Denounce and Forget: Don’t Be Too Impressed by Israel’s Condemnation of Settler Violence

One shouldn't be too impressed by the wave of condemnations that began Sunday morning, with a few hours' delay, in the wake of two incidents in which Israeli soldiers were attacked at the Yitzhar settlement in the northern West Bank and the illegal outposts nearby. Anyone who covers what goes on in the West Bank is familiar with the script.

Violence against Palestinians and their property by extremist settlers is a rather common occurrence – both in response to Palestinian violence and also as part of long-standing land disputes. Violence against Israeli security forces is less common, but still exists. Except for the cases in which settlers murdered Palestinians, only the second category of violence – against Israeli forces – makes its way into the public discourse.

When attacks against the Israeli army or police are caught on camera or reach exceptional levels, once every year or two, the regular ritual begins and each side knows their role. Senior IDF officers are shocked, politicians condemn, settler leaders renounce responsibility while explaining that violence does not represent the silent majority, only a deviant and negligible handful of settlers – and life quickly returns to normal. Judging by past experience, the probability that such an incident will end in a trial, let alone a prison sentence, is rather low.

Prefabricated homes in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, May 7, 2014.REUTERS

Off the top of my head, without a systematic survey of the archives, here is a collection of examples: In 2005, settlers from Yitzhar and the surrounding outposts conducted a series of violent attacks on paratroopers and the battalion commander accused the general in charge of the Central Command of not backing up his soldiers; In 2011, settlers broke into the Efraim Regional Brigade base near Kedumim in the northern West Bank, and aggressively attacked the soldiers, including the deputy brigade commander; in 2014, settlers rioted near Yitzhar and vandalized a small outpost manned by reserve soldiers; Last year, a Border Police officer was injured when a rock thrown by settlers in an outpost near Yitzhar struck her in the head.

After some of these incidents, the government took action. In response to the riot at the Efraim Regional Brigade base, the cabinet met for a special session and even established a committee to deal with far-right violence. After the incident in 2014, a Border Police force was sent to close the Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva in Yitzhar and took over the building.