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Addressing the impact of settler violence

January 23, 2014 at 12:58 am

The non-governmental organization Médecins du Monde (MdM) has embarked upon a project to address the ramifications of settler violence in Palestine. The project endeavours to manage the violence by providing various forms of aid to Palestinians living in Nablus, after discovering a high incidence of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder among Palestinian victims of terror. The organization is also training professionals to work in health, welfare and educational facilities, in an attempt to raise collective awareness and facilitate access to resources for victims and their families.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), settler violence in Nablus increased considerably during the first months of 2013, when compared to the same period in 2012. Besides the aggression resulting from building settlements – a process though which Palestinians are forcibly displaced and deprived of their basic human rights, including freedom of movement – attacks by Jewish settlers upon Palestinian civilians have become a common occurrence that the Israeli government is reluctant to address. Settlers are given an unprecedented impunity owing to the political centrality of the settlement issue and its effect upon Jewish demography.

With the current government in Israel including leaders from the settler movement, the increase in settler violence is directly correlated to the policy of further expansion and the hatred incited by the government against Palestinians. Privileging settlement construction, implemented by the government and advocated by the likes of Naftali Bennett, automatically shields settlers from persecution for their violent crimes. When the Palestinians defend themselves, they are then blamed for the violence because the settlers automatically enjoy state privilege due to their importance in maintaining a demographic majority – through immigration, expansion, vandalism, destruction, abuse and violence.

MdM states that it intends to “stay mobilised to respond to crisis situations in case of attack or violence in the villages.” However the statement fails to address the permanent aspect of the crisis, regardless of whether there is an escalation of settler terror. Settler terror cannot be construed as isolated incidents, if the Israeli government is to be held responsible for the multitude of abuses unleashed upon Palestinians by advocates for violence. By reducing the impact of settler violence to several attacks, and ignoring the original violence of settlement, official statements seem to discard the fact that both settlers and settler violence are part of the illegal occupation – the violence is a necessary tactic in order to ensure a continuation of security policies privileging settlers.

While the aim of relieving the psychosocial trauma of Palestinians suffering from settler violence will achieve a form of temporary relief, MdM faces considerable limitations which all lead to settler impunity. The training of personnel and dissemination of information regarding mental health is likely to slightly alleviate Palestinians’ initial feelings of helplessness. However, the main issue that should be inclusively tackled is the deconstruction of settlers as protectors of the Jewish state and its policies. The Israeli government’s leniency towards settler violence, together with the weakness of the Palestinian Authority in providing a formidable security apparatus not submissive to the illegal occupation, may render any effort undertaken to aid Palestinians as yet another part of the vast dependency cycle that hinders Palestinians’ much desired autonomy.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.