Message From Huwarah

>>  March 2021:   Dear N,

After the death of 16-year-old Israeli Ahuvia Sandak on 21 December 2020, violent settler attacks against Palestinians spiked throughout the West Bank. Over some two months, until 15 February 2021, B'Tselem field researchers documented 73 such incidents. In 37 of them, Israeli security forces were present at the scene, yet refrained from intervening. In six cases, the soldiers used crowd control weapons and live fire – not to stop the Jewish assailants, but against the Palestinians under attack.

Public discussion in Israel was marked by feigned surprise – as though the incidents were exceptions led by angry "hilltop youth." This framing is blatantly divorced from reality. As a data coordinator at B'Tselem, I have processed hundreds of such cases and personally witnessed settlers attacking Palestinians unimpeded. Since B'Tselem was founded, we have processed thousands of such cases. The facts are clear: violent acts by settlers have become a routine matter for Palestinians in the West Bank, who learned long ago that no one intends to protect their lives, wellbeing or property.

During the last olive harvest, I accompanied residents of the Palestinian vilage Huwarah along with several Israeli activists. The Palestinians harvested their olives in a grove planted on a steep slope, with hundreds of trees. Shortly after we got there, several masked teenagers appeared on the top of the hill and started throwing stones at us. They were not alone – several older settlers were standing nearby, calmly watching and filming the attacks; there were also several soldiers with them. When the Palestinians tried to explain to the soldiers that we were merely picking olives, the soldiers ignored them and hurled stun grenades and fired tear gas canisters at us. As we fled, stumbling across stones and thorns, several residents were injured by stones the settlers threw and from inhaling tear gas.

This incident was no different from dozens of cases I have handled at work or witnessed firsthand. Every single time, it is hard to acknowledge what is going on before my very eyes. Every time, it becomes clearer just how integral the soldiers are – not at all by accident – to the settler violence and expulsion of Palestinian landowners, and that this is not a string of random occurrences.

The attacks following the death of Sandak were not the unusual handiwork of lawless young extremists, either, but a manifestation of Israel's longstanding policy. The state backs armed settler militias, allowing them to assault Palestinians undisturbed, because this serves its purposes: deterring Palestinians from trying to access the land their own, in order to facilitate the takeover of more Palestinian land and the expansion of settlements.

Privatizing the violence to deflect criticism against Israel cannot hide the fact that it is carried with the full support of Israeli authorities, including top military commanders, Civil Administration officials, the law enforcement systems, judges and government ministers. It's not that the military isn't "carrying out its duty" to protect Palestinians. Protecting them was never part of the real plan: dispossession.