’, experts say — but ‘The Washington Post’ buries that angle

Jewish settlers youth from the settlement of Yitzhar throw stones at Palestinians from the neighbouring village of Asira al-Qibliya (Wagdi Eshtayah - APA Images)

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  November 30, 2021

“Continuous, systemic violence meted out by settlers is part of Israel’s official policy, driving massive takeover of Palestinian” lands, B’Tselem says in a groundbreaking report, but The Washington Post’s recent article on settler violence suggests that the Israeli government is taking it on vigorously.

Earlier this month, the human rights group B’Tselem issued an important report titled, “State Business: Israel’s misappropriation of land in the West Bank through settler violence” that said the Israeli government “fully supports and assists” the spike in settler violence. Israel is using the Jewish settlers to widen the “Jewish-only space” on Palestinian lands, a process that has gone on for decades, B’Tselem said:

Settler violence against Palestinians serves as a major informal tool at the hands of the state to take over more and more West Bank land. The state fully supports and assists these acts of violence, and its agents sometimes participate in them directly. As such, settler violence is a form of government policy, aided and abetted by official state authorities with their active participation…

Today the good news is that the pogroms by settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank are finally getting coverage in the western press. The Guardian covered settler violence on Sunday, The Washington Post covered it yesterday: “Hate crime attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian civilians spike in the West Bank.”

The problem is that the Post article buries the critical issue: the charge that the Israeli government “fully supports and assists” the violence as a means of removing Palestinians. The Post characterizes settlers as freelance actors, who commit beatings, arson and vandalism against Palestinians who live nearby– even though many “leaders” in Israel have called for a crackdown. The newspaper accepts the Israeli government’s line at face value:

Defense Minister Benny Gantz convened a meeting of security officials earlier this month and said the military would issue new orders against “standing by,” directing soldiers to do more to prevent the incidents and protect Palestinians, according to media reports. “Hate crimes are the root from which terrorism grows and we must uproot it,” Gantz said in a statement after the meeting.

Compare the Post to the The Guardian, which credited B’Tselem’s allegation prominently:

The Israeli human rights agency B’Tselem claimed this month that the state has “harnessed settler violence to promote its policy of taking over Palestinian land for Jewish use”. 

 Israeli human rights organizations claim [settler violence] is increasingly being used as a strategy to try to clear many of the 300,000 Palestinian residents in the rural 60% of the occupied West Bank designated as Area C in the Oslo accords.

Arguably the settlers were trying by force what Israel has long attempted by bureaucratic means.

The Guardian then quoted two other human rights experts saying that the government is in on the violence.

[T]he notion that settler violence is confined to an ultra-extremist fringe [does not] sit easily with the charge of agencies such as Yesh Din, supported by growing evidence, that it is “part of a calculated strategy for dispossessing Palestinians of their land”. Or that of Yehuda Shaul, a committed supporter of a two-state agreement with the Palestinians, that “settler violence is not a story of 50 lunatics out on the edge of the movement … but an essential step in the evolution of the settlement project”.

The Washington Post only cites B’Tselem backhandedly at the very end of the article, and says that the Israeli army is trying to stop the violence.

In a statement, an Israel Defense Forces spokesman said, “Any claim that the IDF supports or permits violence by residents in the area is false.”

But numerous Israeli experts say the government approves the violence.

Haaretz’s military reporter, Amos Harel, said the police and army are “passive” because the government doesn’t want them to take action. Harel spoke on a podcast two weeks ago for the Israel Policy Forum.

You are assuming that someone in charge of them actually wants them to act. I don’t think that’s the case… My guess would be those people [the settlers] feel they can do anything. They’ve been there for so long that the military and police are helpless. No one in government is actually interested in that. Ministers from the left would now and then pay lip service to do something to solve the matter. Other than that the government and the state are weak and will not do anything aggressive enough to stop that. This is why this is rising….

And last month Americans for Peace Now published a podcast in which two Israeli human rights experts said the settler violence is serving state aims. The settlers act as the eyes and ears of the army, Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said, in a very traditional relationship in Israeli expansion.

While Yossi Alpher told Americans for Peace Now yesterday about the political support for expansion inside the new Israeli government:

The right-wing parties Yamina, New Hope and Yisrael Beitenu, want to avoid territorial compromise and expand settlements to cement control over the 60 percent of the West Bank fully occupied by the IDF….And foregoing 50 percent of the West Bank is the most that the more moderate segments of right-religious Israel can accept.

Alpher used the word “apartheid,” which B’Tselem has also used in its reports.

The right-wingers behind this approach basically want the land without the Arabs. The Palestinians increasingly understand this as apartheid. 

The Washington Post does not state the apartheid allegation. Nor does it quote from the B’Tselem report, despite the overwhelming documentation that B’Tselem offered for its allegation. Some of that data:

Violence committed by settlers against Palestinians has been documented since the very early days of the occupation in countless government documents and dossiers, thousands of testimonies from Palestinians and soldiers, books, reports by Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations, and thousands of media stories. This broad, consistent documentation has had almost no effect on settler violence against Palestinians, which has long since become part and parcel of life under the occupation in the West Bank.

The report presents five case studies that illustrate how continuous, systemic violence meted out by settlers is part of Israel’s official policy, driving massive takeover of Palestinian farmland and pastureland. In the testimonies collected as part of the research, Palestinians describe how this violence undermines the bedrock of Palestinian communities’ lives and diminishes their income. Residents describe how without protection, under the pressure of violence and fear and with no other choice, Palestinian communities abandon or scale back traditional vocations such as sheep and goat farming or various seasonal crops, which allowed them to make a dignified living and live comfortably for generations.

The Guardian article is forthright about this issue. It describes the recent “pogrom” in which settlers from two illegal settlements descended on the neighboring village of Mufakara and stoned and attacked villagers. Israeli forces were on the settlers’ side, firing teargas and stun grenades and rubber bullets to try to effect the evacuation of the village.

The Guardian said that Benny Gantz had responded to “rising diplomatic concern – including in Washington” and ordered the top brass to toughen enforcement against “what he called ‘hate crimes’ in the West Bank,” but the Guardian then quoted Avner Gvaryahu of Breaking the Silence saying that words mean nothing, only action counts, and “So far, settler violence has been ravaging on and Gantz has done nothing.”

What a pity that our media cannot be so honest about these fundamental issues.

It appears that the American establishment is determined to consecrate Joe Biden’s honeymoon with Naftali Bennett, and Gantz is playing along. “There is a sense—a thorough and very dangerous misapprehension—in many quarters around the world that Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, an avowed right-wing annexationist, somehow represents a ‘kinder, gentler’ Israel than his predecessor, the coarse provocateur Netanyahu,” says Ilene Cohen, who shared several of the links in this piece with her email list.

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006