Settler lawlessness in Israel's West Bank must be stopped - editorial

This is not the first time that extremists within the Jewish community have felt impunity to attack other Jews, soldiers, Palestinians and basically whoever they want.

settlers throw stones 248 ap (photo credit: AP)
settlers throw stones 248 ap
(photo credit: AP)

An attack on Israeli soldiers by Jewish settlers overnight is a sign of growing lawlessness in the West Bank and must be treated seriously.

This is not the first time that extremists within the Jewish community have felt impunity to attack other Jews, soldiers, Palestinians and basically whoever they want. The fact that Israeli authorities have refused to arrest and prosecute the suspects over the years shows that they have pretty much been given an implicit green light.

As we all know, appeasement doesn’t work, whether it comes to dealing with criminals or extremists. For too long, Israel has permitted lawlessness in parts of the West Bank, hoping – foolishly perhaps – that ignoring the situation will bring calm. Authorities must take this seriously and politicians across the political spectrum, as well as settler leaders, must call out the extremists and stop appeasing them.

Overnight Wednesday, the commander of the IDF’s 202nd Paratroopers Battalion and a soldier were injured by settlers, who pepper-sprayed and stoned them in the Palestinian town of Huwara in the Samaria region of the West Bank.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid called the attackers “dangerous criminals who must be denounced and brought to justice without hesitation and with all severity.” He said, “They endanger the lives of our soldiers and they harm the State of Israel.”

A view of the Maale Adumim settlement in the West Bank, Jan. 28, 2020.  (credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)A view of the Maale Adumim settlement in the West Bank, Jan. 28, 2020. (credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Increasing attacks on Palestinians 

The attacks followed weeks of increasing attacks on Palestinians and left-wing activists by extremists in the West Bank. Reports say that one of the settlers involved is himself a soldier, painting a worrying picture of how the army has come to the point where soldiers don’t even fear attacking other soldiers. Another incident in which settlers also attacked two additional soldiers with pepper spray later in the night at the Tapuah junction, south of Huwara, shows that there is a whole culture of lawlessness that has grown up in this region.

Of course, this is not taking place in a vacuum. The settler violence is happening as Israel faces a growing spate of Palestinian terrorist attacks. On Wednesday night, just before the violence in Huwara, the terrorist who killed 18-year-old Military Police soldier Noa Lazar at the entrance to the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat on October 8 tried to murder more Israelis in Ma’aleh Adumim. Thankfully, he was stopped by brave security guards.

Nevertheless, we have to be better. The settler attacks have mostly targeted Palestinians and because Israel has never extended any laws to the West Bank these attacks are rarely punished. That means there is impunity for people to stone Palestinians, to attack their cars and riot; and there are no authorities who will make a report and follow up.

The army is called in to deal with these clashes, often having to fend off Palestinians and Jewish extremists at the same time. This isn’t what the army was trained to do, yet it is being used to function as riot control because Israel has time and again refused to apply a real policy of laws on the roads of the West Bank.

The overwhelming majority of Jews living in Judea and Samaria reject violence against soldiers and know that these actions stain the public’s view of the settlers. However, there are also powerful voices on the far Right that do not call out the violence and encourage that the perpetrators be brought to justice. Politicians in the Likud and other parties running in this election on the Right have been courting right-wing voters for years and are not willing to go stand up to this kind of lawlessness.

The unfortunate reality 

Unfortunately, we all know that enabling extremists to run wild and feel they have impunity to attack cars, and now soldiers, will eventually lead to more violence. We’ve seen this cycle before and it rarely ends well.

The army is also put in an impossible situation. It is not the job of IDF soldiers job to act as police and arrest people, but to secure the State of Israel and citizens against enemies. They don’t have the tools to deal with Jewish extremists or riots or attacks on Palestinians other than to try and separate the groups.

Policies should be enacted to prosecute the offenders. Those running for the Knesset should not pander to the extremists. And settler leaders must curb the extremist elements in their midst. This needs to be stopped before it gets worse.