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Israel Must Have Zero Tolerance for Settler Violence

Jews have every right to live in Judea and Samaria. These Jews should also be protected from threats from Palestinians, which, sadly, are incessant. Palestinians should also not have to fear their neighbors. While Israel is determined to ensure the safety of Jews, it has shown far less interest in safeguarding Palestinians from Jews.

One reason for the discrepancy is that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is committed to terrorism. Equally unfortunate, too many Palestinians see violence against Jews as acceptable, if not admirable, and allow terrorists to operate within their midst. PA security forces do cooperate with Israel to an extent, but Israel has the ultimate responsibility for its citizens and must be on constant alert to prevent attacks, which are attempted on an almost daily basis.

Jews who live under constant threat of violence have a heightened level of anxiety. When attacked, they are understandably angry and vengeful. Still, vigilantism is unacceptable. The Shin Bet is very good at locating terrorists and bringing them to justice.

Unfortunately, in recent weeks we have seen horrific examples of extremist settlers going on rampages, attacking Palestinian villagers, and burning their cars and homes. Morality aside, what some have hyperbolically called “pogroms” give Israel a self-inflicted black eye internationally.

But morality cannot be put aside.

The perpetrators of violence are criminals, and they should be prosecuted. Israel has facial-recognition software to identify Palestinian lawbreakers; it should not be difficult to find and prosecute Jews who attack their neighbors. Few Jews are charged, however, and the ones who are are sometimes treated leniently.

I wrote about the issue more than a year ago, when then-Security Minister Omer Barlev said he would increase the number of police in the territories to deal with settler violence. This prompted right-wing apologists to attack Barlev for suggesting that “salt of the earth” settlers should be held accountable for criminal activity.

Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich, now a government minister, accused Barlev of participating “in a false and antisemitic campaign that slanders them.”

As I noted in that article, most of the 500,000 Jews living in the West Bank are law-abiding, and many employ some of the 30,000 Palestinians who work in settlements. Violent attacks perpetrated by settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank increased, however, by nearly 50% in 2021, to a total of 397. In 2022, that number jumped to 849. I suspect the number will be higher this year.

Still, those involved are a small, unrepresentative group, who have outsized influence in blackening Israel’s image, as they did when they attacked Palestinians in the village of Huwara in March. Last I heard, only two Israelis were indicted for grievous bodily harm and vandalism in that riot.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, the convicted criminal who serves as Minister of National Security, has repeatedly attacked Israel’s police and intelligence services, most recently complaining of “collective punishment” of Jewish settlers after a group of them set fire to Palestinian cars. By contrast, leaders of the military, police and Shin Bet condemned “nationalist terrorism.”

Ben-Gvir and other defenders of this behavior are part of the effort to reform the judiciary. They do not think Palestinians deserve the same legal protections as Jews. This attitude is one of the reasons tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to protest what they fear is an effort to undermine the courts’ ability to uphold human rights.

Meanwhile, Ben-Gvir wants the police to take tougher action against Israelis protesting against the government, which in the last few days led to the use of water cannons and mounted police (a video of one seen stomping on a protestor went viral), and accusations of excessive force.

Given his sympathy for the settlers, Ben-Gvir is unlikely to adopt the same approach to Jews attacking Palestinians.

Too bad, as it might do more to promote Israel’s image as a democracy that respects human rights if it turned those water cannons on settlers before they could enter Palestinian towns.

Maybe the government would have more credibility if it treated Jewish terrorists the way it does Arabs. Israel, for example, believes home demolitions are an appropriate punishment and serve as a deterrent. How many Jewish parents would allow their children to attack Palestinians if they knew their homes would be demolished? I suspect it would be less of a constraint on Jews because their supporters would ensure the homes were quickly rebuilt.

Still, it would send a message at home and abroad of the application of equal justice, one that is sorely needed to counter the increasingly common comparison, inapt as it is, of Israeli behavior to that of the Afrikaners.

If you believe in expanding settlements, supporting lawlessness by settlers only weakens your case. And I’m not talking about the impact on resolving the
conflict with the Palestinians. At this point, it’s largely irrelevant, as more than 500,000 Jews live in the West Bank, and the two-state solution, which was always a mirage based on seeing Palestinian reasonableness where none existed, is unaffected by continued settlement.

The morality of the settlement enterprise and Israel’s democratic values, however, are threatened by tolerance of Jewish criminality and judicial unfairness.


Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby,” “Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”

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