By Joharah Baker, MIFTA
Jun 4, 2009
“What goes for the geese goes for the gander” is definitely not a catchphrase applicable in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. We “gander” certainly are not granted the rights and privileges of Israeli settler “geese” in any shape or form. This is a well known fact, but incidents that offer further proof of it continue to take place, reminding all that illegal Jewish settlers squatting on Palestinian land can act against the laws of humanity with impunity.
For the past four days, Jewish settlers near the West Bank city of Nablus have been burning Palestinian fields, blocking roads and attacking Palestinians in response to the Israeli government’s decision to evacuate a few tiny settlement outposts. On May 31, six Palestinian men were injured after being attacked by Jewish settlers near the Qadumim settlement. Since then, incidents of violence have been taking place almost continuously, the latest being the raging fires in Palestinian fields.
If only this were an isolated incident. In east Jerusalem, on the seam line between east and west near Jaffa Gate, an Israeli settler opened fire, killing a Palestinian man and wounding an Israeli on June 2. Amjad Abu Kheir, 30, was apparently walking with his Israeli employer when the two approached the gunman to ask for a cigarette. When the settler asked Abu Khdeir if he was Arab and received a positive answer, he shot him dead. According to his Jewish employer, he would have killed him too if he did not blurt out that he was Israeli.
The gunman was arrested, but is being called “unstable,” the hackneyed excuse used by the Israeli establishment for settler attacks on Palestinians. Barring the details of the incident, one thing is clear. If it were a Palestinian who opened fire at an Israeli, he would not have had time to explain anything or demonstrate his mental state. He would have been killed on the spot.
Anyway, Palestinian citizens are not allowed to carry guns in Jerusalem or anywhere else for that matter. Israeli soldiers and civilians are all free to bear arms, walking freely in the city with their automatic rifles slung across their shoulders or their pistols securely tucked into their waist holsters.
The same goes for Israeli settlers. They live in the heart of the West Bank, are surrounded by Palestinians and residential areas and are, by the nature of their existence on occupied Palestinian land, hostile towards their neighbors. They live in the West Bank but do not follow the laws of the majority of those living there. They are Israeli in every sense of the word, guns and all. This means that these heavily armed settlers, who have equally heavily armed Israeli soldiers guarding them around the clock, have the freedom to take the law into their own hands whenever they deem in necessary.
This week’s incidents only further support this point. Palestinians have no legal recourse against settler rampages. Their lands are burned. Their livelihood ruined, their orchards damaged and their sons and daughters attacked. On paper, they could file complaints with the Israeli police through a liaison office, but in reality these go nowhere. They are left to fend for themselves time and again against these violent intruders on their usurped land.
What never ceases to baffle me is how Israel boasts of being a democratic state. For its own citizens, at least Jewish Israelis, this is probably true. They have periodic elections, an efficient judicial system to resort to and equal rights for all its citizens. But, barring this sector, democracy stops here. The fact that these quarter of a million Jewish settlers, which the international community says are illegally living on occupied land, can carry arms, take land and attack the original population is a far cry from being a democratic state. According to the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, which released a study earlier this week, Israel practices both colonialism and apartheid in the Palestinian territories.
“Israel’s policy is demonstrably to fragment the West Bank and annex part of it permanently to Israel, which is the hallmark of colonialism,” the study concluded.
This is not surprising when one looks at the web of Jewish settlements and their bypass roads that intersect and carve into the West Bank, swallowing up approximately 40 percent of its land. The apartheid-like checkpoints, permit system and separation wall are anything but democratic and scream oppression and discrimination against an entire population.
These features are all disturbing given their dire ramifications on the Palestinians’ every day life and on any hopes for a viable and contiguous Palestinian state. What is just as disturbing is the utter arrogance of these settlers in their self- righteousness, which they have acquired simply because they have been given the opportunity. For example, the Israeli government, in an apparent nod to US President Barack Obama, has evacuated a few isolated settlement outposts. Jewish settlers – usually the most extreme of this group – do not only clash with the army upon evacuation, they simply go back when the army is gone.
“Eretz Yisrael belongs to the Jewish people,” one right wing settler proclaimed during an anti-Obama demonstration in Jerusalem. “What right does anybody have to tell us to stop building in the land that was given to us by God? I’m not going to stand by and let Obama, or anybody else, tell me where I can live and where I can’t live.”
The problem is, the Israeli government has cut them so much slack and provided them with unfettered services and security over all these years, they have every right to believe they are in full control. The truth is, all Israeli governments support the settlement enterprise and have funded it amply since their inception after the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. The result has been the emergence of a group of arrogant, hostile and self-righteous settlers who more or less, shape government policy in Israel. No matter that this goes against the grain for the majority of mainstream Israelis who feel that the settlements take up too much energy, money and manpower and are not worth the trouble.
For the Palestinians, settlers and settlements are nothing short of disastrous. When settlers attack, the Palestinians might fight back, but at the very likely risk of losing their lives. Because when a settler pulls the trigger and kills a Palestinian, there is no one there to deter him.