It is in the interests of the Israelis, the Palestinians and the rest of the Middle East to stop the settlers.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he settler movement is viewed as the ultimate expression of the Israeli injustice against the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and thus is seen primarily as a threat to the native Arab population. Although this is certainly true, there is another aspect of the settler movement which is rarely appreciated and which needs to be spelled out explicitly. This is the fact that the settler movement is not only a direct threat to the Palestinian population but it is a direct threat to Israeli society, the one living within the lawful borders.
The settler movement’s culture is characterised by a messianic understanding of the historical contingencies which brought about the State of Israel. More importantly, this religious fervour is often translated into violence against the native population justified precisely on religious grounds by extremist Rabbis. The forms of violence range from burning Palestinian property, to looting villages, to the most heinous of crimes, such as premeditated murders and full blown terrorist organisations. An instance of the latter is the Kach movement following the steps of Rabbi Meir Kahane whose members included Baruch Goldstein, a settler responsible for the mass murder of 29 Palestinians in the Hebron mosque. To all effects, this culture can be called a form of religious fundamentalism. The extent of their conviction is that anyone who opposes the idea of the return of Judea and Samaria –the biblical names for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories- to the Jews, is a traitor. This has been proven by the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by Yigal Amir, a member of the settler movement.
The settler movement opposes vehemently the peace process. For example, in October 1998 during the summit held at the Wye River Plantation between Netanyahu and a Palestinian delegation mediated by Clinton, representatives of the settlers exerted pressure on the Israeli side by personally showing up to discourage any kind of compromise. After hearing the news that at the summit Netanyahu had agreed to cede 13% of the Occupied Territories to the Palestinian Authority, the Yesha Council, a former umbrella organisation representing most settlements, defined the Wye consensus as a “treason agreement”.
More importantly, the settler movement is supported by all the main Israeli authoritative institutions: political, military, and legislative. Most governments since 1967 fiercely supported the expropriation of Palestinian land for the construction of settlements. The only exception was Rabin’s government, whose fate we have already mentioned. Governments also invest substantial amounts of tax-payers’ money in order to fund the needs of the settlers. This money could be used in more productive manners, such as investing in curbing poverty within Israel, a growing social problem attested by the protests held in July 2011. The army supports the settler movement by both guarding illegal settlements and outposts and going as far as arming the settlers themselves with sophisticated weaponry.
In the Occupied Territories two sets of laws are implemented: one for the settlers and one for the native population, the former being much more lenient than the latter. The Israeli High Court has repeatedly given absurdly short sentences for obvious crimes. In October 1982, Ishegoyev, a settler near Hebron, shot a thirteen year old Palestinian in the back killing him after the latter had thrown stones against his garbage truck. He was sentenced to three months of public service work. But perhaps the most memorable case is that of Yoram Shkolnick. A settler in March 1993 Shklonick overheard on his radio that a Palestinian, who had tried to stab other settlers had been captured by the military and was tied up and lying on the floor in a place nearby. Schklonick arrived at the site armed with an Uzi submachine gun and filled the Palestinian’s body with bullets. He was initially convicted to a life sentence but Weissman, at the time Israel’s President, reduced his sentence on two occasions so that Schkolnik was released from prison seven years after having been sentenced. This legal leniency only helps to solidify the settler’s belief in the righteousness of their cause.
The settlers represent a threat to Israeli society in three ways. Firstly, their violent tactics might in the future be aimed not solely against Palestinians but against anyone who opposes the settlement movement and this includes Israeli citizens. A case in point is the violent tactics used by the settlers against, paradoxically, the army in the rare occasions when the latter has been deployed in order to evacuate certain illegal outposts. Secondly, Palestinian attacks against Israeli citizens are a direct consequence of the failure of the peace process. Since the settlement movement is not only the major obstacle to peace with the Palestinians but also the locus in which the brutality and injustice perpetrated against the native population is justified, it is the major source of motivation for such attacks.
Thirdly, the settlement movement is responsible for the alienation of Israel from the international community. This is caused by Israel’s continued violation of international law due to the settlers’ pressure. This is illustrated, for instance, by the recent withdrawal of Israel from the UN Human Rights Council to protest against the organisation’s decision to probe the settlements. It is not inconceivable that in the future Israel will no longer enjoy the support of key players in the global arena and that because of their alienation will suffer material and not only verbal condemnation. This would impinge directly on Israeli citizens.
Moreover, since peace between Israel and Palestine is also one of the crucial steps in the stabilisation of the entire Middle Eastern region, the settlement movement threatens communities beyond the borders of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. It is then in the interest of the Palestinians, Israelis and the region at large to stop the settlement movement.