Living in the constant shadow of settler violence (Jewish terrorism) — Uprootedpalestinians’s Blog

A recent surge in hate crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank has drawn the attention of both local and international media. But the violence is just one part of the settlement system that is pushing Palestinians to abandon their land.

Mahmoud, who works in Urif's quarry, stands next to a container that was graffitied by settler youth during a recent spate of hate crimes in the village. The graffiti reads: 'Fight your enemy. Price tag.' (Edo Konrad)

In the hills of the northern West Bank, nightfall brings back an old fear these days. For the past two months, Palestinians living in a group of villages near Nablus have woken up to slashed tires, burned out cars, a mosque set ablaze, and racist graffiti scrawled on their property.

The hate crimes, once commonly referred to as “price tag attacks,” are committed by extremist Jewish youth from nearby settlements. Their goal is retributive: to exact a price from Palestinian civilians (and in some cases left-wing Israeli Jews, Christians, and Israeli security forces) for actions Israeli authorities take against the settlers, usually building enforcement in illegally built settlements.

The attacks are sporadic and difficult to combat in real time. The extremists, faces covered, slip into the villages — often times located adjacent to their settlements or outposts — undetected.

In the village of Aqraba, the Sheikh Saadeh Mosque was set on fire before the assailants graffitied the words “price tag” and “revenge” on its walls.

In Urif, extremists spray painted “Death to Arabs” on shipping containers belonging to a local resident and the local quarry was tagged with the words “Fight the enemy.”

In Nabi Saleh, residents woke up to find that settlers had spray-painted “There is no room in the Land of Israel for the Tamimi family,” referring to the Palestinian family whose daughter, Ahed, became a global icon after she was videotaped slapping an Israeli soldier.

“The settler violence does not stop,” says Jafar, a Hebronite who has worked in Urif’s quarry for the past 15 years, as he points to the outposts of Yitzhar, one of themost notoriously radical settlements in the Nablus region, which have metastasized across the Salman al-Parsi mountain range that overlooks the village.

Walking through the valley, it’s clear just how easy and quickly the settlers can clamber down to the village. In an effort to deter such attacks, the quarry workers installed a camera that faces Yitzhar on a utility pole

“Three years ago, the settlers set fire to one of our excavators,” Jafar continues, “and a month ago, they had laid spikes on the road,” he says, gesturing with his chin toward the sandy road that leads from to the quarry from the houses on the edge of the village.

According to the Shin Bet, there have been a total of 16 price tag attacks in the first four months of 2018 — twice as many as there were in all of 2017. Due to under-reporting to Israeli police, however, the real number is likely even higher.

“I don’t call the police when this kind of thing happens,” Jafar says. “I have gotten used to the violence. There are plenty of rocks here for them to spray paint. As long as they don’t harm me, I am fine.”

The spectacle of settler violence

Palestinian farmers from the West Bank village of Qaryut assess the damage done to their olive trees the day before by Israeli settlers, October 20, 2013. Officials from the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture on the scene counted 60 trees damaged belonging to 12 different farmers. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Jafar is not alone. According to Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din, between 2013 and 2015, over 30 percent of victims of settler violence said they were unwilling to go to the police. The reasons vary. Most victims say they mistrust the authorities, while others are concerned about exposing them or their families to more violence. Others are simply ideologically opposed to engaging with Israeli authorities for any reason.

Palestinians often feel that the police do very little to stop settler violence, which runs the gamut from physical assault, arson, cutting or burning down olive trees, stone throwing at random Palestinian cars, and property damage. Their suspicions are not unfounded.

Between 2014 and 2017, Yesh Din monitored 225 police investigations into settler violence against Palestinians. By the end of last year, only 11 percent of those investigations ended in indictments, while 64 percent were closed due to what Yesh Din described as police investigative failures.

Those figures do not take into account the hurdles Palestinians face when attempting to file a complaint, which often include needing an army permit just to enter the areas where Israeli police stations are located.

Price tag attacks have understandably become a spectacle since they began in the early 2000s. The burned out churches, racist graffiti, and charred vehicles have both a material as well as a psychological effect. Beyond the damage to property, the attacks are intended to frighten the local population — to let them know that they are always being watched, that the violence they encounter in the fields can, at any time, come home.

The word 'revenge' is seen graffitied on the wall of the Dawabshe house, Duma, West Bank, July 31, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)