Who's the Terrorist? Settler Violence and Notions of Safety and Risk in the West Bank

By Miri

A lot of the questions that we receive surround the notions of safety and risk in the West Bank. This is not surprising considering that foreign governmental institutions, such as the respective Departments of Foreign Affairs, consulates etc. urge their citizens to refrain from travelling to Gaza and the South of Israel and “to exercise caution“ when travelling to the West Bank. Interestingly, those statements mention that violence had decreased in recent years as a result of the deployment of “Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces in the major cities and other limited areas within the West Bank”.

This information suggests that much of the violence in the West Bank is happening in places like Ramallah, Hebron and Nablus, a notion that sounds very strange to someone like me, who has lived, worked and travelled in the West Bank for a considerable amount of years now and who would assess the potential for violence particularly in those cities as fairly low, and definitely as much lower than in most big cities in the U.S. or in Europe

Most of the travel warnings do admit that violence is also perpetrated by the Israeli army but mainly warns their respective citizens of the risk of getting “caught in the middle of potentially dangerous situations“, implying that there are two sides equally engaged in violent acts.

The most striking notion, however, is the fact that for instance the most recent travel warning issued by the U.S. Department of State ignores one of the greatest sources of violent occurrences in the West Bank, namely the settler population. While it does mention incidents of stone throwing, Molotov cocktails and gunfire, it does not attribute those acts to anyone. A similar paper issued by the German government, on the other hand, does mention settlers as perpetrating violence against the Palestinian population, but neutralises its statement by marking that also Palestinians engage in such acts by targeting the settler population. Both governments thereby completely ignore that most of these incidents have to be attributed to the settler population, and that settler
Settlers attacking a photographer in Hebron, Yotam Ronen, ActiveStil
violence is on a sharp rise.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “the weekly average of settler attacks resulting in Palestinian casualties and property damage has increased by 40% in 2011 compared to 2010, and by over 165% compared to 2009.” More recently settlers also started engaging into acts of revenge and targeting Israeli army infrastructure and personnel.

In any way it is true that the average traveller to the West Bank will most likely not be the target of settler aggression (or of the Israeli army for that matter). Engaging in activities expressing direct solidarity with the Palestinian population, such as accompanying farmers who live close to notoriously aggressive settlements1, does however increase this risk.

By embarking on an alternative tour through the West Bank, a visitor will understand more about the issue of safety and risk as pertaining to the Palestinian population. In particular, going on a Hebron tour, where according to statistics the great majority of those incidents happen, will definitely clarify the extent to which settler violence interferes with the life of Palestinians, and will shed light on the extent to which the Israeli authorities collaborate with the perpetrators.2 A visit to a settlement, and attempting to view the conflict from the settlers' point of view will further increase the understanding of the complexity of the conflict.

Palestinian property, located close to radical settlements is increasingly becoming the target of different forms of vandalism and destruction through settlers. OCHA states that “in 2011, nearly 10,000 Palestinian-owned trees, primarily olive trees, have been damaged or destroyed by Israeli settlers, significantly undermining the livelihoods of hundreds of families”.

OCHA states that “over 90% of monitored complaints regarding settler violence filed by Palestinians with the Israeli police in recent years have been closed without indictment".


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