Settlers ‘wanted’

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At long last the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has prepared a list of 50 names of Israeli extremists it wants the Israeli government to detain. Among them are Naom Arnon, the spokesman for Jewish settlers in Hebron, Noam Federman, a leader of the banned Kach movement, and Baruch Marzel, a right-wing militant. Better late than never.

The Palestinians claim they have evidence connecting the men with settler terrorist activities. If Israel does not act, then it will be “held responsible” for their fate, is the attitude taken by Palestinian security chiefs.

Israeli intelligence has warned the men listed and other prominent settler figures that they could be targeted by Palestinian fighters in precisely the same way Palestinian activists are eliminated by Israel. Could the Palestinians be learning from Israel’s evil example?

But PNA “hits” on killer settlers are unlikely to solve the problems of settler extremism and settler terrorism against Palestinians. This is because the settlers, although deeply unpopular with most ordinary Israelis, are honoured members of the Israeli politico-military establishment. They are planted in communities in occupied Palestinian land by the Israeli government which grants them tax breaks, subsidies and other inducements to “pioneer” in the “wild” West Bank and the even “wilder” Gaza Strip. Settlers are given military training and are armed by the Israeli army which also assigns thousands of soldiers to protect the settlers. Many settlers are soldiers or members of various Israeli security agencies operating in the occupied territories. Since settlers belong to the 15-odd party factions in the Knesset and take part in both Likud and Labour coalition governments, as a bloc, they wield considerable political clout, particularly with small extreme right-wing groupings.

Over the years the settlers have become a state within a state: the manifestation of the Jewish state within the Palestinian-state-to-be. And their supporters within Israel “proper” have become a Trojan horse for the extremists amongst the settlers.

Since the Intifada erupted 10 months ago, the settlers have been encouraged by the government to establish their own security arrangements: they have set up regional headquarters and communications networks, armed units man roadblocks and patrol the perimeters of their colonies and roads frequented by settlers and the so-called “settler underground” is fielding its own hit squads.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Shin Bet, Israel’s highly rated internal intelligence agency, has, so far, “failed” to come up with the names of the settlers who killed three members of the Palestinian Tmeizi family. The PNA claims it knows who the culprits are. Will it really follow Israel’s example and mount revenge attacks against them?

Israel will never exert the “100 per cent effort” to thwart “terrorism” it demands of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. If Israel did make the “100 per cent effort” needed, the resurgent “Jewish terror underground” would have been rounded up and put in prison or preventive detention long ago.

Israel will never act decisively against settlers because all Israelis are “settlers” in fact and at heart. Israeli colonists have systematically attacked Palestinians and appropriated their property since the Zionist colonisation of Palestine became the policy of Britain after World War I. Today’s “Jewish terrorist underground” is nothing but an extension of the “night squads” trained by the British and of the right-wing terrorist groups founded by Menachem Begin and Yitzak Shamir, the first two Likud prime ministers.

Post-state Jewish settler “terrorism” surfaced in 1980. Two West Bank mayors, Karim Khalaf and Bassam Shakaa, were seriously injured by bombs planted by the underground. Half a dozen suspects from the militant Gush Emunim movement were investigated, but no arrests were made. There was no full-scale inquiry. An officer attached to Israel’s military administration was reportedly implicated in the underground: Shin Bet arranged a cover-up. Today the son of a founder of Gush Emunim, Tzahi Hanegbi, is a minister in the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

While the most violent right-wing settler movement, Kach, has been banned in Israel, its members are heavily represented amongst the 400 Jewish settlers at the centre of the West Bank town of Hebron and in the nearby hilltop settlement of Kiryat Arba. While enjoying police and army protection, settler extremists harry and harass Palestinians living and working in the city centre. Baruch Goldstein, the settler physician who murdered 29 Palestinians in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in 1994, was a member of Kach, which calls for the expulsion of all Palestinians from “Greater Israel”. Kach operates freely and collects funds for settlements in the US, leader of the campaign against “international terrorism”.

The unit of the organised “Jewish terrorist underground” which killed the Tmeizis is known as the “Halhoul Brigade”, named for the Palestinian village adjacent to Hebron. Units of the new “terrorist underground” carried out at least three shooting attacks against Palestinians prior to the assault on the Tmeizi family. The movement considers “revenge” for Palestinian assaults on Jews to be “holy” and blames the Israeli authorities for not mounting a major military offensive against the Palestinians with the aim of wiping out all resistance to the occupation.

In spite of the fact that a considerable amount of information has been made public about the terrorists a few days before the Tmeizi shooting, Israel’s security boss, Avi Dichter, told a Knesset committee that the “underground” had not yet reached the level of organisation of the early 80s. According to Palestinian human rights monitors, seven Palestinian civilians were killed by settlers between October 2000 and March 2001; as many have died since then. No one has been detained or charged in connection with these murders. On the rare occasion when settler murderers are apprehended and tried, they serve minimal sentences. Moshe Levinger, the militant rabbi who initiated settlement activity in Hebron, served a sentence of a few months for shooting a Palestinian child standing in the door of a shop.

Israeli settlers model themselves on the first East European colonists who “pioneered” in Palestine. Settler militants believe they are fighting an ongoing “war of independence”. Settlers, who missed out on these experiences see themselves as “heroes”, recreating the great days of the founding of the state. The Israeli politico-military establishment, which is still committed to the “Greater Israel” project, exploit the illusions of the settlers to help achieve this objective.

Mr. Michael Jansen contributed this article to the Jordan Times.

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