Disturbing Increase in Settler Violence

On Sunday, Feb. 13th, the Indiana University Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism hosted a talk by Irwin Cotler, a retired law professor and former Canadian Member of Parliament, Justice Minister and Attorney General who remains active battling antisemitism.  Politically, he’s a stalwart of Canada’s Liberal party, basically a centrist who has represented clients in high-profile human rights cases, including Nelson Mandela and Natan Sharansky.

His discussion of insults and threats to Jews, mostly in relation to Israel, was unsettling but familiar, especially regarding the totally disproportionate focus upon Israel’s misdeeds at the United Nations and other international forums, as opposed to far more egregious human rights crises occurring in numerous places around the world.  During the Q & A, I tried to learn how he views documented reports of human rights violations within the West Bank and to a lesser degree within East Jerusalem, and how this complicates our defense of Israel and Zionism against demonization. 

Specifically, I mentioned the work of Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard, who is not “anti-Israel” but made a pithy 20-minute video presentation at J Street’s 2021 national conference on the legal and illegal aspects of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank (view it at the bottom of this post).  In a webinar recorded at the Canadian Friends of Peace Now website, beginning at around the 57-minute mark, Sfard argues that discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel does NOT rise to the level of “apartheid,” but this is complicated by Israel subjecting Palestinians in the West Bank to a separate and unequal legal system (the latter resembles “apartheid”). 

Cotler expressed familiarity with Sfard’s work and mentioned that he’s just published an article in Haaretz (“Violent Israeli Settlers Are Starting to Resemble the KKK, With the Support and Backing of the Jewish State“) but without voicing an opinion on either.  Cotler indicated that he favors “two states for two peoples,” supporting the right of self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis, and the right of people to criticize Israeli policies, but he didn’t really engage in detail with what I had asked, nor did anyone else in that virtual forum.

The NY Times published this article, dated Feb. 12th, “As Violence Rises in the West Bank, Settler Attacks Raise Alarm,” with the subhead, “Attacks by settlers and Palestinians have both reached a five-year high. But unlike Palestinian suspects, violent settlers are rarely prosecuted.”  The violence is not one-sided, as the following snippet indicates, but the reaction of Israeli authorities usually is:

. . .  In 2021, the number of injurious attacks by settlers on Palestinians, and by Palestinians on settlers, reached their highest levels in at least five years, according to the United Nations.

Settlers injured at least 170 Palestinians last year and killed five, U.N. monitors reported. During the same period, Palestinians injured at least 110 settlers and killed two, U.N. records show. The Israeli Army said that Palestinians had injured 137 Israeli civilians in the West Bank last year.  . . . 

The settlers benefit from a two-tier legal system in which settlers who commit violence are rarely punished, while Palestinian suspects are frequently arrested and prosecuted by military courts. Of the 111 police investigations into settler attacks monitored by the Israeli rights group Yesh Din in the past five years, only three led to indictments.  . . .

[But] it is the settler violence that is now attracting most alarm — not only among Palestinians, but also from the Israeli security establishment.

Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, described it as “a serious phenomenon” and announced the formation of special military teams to patrol flash points . . . .

These are events we should know about.  The following is from the Jan. 26th column by Michael Koplow, the Israel Policy Forum’s Chief Policy Officer, “The Extremism of Mundane Occupation“:

. . . masked Israelis descended from the illegal outpost of Givat Ronen and attacked a group of Palestinians and Israelis with clubs and rocks in broad daylight outside the village of Burin, breaking limbs and setting a car on fire in one of the most brazen instances of recent extremist Jewish Israeli violence. The week before, a 78-year-old Palestinian man named Omar Assad died at 3 AM in the village of Jiljilya, facedown on the ground and alone in the courtyard of a house under construction. The first of these two incidents . . . has been condemned by Israeli ministers such as Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz and even by the settler umbrella Yesha Council—though notedly as of this writing not by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett— and by American Jewish organizations, including Israel Policy Forum. [Click here to read this letter]

The second, while prompting the State Department to request a clarification of the events in question as Assad was a U.S. citizen, has received notably less attention. Yet both stem from the same basic problem, and in some ways the second is more worrisome than the first. Assad’s death, away from the cameras and high-profile clashes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, illustrates the toxic nature of the mundane and daily reality of Israel’s presence in the West Bank and how much harder it is to tackle than clear and demonstrable instances of extremism. . . .

This title links to the Jan. 31st Times of Israel news report: “Soldiers left elderly Palestinian American to die in ‘ethical failure’ — IDF probe.”  The subhead elaborates: “Army says troops abandoned the unconscious 78-year-old Omar As’ad at a construction site after zip-tying his hands together and gagging him at an impromptu checkpoint.”



lwbearson@gmail.com Bearson Lee