Israeli authorities have made no arrests in the Aug. 16 daylight firebombing of a Palestinian taxi, but they have said they suspect Jewish extremists. The incident, which left the driver and four members of a Palestinian family so severely burned that they remain hospitalized, was denounced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who vowed to find the perpetrators, and Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon, who called the beating and firebombing “terrorist attacks.” That description echoed the U.S. State Department, which described settler violence as terrorism in a recent report.
The condemnations reflect growing alarm among Israeli officials and international observers over escalating vandalism of Palestinian mosques and property, assaults against Palestinians and attacks on the Israeli military. Extremist settlers claim some of the acts as “price tag,” a campaign of retaliation against Palestinian violence or Israeli policies they view as limiting their efforts to claim what they see as their biblical birthright.
Public outrage over attacks on the military last year prompted steps by Israeli authorities that included temporarily expelling several radical settlers from the West Bank in January, but critics say those moves were not enough. That message was echoed in a European Union report this year, which noted that settler attacks on Palestinians tripled between 2009 and 2011.
Researchers say most of those attacks have taken place in Area C, the sections of the West Bank that are controlled solely by Israel and where Israeli security forces are responsible for protecting both Palestinians and Israelis.
“It is paramount that the Israeli authorities enforce the rule of law in the territories and protect Palestinian civilians in the territories,” said Natan Sachs, a Brookings Institution fellow who co-wrote a recent Foreign Affairs magazine article on settler terrorism. “It is especially important because right now the peace process is deadlocked. . . . If we’re expecting many years to come of a similar situation, then the conditions on the ground become more important, not less.”
Military and police officials say that they investigate all crimes with equal vigor and that their efforts thwart many planned offenses. Mickey Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, said security in the West Bank has been boosted “to prevent the friction” between settlers and Palestinians, who, he said, often “provoke” attacks.