By Melkam Lidet
The past week was characterized by a break out of settler violence in many part of the West Bank. Angry settlers in protest of the recent court order to evict the residents of the illegal Migron settlement outpost built on private Palestinian land have interrupted daily life by blocking roads, throwing stones and damaging cars while injuring five Palestinians in what they say is a ‘price tag’ for Migron. In Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank, near Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron, reports of vandalism, hate graffiti and even physical assault were in the news.
For many people outside of Palestine, it’s hard to imagine a violent setting where Israeli “civilians” are the perpetrators and Palestinians the victims. For a long time now, Palestinians or Arabs have been portrayed in the international media as naturally more violent than Israelis who are seen as a “peace-loving people” who only really want peace with the Palestinians and neighboring Arabs.
What’s ironic about this stereotypical assumption which has also served as a pretext for, among other things, the construction of the separation wall, is how the years of occupation have proven otherwise. While Palestinians have largely embraced non-violence resistance to win their freedom, Israeli settler attacks, harassment, vandalism and hate crimes against Palestinian civilians are on the rise. The Israeli army continues to terrorize and raid Palestinian villages and Israeli teens set cars on fire and throw stones at Palestinians. But there’s no civilian law or an independent court to redress such acts. And there’s no impartial international community or a “separation wall” to prevent such violence or stop it.
Israeli settlements may be on the international or Israeli public agenda more so now than a few years back. But even in the 21st century where the concept of human security is at its apogee, the impact of settlements and settlers is rarely analyzed from the angle of disrupting the daily lives of Palestinians. In the international media, it’s the illegality of settlements or their hindrance of the peace process that’s more of a concern. In Israel, the expansion of settlement is only a minute element of the ongoing social protests. It’s the austerity measures stemming from expansion of settlements among other things that drive people to the streets; it’s not the harassment, abuse and lawless behavior of settlers against Palestinians. While heinous crimes such as the attempted lynching of a Palestinian by a group of Jewish teens have been publically denounced by public figures, the day-to-day attacks on Palestinians – the harassments, assaults, racial profiling, humiliation, religious persecution and vandalism – all attacks against Palestinian identity both by formal structural pillars of the occupation and “civilian” settlers, are not addressed.
The ramification of the settlement issue on the security of Palestinians can’t be more evident than it is in Hebron and the south Hebron hills. In Hebron, the settlers live right in the middle of the city and do not have isolated settler blocks like elsewhere in the West Bank. In the old city that is now divided between H1 – areas under the control of the PA and H2 – areas under Israeli control, not only the depth of the occupation but also a degree of lawless that is perhaps unprecedented in other parts of the occupied West Bank, exists. In Hebron, it looks like the “civilian” yet armed ideological settlers with Kippas, Tallit Katan or head wraps (for women) run the city, while the uniformed 18-year old soldiers with guns, bulletproof vests and helmets back them up instead of enforcing the rule of law.
This once vibrant old city now looks like a ghost town abandoned by its residents where stores are closed, roads are blocked, houses are demolished and checkpoints are scattered all over the city. Settlers forcefully evict Palestinians and squat in their houses. When a lengthy court decision orders their eviction, the settlers of Hebron are not afraid to bypass court orders and maintain their occupation. They throw trash and stones at Palestinians and even international observers, write hate graffiti and vandalize property. They live and act as if they are above even Israeli law and their government tolerates and sometimes supports it by arming and training them in combat. But what will protect Palestinians from settler terrorism?
One of the vendors I talked to who has a souvenir shop on a deserted street, told me he has turned down multiple offers for hundreds of thousands of dollars from settlers in exchange for his shop. When asked why he won’t spare himself the trouble, accept such a lucrative offer and leave, he said: “My father has been working in this store since I was a child. I grew up helping him in this store and now, I run the store. In my culture, the place where you grow up and spent most of your life – your history- is not for sale. It doesn’t have a price tag. It’s just part of who you are”. Thinking about what he said and observing the psychological, cultural and racial attack on Palestinians, I can’t help but ask what will protect Palestinians from a war waged on their identity? Surely one can’t build a wall against identity warfare.
Melkam Lidet is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at [email protected].