Why settlements must go

At Qalandiya checkpoint on March 12, the cars were backed up to kingdom come. Inside where pedestrians are made to walk through, no less than 200 people slowly pushed their way towards the turnstiles in an attempt to get an inch closer to the Israeli soldiers on the other side of the bullet proof windows. The snail-like pace of the peeved soldiers in checking IDs, travel permits, fingerprints and children’s birth certificates served only to exasperate the Palestinians who had been standing there for hours waiting for nothing more than to go home.

While the situation at Qalandiya is always unpleasant, on this day it was particularly awful. Israel had a specific bone to pick with the Palestinians, being the masters of collective punishment that they are. On this day, someone had broken into a home in a West Bank settlement and stabbed to death five members of the same family, children included. For Israel, all Palestinians would have to pay.

The killings shocked not one, but two nations. Palestinians were appalled by it because children and their parents were slain literally in their beds. Israel of course went straight into revenge mode, even though the perpetrator or perpetrators have yet to be apprehended. The assumption, of course, is that Palestinian “terrorists” were responsible, and although a shady group claiming to be Palestinian initially took responsibility for the killings, there is nothing to substantiate the claim.

There is no question as to whether we should all reject such wanton murder. The answer is unequivocally yes. Not only was the method of choice inhumane but the act itself strips the perpetrator of his humanity as well. Any people, even those struggling against the most brutal of oppressions, must preserve their own humanity in order to nurture sound and healthy generations to come.

But this is a lesson that must be learned not only by Palestinians. On the contrary, Israel has everything to learn from the lesson of honoring others’ humanity in order to preserve their own. The Israeli government’s initial response to the Itamar killings was to approve the construction of 500 housing units deep in the heart of the West Bank, in settlements built on confiscated Palestinian land. The settlements themselves scream of injustice for the Palestinians, and the settlers who live in them are a constant source of terror and oppression for the Palestinians around them.

Condemnation is appropriate in regards to the Itamar killings. As citizens of the world, we should demand nothing less from ourselves. However, this is not where condemnations should stop or indeed where they even started. Settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem are a source of violence merely by existence. Land confiscation and home demolitions, the system of segregation and militarization that overwhelm Palestinians living in the vicinity of these colonies are violence of a different but equal form. And given the violent nature with which settlements were created it is only natural that its inhabitants would follow suit.

Countless Palestinians have been killed at the hands of Jewish settlers. In the northern West Bank where Itamar is located, settlers routinely cut down Palestinian olive trees, burn cars and orchards and beat and shoot at Palestinians they claim are “trespassing” on Jewish land.

The entire world community including the United States agrees that settlements are illegal and an obstruction to any fair and lasting peace deal. The presence of settlers on occupied Palestinian land is a provocation in and of itself and deserves condemnation in the strongest terms. Israel’s government, which is ultimately responsible for the sustainability of these colonies, also deserves denunciation for purposely shunning international law and intentionally denying Palestinian rights.

Furthermore, Palestinians are always made to pay a heavy price. It makes no difference whether President Mahmoud Abbas called the Itamar attack “despicable”, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still blamed the Palestinian Authority for spreading incitement. Meanwhile, new structures will go up in the already imposing settlements, Palestinians in the villages around Itamar will continue to endure Israeli army raids, curfews and arrests and all Palestinians will feel the brunt of Israel’s Machiavellian-style philosophy, which is that the security and the safety of its citizens justifies all means to reach that end.