The dangers of tolerating Jewish terrorism

Statistics gathered from investigations followed by Yesh Din show that only 8% of cases against settlers suspected of crimes against Palestinians have ended in indictments.

311_burn mosque (photo credit: Associated Press)
311_burn mosque
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The burning of the mosque in the West Bank village of Beit Fajar, and its desecration with inscriptions attacking Muhammad, is an alarming development. Attacking religious symbols is as dangerous as it is reprehensible, and could lead to a cycle of retaliation and escalation between Israelis and Palestinians.
According to news reports, Israel Police is investigating testimony by Palestinians that a group of settlers arrived at the mosque in the middle of the night early Monday and set it on fire. If that is the case, it is another demonstration of growing boldness among settler extremists.
Such events can no longer be characterized as isolated incidents. Increasingly, we can see organized activities using violence as a tool for achieving political purposes. The infamous “price tag” policy, in which settlers attack Palestinian villages, is just one example of this worrying pattern.
This attempt through the use of violence to deter the government from enacting its policies and enforcing its laws is a classic example of terrorism.
And this infrastructure of Jewish terrorism has been expanding in recent years.
But settler extremism and violence is only part of the problem, and not necessarily the major one. The true culprit is the government’s willingness to turn a blind eye to lawlessness and terrorism.
On December 11, 2009, for example, a mosque in the village of Yasuf, was burned. The perpetrators even sprayed the Hebrew words for “price tag” on the walls. Then as now, the authorities and public figures expressed outrage and condemnation, promising a swift and effective investigation.
The human rights organization, Yesh Din, has been monitoring the investigation into the Yasuf mosque arson. Ten months later, authorities say the case is still under investigation.
Although several suspects were detained shortly after the incident, no indictments have been filed. The same applies to the desecration of a mosque in Turmus Aiya. There, the investigation has been going on since December 2008 without any indictments.
Another mosque desecration in A-Nabi Elias from 2006, was closed without identifying any suspects.
THESE ARE only a few cases, of course, but when we examine the broader picture, the impression remains the same. Statistics gathered from the investigations followed by Yesh Din indicate that only 8% of cases opened against settlers suspected of crimes against Palestinians have ended in indictments. Yesh Din has documented grave flaws in the quality of such investigations, and in the general law enforcement on settlers in the West Bank.
So when prominent officials once again promise to capture the miscreants, we have ample reason to doubt their pronouncements. The implications are grim. Indulging Jewish terrorism is not just morally wrong and in breach of Israel’s obligations under international law. It is not just a blow to our democratic values and institutions.
It is also a dangerous policy that could ignite violence and threaten stability.
While the government haggles with Washington about the scope of “legal” construction in the settlements (legal, that is, according to Israeli law), its tolerance of massive illegality, not just in construction, but also regarding serious acts of violence, belies the seriousness of its intentions. One can only ignore reality on the ground for a little while.
Then it explodes.
The writer is executive director of Yesh Din-Volunteers for Human Rights.