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Occupation magazine - Settlements

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Attacks by settler extremists create headache for Govt
NZ Herald

Sept. 30 2008

YITZHAR - A new dynamic has emerged in the West Bank: Jewish settlers block roads, burn tyres or set fire to Palestinian fields when troops try to dismantle unauthorised settlements.

Activists call the tactic `price tag.` They say they`re creating havoc to try to deter the Israeli security forces from future attempts to remove any of the dozens of squatter camps, or outposts, dotting West Bank hills.

Coupled with recent settler reprisal raids in Palestinian villages and a pipe bomb attack that wounded a prominent settler critic, the outpost battle revived debate about the dangers posed by ultra-nationalists.

Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned yesterday that an `evil wind of extremism` is blowing among certain parts of the Israeli public - without naming any group - and that this is threatening democracy.

Speaking to his Cabinet, he complained that extremists were undermining `the ability of those in charge in Israel to make decisions`.

Olmert was apparently taking a swipe at hardline settlers who`ve said they`ll try to torpedo any attempt to remove dozens of sanctioned settlements as part of a future peace deal with the Palestinians.

Despite the forceful words, Olmert and his predecessors failed to live up to a 2003 promise to the United States to take down dozens of outposts.

Critics of the Government also say the Israeli police and military often turn a blind eye to settler violence.

The nearly 300,000 West Bank settlers are a heterogeneous group. They range from suburbanites in settlements near Israel, who moved to the West Bank for cheaper housing, to ideologues and radical `hilltop youth` who believe Israel must keep the territory for religious and security reasons.

The ideological settlers feel betrayed by Israel`s 2005 pullout from Gaza, including the evacuation of some 8500 settlers, and are determined to prevent a repeat in the West Bank.

Hardliners have been gaining ground against the more pragmatic leaders of the settlers` umbrella group, the Settlers Council, which has been negotiating with the Government over the fate of the outposts.

Settler leaders say the `price tag` campaign started as a grass roots effort several weeks ago, both to protect outposts and to send a message to Israel`s leaders not to even consider a West Bank pullout.

Activist Daniella Weiss and regional settler leader Yitzhak Shadmi said tactics include blocking roads and demonstratively entering Arab villages. `If this makes the security forces crazy, so be it,` said Shadmi, a lieutenant colonel in the Army reserves.

Both drew the line at attacking Palestinians or their property, but said they wouldn`t dissuade others who advocate more extreme action.

Noam Federman, a radical settler from the southern West Bank, said the tactic had been used at least four times, most recently on September 18, after the removal of an outpost, Yad Yair.

Then, protesters punctured tyres of Army vehicles at the outpost. Later, Israelis set fire to fields near two Palestinian villages and torched a Palestinian home near Ramallah, the military and villagers said.

The Israeli human rights group Yesh Din has reported an increase in settler attacks on Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in recent months.

This comes in the context of years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the West Bank.

One of the hotspots is the Yitzhar settlement, overlooking the Palestinian villages of Assira al-Kubliyeh, Burin and Madameh in the West Bank.

Burin Mayor Ali Eid recited a list of settler attacks in recent months, including the burning of hundreds of trees and the firebombing of a house.

Two weeks ago, Yitzhar settlers went on a rampage in Assira al-Kubliyeh, following an arson and stabbing attack that injured a 9-year-old boy from the settlement. Dozens of stone-throwing settlers, some firing in the air, smashed windows of several homes and overturned a car in the village. Six villagers were hurt, including a 17-year-old girl shot in the right arm. Yesh Din said Israeli soldiers did little to prevent the riot.

Police say they`re still investigating and have not made arrests.

A week later, Israeli troops shot dead a 14-year-old from Assira as he lit a firebomb near Yitzhar. Police say he was the assailant from the week before.

Yitzhar has long been considered a hotbed of militancy, an image the settlement`s spokesman, Yigal Amitay, accepts with pride. `Yitzhar will always prefer to be in the position of the aggressor and not in the position of the victim,` said the 42-year-old.

The settlement has spawned six outposts - `as of this morning,` Amitay quipped - where 45 of Yitzhar`s 170 families live. Yitzhar has made 15 trailers to get around a ban on bringing in ready-made ones, he said, adding that one trailer recently destroyed by police was rebuilt.

Amitay accused Palestinians of being the aggressors, by burning fields and agricultural equipment, and said Yitzhar residents strike in self defence. He said some Yitzhar residents are involved in the `price tag` campaign, but didn`t give details.

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