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Israeli settler violence mirrors the large-scale aggression implicit in land grabbing

Palestinian olive grove at Burin village in Nablus, set on fire by settlers from the Yitzhar settlementIn the early hours of Wednesday morning, the entrance of a mosque in the village of Deir Istiya, in the occupied West Bank, was set on fire. The walls were spray-painted with hate messages in Hebrew, including "Arabs out" and "revenge for blood spilled in Qusra".

The latter message is a reference to an incident last week, where Palestinians and Israeli forces clashed near Qusra, a village near Nablus that has lost half its land to settlements. Following the incident, settlers have carried out dozens of attacks in the village, killing 18 sheep and setting cars alight. The attack on the mosque was the latest in this "price tag" campaign - a term used to describe acts of vandalism or violence by radical Israeli settlers who want to exact a "price" from Palestinians or Israel security forces.

Ghassan Douglas, a Palestinian Authority official who monitors the activities of settlements and settlers in the West Bank, pointed out that this incident is nothing new: "The settlers almost on a daily basis do this to isolated Palestinians and damage their properties." Violence against Palestinian residents of the West Bank by Israeli settlers is a long recognised problem. But new figures from the United Nations published this week confirm that it is getting worse.

The figures, compiled by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, show that attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers have increased every year for the last eight years (when the UN started counting assaults). Since 2006, about 2,100 attacks have been launched by Israelis. Annual totals have leapt from 115 in 2006 to 399 in 2013. The figures also show the toll of this violence: more than 17,000 Palestinians have been injured, as have 342 settlers and 37 soldiers. Ten Palestinians and 29 settlers have been killed.

This week, IDF spokesman Peter Lerner condemned the attack on the mosque: "The incident is deplorable on every level. It's against basic moral standards and jeopardizes safety and security and the stability the IDF is working hard to maintain." Last week, the Israeli defence minister Moshe Yaalon said that these price tag attacks were "outright terrorism". While most Israeli leaders are pro-settlement, they often denounce violence between settlers and Palestinians.

But do these condemnations mean anything? Palestinians living in the West Bank say that they do not, and that soldiers do very little to stop attacks. While soldiers technically have orders to stop any violence between civilians in the West Bank, the Haaretz newspaper's military correspondent, Amos Harel, has said that soldiers actually see their primary goal as protecting the settlers. Indeed, the basic fact that attacks have risen so consistently over the last eight years shows that if any efforts have been made to stop the violence, they have not been successful.

Some Palestinians go so far as to say that the intimidation by settlers is part and parcel of Israel's policy of seizing the West Bank. Certainly, these vigilante attacks by settlers do not really go against the wider aims of the state. Settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law but there are thought to be around 500,000 Israelis living there. The government has announced the building of more settlements; they are widely seen as a way of changing "the facts on the ground" so that a Palestinian state becomes increasingly unviable. Politicians may condemn the aggression of individual settlers, but it is simply a mirror of the larger-scale aggression that is implicit in land grabbing.


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