Nasser Shiyoukhi/AP
A Jewish settler throws a stone from a rooftop overlooking Palestinian houses in the West Bank
city of Hebron in a clash with Israeli troops who guard them.

Israeli Raid in Hebron Heightens Tension With Settlers

December 04, 2008 12:58 PM
by Josh Katz
Israeli troops forced Jewish settlers to evacuate a Hebron home, spurring riots and escalating the tense relations between the government and hardline settlers.

Israeli Troops Clash With Settlers in Hebron Raid

In response to the Israeli military's forced removal of about 250 Jewish extremists from a house in the middle of the West Bank city of Hebron, settlers have intensified their rioting, the Associated Press reports. The army has called the area of Hebron a "closed military zone."

As soldiers tried to expel the settlers from the house, the extremists hurled rocks, eggs and chemicals at them. The troops fought back with tear gas and stun grenades. Then in other parts of the West Bank, "Settlers set fires around two Palestinian homes, and Palestinians reported one person injured by settler gunfire," according to AP. Police also had skirmishes with settlers trying to obstruct a main road to Jersualem.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with settler representatives in Tel Aviv several hours before the Hebron raid in the hopes of agreeing to an evacuation free of violence, according to Monsters & Critics. In a statement, Barak's office said the defense minister permitted the raid in case the talks failed to produce the desired result.

Settlers first moved into the Hebron house in early 2007, claiming that an American Jew was the rightful owner, but a Palestinian owner said that was not true, M & C writes. On Nov. 16, the Israeli supreme court said the state would hold onto the house until a lower court settled the ownership issue. But the settlers, consisting of many young "right-wing radicals" refused to obey the court ruling and leave the house.

Background: Israel cuts off funding to illegal settlements

In early November, Israel chose to halt direct and indirect funding for illegal settlements in the West Bank, cutting off funding for the more than 100 “illegal” outposts, but not for the more than 120 legal settlements in the area, according to The New York Times.

Israel had promised the United States that it would dismantle at least 24 settlements, and the announcement “amounted to an acknowledgment that public funds were still being spent on the outposts,” the Times wrote.

The steps taken by Israel came after the fourth clash in less than two weeks between settlers and security forces. Departing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the worsening violence has created an “intolerable situation,” Agence France-Presse reported.

A spokesman for a settler counsel argued that the recent fighting was the result of a police beating of a 10-year-old settler. Speaking for the border police, Moshe Pinchi said he was unaware of such a beating and criticized the settlers for “cynically” sending children to attack the police.

On Friday, Oct. 31, about 100 settlers fought with police after Israeli officials took down a structure built by settlers in an illicit outpost near Hebron. “Several days earlier settlers had rampaged through a Palestinian neighbourhood after police removed another outpost, slashing car tyres, throwing rocks at homes and desecrating Muslim graves,” AFP wrote.

Some settlers call seeking revenge on Palestinians or security forces a “price tag” for the removal of all or part of an outpost. Dov Lior, the chief rabbi of the Kiryat Arba settlement, said the actions taken by the Israeli security forces resemble those of “the Nazis in Poland” during World War II, according to AFP.

Besides stopping the public funding, Olmert said Israel would boost law enforcement personnel, increase arrests and detentions, and speed up trials in order to combat the violence, according to the Times.

There are about 100 illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank. They vary in size, but they are generally extensions of larger, authorized settlements.

Most of the international community, save the United States, considers all settlements in the West Bank built since Israel annexed the territory in 1967 after the Six-Day War to be illegal. Although the United States does not consider them illegal, it does see them as an impediment to peace. Government-approved settlements house more than 260,000 Israelis in the West Bank; another 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem, which was also taken during the Six-Day War and is primarily populated by Arabs. About 3 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, according to Reuters.

Renana Cohen, who is in her mid-20s and has been a Jewish settler all of her life, says that she belongs on the land: “It’s because I believe this is a part of Israel that we must live here, without a doubt,” Reuters reports. If outposts are dismantled, their residents “will do everything to prevent it. I cannot even imagine it happening,” she said.

Related Topics: Yesh Din report; assassination fears

On Nov. 3, human rights group Yesh Din released a report that criticized the way the Israeli government prosecutes settlers who engage in violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, according to Israeli daily Haaretz. The report indicated that only eight percent of Palestinian complaints end in an indictment, often because the evidence is not strong enough. Yesh Din said that the government could improve its “faulty” methods by having a law enforcement group investigate at least 10 percent of such cases per month.

A day earlier, Yuval Diskin, the head of Israeli domestic security service Shin Bet, said he was “very concerned” that Jewish extremists would try to the assassinate Israeli leaders in support of the peace process in the near future, The Washington Post reports. Other security officials have stated similar worries in the past few months.

Historical Context: The Six-Day War and the settlements

Israel’s possession of the entirety of Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights, dates to the Six-Day War. The prologue to that conflict was Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s decision to send troops into the Sinai, the isthmus of land joining Egypt to Israel, and to set up a naval blockade around the Red Sea port town of Eilat.

In June 1967, Israel acted preemptively to counter the strike it alleged was being planned by its neighbors. The Israeli military crushed the armed forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, destroying most of the Egyptian air force before it had time to scramble a single plane. Israel pushed its borders outward, occupying territory in the Sinai, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Israeli settlers began constructing settlements in the newly acquired territory soon after the war, with the approval of both the Israeli Labor and Likud parties. Proponents of the settlements argued that the land provided an important security buffer against Palestinian threats, and that the land, which Israel now rightfully possessed, was integral to Jewish history, according to the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

Jews had settled in such land for millennia prior to 1967, however. For example, there had been Jewish communities in Hebron for thousands of years, and in 1929, Arabs killed the Jewish population of that city without intervention from the British soldiers patrolling the area. Jews continued to settle the area after the attack until the Jordanians took it over in 1948 and banned Jews from the West Bank.

The group Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) was created in March 1974 after the Yom Kippur War. The “ideological, religious-nationalist group originally associated with the National Religious Party (NRP)” became a strong advocate of building Jewish settlements in the territories, although some settlers had already started to move in after the 1967 war, according to the Committee.

But Israel dismantled settlements over the years to advance the peace process. In April 1982, Israel removed settlements in Sinai and handed over land to Egypt. Then in the summer of 2005, Israel pulled out “its entire military and civilian presence from the Gaza Strip,” the Committee writes.

Proponents of the settlements claim that they are not in violation of international law and they are a part of Israel’s heritage. They also cite the importance of the settlements to Israel’s security, claiming that the Gaza pullout has only deteriorated that security.
Opponents state that the settlements violate international law, provide the main obstacle to furthering the peace process, amount to a form of colonization, provoke violence against Israelis, and damage the living conditions of Arabs who live in the territory.

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