Al-Ahram Weekly Online   17 - 23 December 2009
Issue No. 977
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Getting away with murder

Settler attacks on Palestinians escalate while Israel does nothing to apprehend the culprits, writes Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah

Click to view caption
A Palestinian youth throws a stone at Israeli soldiers during clashes in the West Bank village of Kfar Yasuf, south of Nablus

Paramilitary Jewish terrorists have stepped up their attacks on Palestinians and their property throughout the West Bank, with the Israeli occupation army doing next to nothing to stop them.

The settlers, who act on religious rulings issued by local rabbis, have long adopted a policy whereby they attack "Palestinian targets" every time the Israeli government moves to evacuate them from land seized at gunpoint from Palestinian landowners.

On Friday, 11 December, suspected settler terrorists burned down the main mosque in the village of Yasuf, 13 kilometres south of Nablus. The fire gutted the entire interior of the house of worship. The incident, though not the first of its kind, represents a dramatic escalation in the ongoing reign of terror by settlers vehemently opposed to any peaceful solution that cedes any part of the West Bank to Palestinians.

In addition to torching the mosque, attackers scrawled Nazi slogans in Hebrew, reading "We will burn all of you" and "Price-tag greeting from Efi", where Efi is a Hebrew name.

Munir Abboshi, the governor of the Salfit district where the terrorist act was perpetrated, blamed the Israeli occupation army for encouraging settler terrorism against Palestinians. "The Israeli army is doing nothing to protect the Palestinians from settler aggression. Army inaction encourages the settlers to keep up and escalate their attacks on our people."

On Monday, 14 December, Israel's chief Ashkenazi rabbi, Yona Metzger visited the damaged mosque, escorted by Israeli soldiers and Palestinian police. Denouncing the attack, the Rabbi Metzger compared the attack on the mosque with Kristallnacht, when Nazi thugs attacked and vandalised synagogues, businesses and other Jewish targets throughout Germany in November 1938.

"I came here to express my revulsion at this wretched act of burning a place holy to the Muslim people," Metzger told local residents. "This is how the holocaust began."

Other political and religious figures in Israel also condemned the attack on the mosque, saying that its burning was incompatible with Jewish ethics.

Palestinian leaders, however, questioned the condemnations, noting that the chief rabbinate in Israel has been all but silent about the murder by the Israeli army and settlers of Palestinian civilians both in the West Bank and Gaza. "Metzger wholeheartedly supported the genocide in Gaza. He never denounced his fellow rabbis who issued edicts urging soldiers to murder Palestinian civilians, including children," said Anwar Abboshi, a political activist from Salfit. "So, is he trying to tell us that torching a mosque was a huge vile crime while murdering kids is an acceptable and desirable act?"

Khaled Maali is a journalist from Salfit. He attributed the torching of the mosque to the repeated edicts by rabbis who have instructed their followers to murder Palestinians and vandalise their property. "These rabbis are saying in broad daylight that it is a mitzvah (good religious deed with which one endears himself to God) to murder non-Jews and destroy their property. And the settlers are simply acting on and carrying out these edicts."

Like other Palestinians, Maali charged that the Israeli army was effectively legitimising settler terror on Palestinians by failing to apprehend and punish the terrorists. "This is tantamount to giving them a green light to commit murder and terror. When these terrorists are allowed to get away with impunity, the Israeli government is simply telling them that they can murder Palestinians and torch mosques without having to worry about anything."

Indeed, far from imposing law and order on the estimated half a million settlers in the West Bank, the Israeli government has been adopting a policy of appeasement towards these fanatical forces that are trying rather successfully to control the entire Israeli society, including the Israeli army. It is widely believed that over 50 per cent of high-ranking army officers are affiliated with the national-religious camp, or the settler camp. This fact is significant since many soldiers and officers would choose to listen to and obey their rabbis rather than their army superiors.

This week, a prominent settler rabbi openly urged his student-soldiers to disobey army orders to evacuate settlers from seized hilltops in the West Bank. The rabbi, Eliezer Melamed, head of the Bracha Talmudic School, or Yeshiva, in the West Bank, argued that "his soldiers" couldn't carry out orders and instructions that contravene their conscience and religious beliefs.

Visibly perplexed and hesitant, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak responded to Melamed's defiance by announcing that the army was expelling the rabbi's Har Bracha Yeshiva from the so-called Hesder programme, a long-standing arrangement combining Talmudic studies and military service. However, it is widely believed that Barak will sooner or later back down in the face of the settlers, given the growing power of the settler camp that more or less dominates the present Israeli government.

This dominance is also what prevents the government from taking meaningful steps to freeze settlement expansion in the West Bank. Indeed, instead of carrying out commitments made to the Obama administration to dismantle and remove the so-called "illegal outposts", the Israeli cabinet this week approved a far-reaching plan to subsidise settlements both west and east of the apartheid wall. The funds allocated to "strengthen" these settlements amount to hundreds of millions of dollars, which demonstrates that real peace with the Palestinians is not on the Israeli government's agenda.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) must be worried that the escalation of settler attacks on Palestinians -- especially mosques -- might generate a popular reaction that could assume Intifada-like proportions. The PA is already embarrassed as many Palestinians are wondering why the estimated 70,000 Palestinian security forces, trained by the US, don't make any effort to protect Palestinian civilians from settler terror. The answer appears clear. The raison d'être of PA forces in the West Bank is to fight Hamas, not Israel.

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