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Chicago Tribune: "West Bank on edge as young radicals settle in" & Guardian (UK): "Israeli army chief slams settler attacks"

Yariv Oppenheimer, the head of Peace Now: "Whoever doesn't enforce the law on the violent settlers in the territories," he said, "will find himself facing a Jewish terrorist organization operating in the heart of Israel."

Chicago Tribune: "West Bank on edge as young radicals settle in"

Militant Jews living near outposts increasing attacks on Palestinians

By Joel Greenberg
Chicago Tribune correspondent

October 4, 2008

SAMUA, West Bank - Midhat Abu Karsh, a teacher in this Palestinian village, got down on the floor to demonstrate how he had been tied to a telephone pole by militant Jewish settlers, a rope around his neck and leg, then kicked by a settler as Israeli soldiers stood nearby.

"I told the soldiers he was coming to hit me, but they let him reach me," Abu Karsh said of the incident in July, which was caught on video by Israeli peace activists and posted on the Web site of the Israeli daily Haaretz.

After the kick, the soldiers pushed the settler away. They later untied Abu Karsh, who had been beaten after he was seized, and treated his injuries before he was taken to a hospital in a Palestinian ambulance.

The incident at the unauthorized settlement outpost of Asa'el in the southern West Bank followed an attempt by Abu Karsh and relatives to work on their farmland nearby. Settlers wielding sticks drove the Palestinians away and seized Abu Karsh, who limps because of a birth defect and could not run. They accused him of setting fire to their land, he said.

The assault on the teacher was part of what Israeli army officials say is a marked increase in violence in recent months by radical settlers in areas around their outposts, many of them makeshift trailer encampments built without government authorization.

"There is a rise in Jewish violence in Judea and Samaria," Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni, the chief of the army's Central Command, told Haaretz in an interview published Friday, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names. "In the past only a few dozen were involved. Today it involves a few hundred people. That is a very significant change."

A recent UN report cited 222 incidents of settler violence in the first half of 2008, compared to 291 in all of 2007.

There are about 100 unauthorized outposts scattered on the hilltops of the West Bank, offshoots of established settlements, where a new generation of young settlers radicalized by years of violent conflict are staking a claim to new territory.

The resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians and the prospect that some of the outposts could be removed by the government have sparked a new activist approach among the younger militants, who have embarked on what they call a "price tag" policy in response to army attempts to dismantle their encampments, and in retaliation for Palestinian attacks, such as stone-throwing or shootings.

"This is a spontaneous reaction of the young people who live on the hilltops and feel that their property and homes are being threatened by the government, and they are organizing in ways to say we are here and don't take us for granted," said David Ha'Ivri, a veteran activist who handles relations with foreign media for the Samaria settlement council.

Ha'Ivri condemned attacks on soldiers but said settlers were responding in kind to Palestinian violence.

In one incident last month, an attempt by soldiers to confiscate construction material at an unauthorized outpost ended in a violent confrontation, and an Israeli army officer suffered a broken hand while another was bitten by a dog handled by a settler.

On Sept. 13, after a Palestinian stabbed and slightly wounded a boy in the settlement of Yitzhar and set fire to a house, settlers responded by descending on the neighboring village of Asira al-Qibliya, hurling stones, firing shots and vandalizing property. Three Palestinians were wounded.

After a reported shooting attack on an Israeli car near Ramallah last week, settlers rampaged through the village of Kafr a-Dik, hurling rocks and smashing windows and solar panels, according to villagers.

Last month the violence spilled into Israel. A pipe bomb exploded outside the Jerusalem home of Zeev Sternhell, a professor at the Hebrew University and critic of the settlements. He was slightly wounded.

While no suspects have been held in the attack, leaflets left at the scene, announcing a bounty for killing a member of the anti-settlement group Peace Now, echoed language often heard from young militants at settler outposts, known as "hilltop youth."

"The State of Israel, our 2,000-year-old dream, has become a nightmare," the leaflets said. "This country is ruled by a mob of wicked people, haters of the Torah who want to erase the laws of God. ... The State of Israel has become our enemy. ... The time has come to set up a state of Jewish law in Judea and Samaria. The time has come for the Kingdom of Judea."

The radicalized young settlers, who criticize the established leadership of the settler movement as too meek, were outraged by the evacuation of thousands of settlers from the Gaza Strip when Israel withdrew from the area in 2005, and many now maintain that the government and the army have betrayed the mission of the Jewish state.

Thousands resisted in 2006 when Israeli police arrived to enforce the demolition of several illegally built homes at the West Bank outpost of Amona, delaying further evacuation plans and serving notice that further moves to evict settlers would be met with substantial resistance.

