Americans for Peace Now (APN) urges the Biden administration to demand determined Israeli action to confront West Bank settler violence.
Violent settlers emerged today from an illegal outpost near Nablus and attacked a group of Israeli peace activists who were helping Palestinian villagers plant olive trees. Video recording of the attack is horrific. It shows young men armed with clubs brutally hitting defenseless solidarity activists and torching their car. Four of the activists needed medical treatment, two of them with head injuries.
The images elicited harsh reactions in Israel, including condemnations by right-wing politicians and even settler leaders. Government officials promised to investigate and punish the perpetrators.
Judging by past experience, the prospects of legal action against the violent settlers – let alone prosecution – are low. Over the years, most cases of settler violence (over 90%) did not lead to charges.
Most of these violent settlers' attacks target Palestinians, not Israeli Jews, and therefore don't make it into the Israeli media. The frequency of such attacks is increasing rapidly. In 2021, the UN documented 496 attacks by settlers against Palestinians (126 of them resulted in injuries), up from 358 in 2020. Many attacks go unreported because of the Palestinians' fear of retribution.
While APN welcomes the condemnations of today's attack, we point out – as we have done numerous times before – that this vile behavior is neither sporadic nor unusual. The perpetrators are not a handful of vigilantes. They are members of a robust network that functions as a terrorist organization to intimidate and displace Palestinians and to terrorize Israelis who stand in solidarity with Palestinians.
Addressing settler violence necessitated not only a bold law-enforcement effort, but also a political transformation.
An effective approach to this problem must include a transformation in the way in which the government of Israel which views Israel as competing with the Palestinians over the future of Area C.
The government must disabuse the settlers of the notion that they are playing a welcome role in an Israeli campaign to block Palestinian growth in Area C of the West Bank or to displace Palestinians who reside there.
This is where the Biden administration must play an important role. It is incumbent upon the administration to clarify to the government of Israel that Area C is not destined to become a part of sovereign Israel but rather a part of the future state of Palestine. The administration must clarify that the US opposes any Israeli policy or practice of displacing Palestinians in Area C or systematically denying them growth.
Today's events are one more reminder for the administration and the international community that ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or trying to "put it on the back burner," is not a viable policy. The conflict is aflame and, with or without diplomatic efforts to broker peace negotiations, requires international attention and US leadership.