by Yousef Aljamal
This following article by Palestinian rights activist, author, and translator Yousef Aljamal is crossposted from Politics Today.
When hundreds of Israeli settlers burned 15 Palestinian homes and 100 Palestinian cars in the West Bank’s town of Huwara near the city of Nablus on February 26, 2023, some analysts, government spokespeople, and political commentators expressed their shock at the magnitude of organized violence against Palestinians. Unfortunately, this violence comes as no surprise to the Palestinian people and has been building up for the years.
The town of Huwara has been repeatedly attacked by Israeli settlers and it has almost become the norm to read news about such attacks. What is different this time, however, is that formerly convicted settlers are now ministers in Netanyahu’s fragile coalition such as Itamar Ben-Gvir, who serves as Israel’s National Security Minister and who openly incites violence against the Palestinian people.
To damage control the horrific crime, which resulted in the death of Palestinian Sameh Aqtash, 37, who had just returned from Turkey after volunteering to help with the recent earthquake, and the injuring of a hundred other Palestinians, after setting fire to their houses, some Israeli commentators tried to link the violence to the earlier killing of two Israeli settlers in the town on Sunday. But the ongoing Israeli settler violence in Huwara has been taking place for years now and it was not a reaction to any one particular event.
Violence against Palestinians continues unabated
Israeli forces have killed dozens of Palestinians in the two weeks prior to the shooting incident that killed two Israeli settlers near Huwara. Following the latter incident, the Israeli army closed the two entrances of Huwara and allowed armed Israeli settlers to go inside on foot, providing them with cover to carry out their crime after Israeli politicians made calls to burn the village.
The Israeli army also prevented medics from evacuating those injured by the Israeli settler attack, which reveals the extent of the protection and collaboration between Israeli settlers and the Israeli army. This pushed some commentators including from Israel itself to make a comparison between what Israeli settlers did in Huwara to Kristallnacht, where Nazis in Germany burned Jewish-owned homes and businesses and murdered close to 100 Jews on November 9 -10, 1938.
Out of the 300-400 settlers who took part in the Huwara pogrom, nobody was arrested. Not only this, Israeli settlers jubilantly danced following the deadly violence in Huwara. In fact, the violence in Huwara came after calls made by Israeli Knesset Member Zvika Fogel to burn the town down. Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich told journalist Matan Hodorov, “I think Huwara needs to be erased. The state should be the one to do that.” Smotrich added that “we shouldn’t be dragged into anarchy in which civilians take the law into their own hands.”
U.S. reacts to Israeli violence in Huwara
On March 1, 2023, Ned Price, U.S. State Department spokesperson, said, “I want to be very clear about this. These comments were irresponsible. They were repugnant. They were disgusting.”
Meanwhile, Hady Amr, the U.S. Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs, visited Huwara and met with victims of the Israeli settler attacks, while the State Department warned against increasing violence against Palestinians by Israeli settlers. The U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs stated, “Amr visited with the victims of Sunday’s Huwara attack. He expressed his deepest condolences and condemned the unacceptable widescale, indiscriminate violence by settlers. Extremely concerned by recent escalating violence in the West Bank.”
Fogel tweeted that “we have to stop with the word ‘proportionality.’ Stop the lack of will for collective punishment because it doesn’t suit the courts. Hawara closed + burnt down, that’s what I want to see.” On an earlier occasion, Fogel said that “100 Palestinians must be killed a day,” whom he described as “terrorists” to force them to “the Israeli will.”
A state in the service of settlers
In the same context, to understand better the link between Israeli settlers and the Israeli army, a closer look at a video published by the Israeli Human Rights Organization B’Tselem in 2021 is revealing as it exposes the connections many of these settlers have with the army. In the video, an Israeli settler named Zvi, who established the “Zvi Bar Yosef Farm” on the lands of the Palestinian village of Deir Nizam in the West Bank, threatens the Palestinian farmers and owners of the land with his gun. When they tell him that they are going to call the Israeli Civil Administration and army, he responds, “I am the army.”
In light of these developments, it is ironic that the settler violence in Huwara came a day after the Aqaba Summit, attended by Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Israel, and the United States, which aimed to de-escalate the situation in the West Bank ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The situation in Israel today is clear: Israel has become a state for the settlers where some of these militias have the support of Israeli ministers such as Smotrich and Ben-Gvir. Israeli settlers who chant “Death to Arabs” and “May your village burn” have the direct support of people in uniform and the Israeli government. The same as other Israeli settlers who set hundreds of Palestinian homes on fire and uprooted thousands of Palestinian olive trees got away with their crimes, it is highly unlikely that the Israeli settlers who burned homes in Huwara will be touched.
Mounting Israeli settler violence: What can be done?
In 2015, the world was shocked by the kidnapping of Palestinian child Muhammad Abukhudair from Jerusalem by Israeli settlers who burnt him alive. This is the mentality of Israeli settlers in the West Bank today, where burning Palestinians and their homes is celebrated by their political leaders. The price tag attack groups have carried out dozens of attacks against Palestinian families burning their homes and farms, including burning the Palestinian Dawabsheh family in the village on Duma in late July 2015, where 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh and his parents lost their lives.
Palestinians are fed up with Israel’s settler violence and the world does not have to wait for a second Nakba to act. The world should bring to account the Israeli government which has encouraged violence against Palestinians publicly and supported settlers with arms and money to carry out their crimes. The Israeli government just legalized nine illegal settlement outposts. If the international community, including the United States, does not criminalize settlement activities in the West Bank, Israeli settlers who in recent years have leaned towards the far right in alarming ways, will continue to enjoy impunity when they commit crimes against the Palestinian people.