W. Bank Settlers' Rage Grows

By Linda Gradstein
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

YITZHAR, West Bank -- Avi Ben Yakov is a soft-spoken Jewish settler who loves playing with his young children in their red-roofed home in the hills above Nablus, deep inside the West Bank. But when it comes to his Palestinian neighbors, his tone hardens.

"They will not be my neighbors if I do what I have to do, which is take them back to their lands," he said. "We don't want them here. Expelling them is the solution."

Ben Yakov would not say if he had been personally involved in a series of recent attacks on the nearby Palestinian village of Asira Al-Qibiliyya. But he said the violence was justified by the Israeli army's failure to protect the lives and property of West Bank settlers.

Such frustration has been growing in recent months, and the result has been a pronounced rise in settler attacks on Palestinians, according to military officials, human rights groups and settler organizations. While only a small proportion of settlers are involved, the attacks reflect a deep-felt anxiety that Israel may be nearing a decision to abandon some of its West Bank settlements, much in the same way it withdrew from its Gaza Strip settlements three years ago. Settlers unwilling to leave their homes say they are ready to fight for them, even if that means battling their erstwhile ally, the Israeli army.

"In the past, only a few dozen individuals were implicated in this. Today, we're talking about several hundred people -- a very significant change," Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni, the Israeli officer responsible for security in the West Bank, recently told the Haaretz newspaper. "An extreme incident could happen at any time. These people are conspiring against the Palestinians and against the security forces."

The human rights group B'Tselem lists 429 reported settler attacks on Palestinians this year -- an increase of 75 percent over last year. In Asira al-Qibiliyya, the Palestinian village near Yitzhar, Nahla Mahmoud said settlers enter almost every week. Her home is the closest to the settlement and has been repeatedly attacked by settlers.

The worst incident was last month after a 16-year-old Palestinian from the village entered Yitzhar and burned a house there. According to the Israeli army and the settlers, he then stabbed a 9-year-old boy several times, slightly wounding him, and fled back to the village. He was killed the following week by Israeli troops when he tried to approach the village again.

Just hours after the stabbing attack in Yitzhar, a group of settlers attacked Mahmoud's home, cutting the water pipes, smashing the solar panels, uprooting trees and painting black Jewish stars on the side of her house, she said. She caught it all on videotape, with a camera supplied by B'Tselem.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert harshly criticized the attack on the Palestinian village, calling it a "pogrom."

Mahmoud said the settlers are trying to make her life intolerable and force her to leave her home.

"They want this land to become part of the settlement," she said. "They don't believe this is our land and our homes. We have this land registered with the government from the time of our grandfathers. I have no intention of leaving because I have nowhere else to go."

The clashes between settlers and Palestinians have spilled over into tensions between settlers and the army.

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