Settler violence against Palestinians is burgeoning at an alarming rate, writes Khaled Amayreh from Ramallah
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An Israeli settler dressed in clown costume carries an M-16 rifle as he joins a Purim parade in the west bank town of Hebron
The Palestinian Authority (PA) is calling on the international community, including the "Quartet" (the US, EU, Russia and the UN), to pressure Israel to put an end to nearly daily pogrom-like attacks by messianic Israeli terrorists on defenseless Palestinian villagers throughout the West Bank.
Attacks have mushroomed recently as extremist Israeli settlers vow to commit acts of "unprecedented violence" to thwart Israel's planned "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip.
"We urge the international community to intervene immediately to stop this unprovoked and unjustified aggression against our civilians," said Ahmed Subh, deputy minister of information in the PA.
In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Subh accused the Israeli government and army of "turning a blind eye" to the "daily pogroms and acts of savagery" by "Israeli settler hoodlums" against unprotected Palestinian civilians, mainly in the Palestinian countryside.
"Does anybody in the world believe the mighty Israeli army can't rein in these criminals who terrorise and attack schoolchildren and old women? It is not a matter of inability. It is a matter of unwillingness, if not outright complicity. Inaction by the Israeli government in this respect implies acquiescence," Subh remarked.
According to Palestinian sources and international peace activists monitoring settler violence, physical attacks and acts of vandalism against Palestinian villages have been occurring nearly on a daily basis in the past few weeks. On Friday, 25 March, for example, heavily armed Talmudic settlers from the Yitzhar settlement near Nablus attacked Palestinians in their homes in the nearby village of Asira Al-Qibliya. The hoodlums reportedly beat Palestinian villagers and vandalised their property.
"They wore black masks and they were screaming, I don't know what they were saying," said nine-year-old Samah Ahmed, who, along with her mother and three brothers, was nearly lynched inside her home by the attacking settlers.
Her mother Suha described the attackers as "the Nazis of our time".
"The kids and I were alone at home. The settlers first stoned the windows with big rocks, forcing us to move from one room to the other for protection from the incoming stones. Then the attackers tried to force open the door. This really terrorised us as never before. I was really afraid they would enter the house and kill my four children."
Suha said the settlers then left and returned to the settlement upon seeing other villagers coming to rescue the family.
Hours later, when Israeli army officers arrived at the scene to investigate the "riot", settlers erected roadblocks and chased the officers away, preventing them from entering the settlement. The army remarked in its report on the incident that the settlers who carried out the rampage against Asira Al-Qibliya were "drunk", implying they were not responsible for their actions.
Last week, as many as 30 settlers ganged up on three Palestinian labourers west of Ramallah, beating them with hoses and sharp objects. At least one worker sustained concussion from a sharp blow to the head.
Some of the most wanton attacks on Palestinians and their property have been taking place in the southern Hebron hills where bands of masked Israeli settlers have been terrorising Palestinian villagers in full view of Israeli army troops stationed in the area. On 21 March, settlers spread poisonous feed and pellets across a large swathe of grazing land east of Yatta, 10 kilometres southwest of Hebron.
"The pellets are small and turquoise blue, similar to rodent poison in the United States. They are spread under bushes and in the grass, pretty much anywhere the sheep graze," said Kim Lamberty, an American Christian peace activist who inspected the area.
The next day, several sheep died and many others were ill after grazing. Palestinians in the area have also found two dead gazelles.
When locals and international activists asked the Israeli army to investigate the poisoning and put an end to settler terror, the army said it would dispatch a "settler expert" to look into the complaint.
"This malicious act not only affects the economic livelihood of the area's farmers, it could have a grave impact on wildlife in the area. The local Palestinian people along with international activists are currently attempting to clean up the contaminated site," said Lamberty.
On 24 March, masked settlers attacked Palestinian shepherds and international peace activists, including two Americans -- an 18-year-old woman and a 23-year-old man. The two were injured as settlers tried to prevent them from filming the attack.
A spokesman for the Israeli army told the Weekly that responsibility for "keeping law and order" lied with the police, not the army. A high-ranking army officer admitted, however, that settlers were upping the ante in the West Bank. "The situation will only intensify. We see a trend of radicalisation in the actions of the extremists. Attacks against Palestinians have increased," he said.
Palestinian official Subh is worried the worst is yet to come. "We are afraid that the Israeli government's inaction towards the settlers might embolden them to commit real massacres against our people."