Menachem Brinker, a professor and a colleague of Sternhell, said that the pipe-bomb attack showed that the failure of Israeli law-enforcement agencies to rein in violent settlers in the West Bank was now threatening Israel proper.

"The violent groups among the settlers have crossed the Green Line [border between Israel and the West Bank]," he said in a television interview. "Beyond their ideology, there is the reality in the territories where they riot, wound Palestinians, uproot their vineyards, and the culprits are never found."

Yariv Oppenheimer, the head of Peace Now, put it more bluntly in a statement issued after the attack on Sternhell. "Whoever doesn't enforce the law on the violent settlers in the territories," he said, "will find himself facing a Jewish terrorist organization operating in the heart of Israel."


Guardian (UK): "Israeli army chief slams settler attacks"

Jewish extremists are stepping up attacks on West Bank Palestinians and peace activists

by Toni O'Loughlin in Jerusalem

Sunday October 5 2008

A growing number of ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers in the Palestinian West Bank are threatening Israel's security, according to the military chief responsible for their protection in the occupied territory. Major-General Gadi Shamni, whose role includes stopping Palestinian attacks and protecting Jewish settlements in the West Bank, said the rising level of violence from militant settlers is 'impairing our ability to carry out missions in the territories'.

He said that the number of extremists who attack Palestinians, Israeli soldiers, police and left-wing activists had grown from a core of a 'few dozen' troublemakers to at least several hundred.

'We are forced to divert our attention elsewhere,' said Shamni in an interview published in Haaretz newspaper. 'These are fringe elements that are gaining support because of the tail wind they enjoy and the backing afforded by certain parts of the leadership, both rabbinical and public, whether in explicit statements or tacitly.'

His comments follow the attack on a high-profile critic of the settlements, Professor Zeev Sternhell, a Holocaust survivor and expert on fascism. Sternhell was injured a week ago after a pipe bomb exploded at the entrance to his house in Jerusalem. Police found posters in Sternhell's neighbourhood offering a 1.1m shekel (œ180,000) reward to anyone who killed a member of Peace Now, an Israeli group that campaigns against settlements in the West Bank.

Israel's politicians, the police and Shin Bet, the domestic intelligence agency, were swift to blame the extreme fringes of the right. 'An evil streak of radicalism, malice, hatred and disregard of state law is threatening Israeli democracy,' Israel's outgoing Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, said after the attempt to kill Sternhell.

A recent UN report documented 222 attacks in the first half of this year, against a total of 291 for the whole of last year. On Friday, the former mayor of a West Bank settlement, Daniella Weiss, was charged with assaulting police officers. She allegedly hit police who had arrived at her house to search for suspects accused of setting fire to a Palestinian-owned olive grove.

Settlers said that the arrests were part of a 'witch-hunt' in the aftermath of the attack on Sternhell and claim that the attacks are carried out in self-defence.

Last month, after a Palestinian entered a Jewish settlement, burnt a house and stabbed a boy, dozens of settlers raided a nearby Palestinian village, throwing stones, firing guns into the air, breaking windows, damaging property and daubing the Star of David on the walls of homes.

Tactics such as burning orchards, blocking roads, rioting and stoning have become a routine part of the settlers' arsenal in their attacks on Palestinians. Police and soldiers are also being targeted amid lingering bitterness after clashes between the settlers and security forces when Israel removed its settlements from Gaza in 2005.

The settlers' aim is to deter the government from dismantling settlements in the West Bank, which Israel could be required to give up if a peace deal is struck with the Palestinians.

Elyakim Haetzni, a founding father of the settler movement, warned of civil war if Israel attempted to remove more settlements from the West Bank. He said that about 100,000 Israelis were ready to fight for the land. 'Every clash between the settlers and the police, the police get a beating and the army doesn't want to be involved any more. A great number of them are religious,' he said.

Israel's vice-premier, Haim Ramon, warned last week that much of the ongoing violence appears to be conducted with impunity. 'The government is standing by scared and unable to act,' Ramon said. 'Had these people been Palestinians, they would all have been behind bars by now.'

Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group, calculated that only 10 per cent of 205 cases in which Palestinians complained to the police about a settler attack had resulted in indictments.

B'Tselem, another Israeli human rights group to raise concerns about growing settler violence this year, said: 'When Palestinians attack Israelis, the authorities invoke all means at their disposal to arrest the suspects. When Israeli civilians attack Palestinians, the Israeli authorities employ an undeclared policy of leniency and compromise toward the perpetrators.'

Sternhell, who won this year's Israel Prize, an annual award to mark the country's independence day, despite a High Court challenge by settlers, says that Israel's 'politicians must declare war on the extreme right and occupation'.