Government ministers must condemn extremist settler violence - editorial

Settler violence is a phenomenon that needs to be rooted out from its core. Saying so doesn’t dirty the names of the rest of the residents of Jewish communities in the West Bank.

 Israeli security forces surround Palestinians and peace activists after trying to plant olive trees in the Palestinian village of Burin, near the West Bank city of Nablus, February 12, 2021. (photo credit: FLASH90)
Israeli security forces surround Palestinians and peace activists after trying to plant olive trees in the Palestinian village of Burin, near the West Bank city of Nablus, February 12, 2021.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

On Friday, dozens of masked men - settlers from a nearby outpost - descended a mountain in the West Bank and violently attacked a group of Palestinians and Israelis.

The group of Palestinians from the village of Burin and Israeli peace activists - including from the organization Rabbis for Human Rights - had come to plant some trees and delineate the land boundary between Burin and state land.

The masked men carried clubs and threw rocks. They injured a number of the activists and then proceeded to pour gasoline on a nearby car and set it on fire.

These are criminals, hooligans who need to be arrested, jailed and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

That should be obvious, right? Sadly, it isn’t. The attack took place Friday morning. By the time Shabbat had ended on Saturday night only two ministers - Yair Lapid and Yoaz Hendel - had condemned the violence, calling on the police to catch the attackers.

 Border police and settlers clash at West Bank Homesh hilltop. (credit: Berla Crombie) Border police and settlers clash at West Bank Homesh hilltop. (credit: Berla Crombie)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz who is in charge of the IDF and the West Bank? Silence. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett? Quiet. The same deafening silence was heard from Justice Minister Gideon Saar, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and more.  

Why the silence? Because they are afraid. They fear the political repercussions for calling out settler violence in the West Bank and condemning it. They prefer a short-term political gain over doing what is right for the country.

And that is what this is really about. There is settler violence and there are Jewish terrorists. This is unfortunate but it is true. Is Jewish terrorism like Palestinian terrorism? No. It is a rare occurrence and it is not state-sanctioned like in the Palestinian Authority which pays jailed terrorists and their families.

But it exists and there should not be a problem admitting that. When Meretz’s Yair Golan, the deputy economy minister, said after a settler attack earlier this month that the perpetrators were “subhumans”, he was wrong. He should not have used a term that conjures up memories of the Holocaust.

But he was right that these people need to be called out. What happened next though sadly laid the ground for the next attack.

Instead of just calling him out for his poor choice of semantics, politicians accused Golan of spreading no less than a “blood libel.”

“Those who settle in Judea and Samaria are the pioneers of today,” Bennett said at the time. “We have not taken a foreign land, we have reclaimed the land of our forefathers.”

Bennett expressed a legitimate political opinion about the settlement of the West Bank by Israel. But why couldn’t he call out the violence that Golan was responding to? Why didn’t Gantz, Shaked or Sa’ar?

What these politicians need to realize is that when they don’t speak out clearly and when they don’t condemn the violence, they should not then be surprised that it happens again, and again and again.

This government is now investing unprecedented resources to try and stop the violence and murders in the Arab sector. There is not a week that goes by, unfortunately, without at least 1-to-2 murders, many times innocent bystanders like 3-year-old Ammar Hujayrat, who was killed by a stray bullet while playing in a park earlier this month.

Settler violence is a phenomenon that needs to be rooted out from its core. Saying so doesn’t dirty the names of the rest of the residents of Jewish communities in the West Bank. On the contrary - not saying anything makes it worse and allowing these rotten weeds to continue attacking people and sowing hatred and violence without paying a price does.

It dirties the names of the entire settlement enterprise and makes it seem - definitely to the world - that Israel sanctions this, allows it and does nothing to stop it.

Words are needed, as are actions. The government needs to take a tough hand to the Jewish perpetrators of this violence. They need to be stopped, arrested and taught a lesson. If they aren't, we should not be surprised that this phenomenon will only continue to grow.

Ministers - you need to speak up.