by Jeremy Gillick
Much of the West Bank is in turmoil following this morning’s highly anticipated evacuation of the Orwellian “House of Peace” in Hebron. Though the evacuation itself was a success, as Israel’s security forces took several hundred settlers holed up in the controversial house by surprise, removing them all within half an hour, it didn’t take long for things to get ugly.
According to Ynet, “Sources in the settler public announced the launching of a ‘price tag’ policy that will be implemented through stone throwing and attacks on Palestinian houses.” Associated with a growing fringe of Jewish settlers known as the “hilltop youth,” the “price tag” policy mandates acts of low-level violence against Palestinians and Israeli security forces in response to the dismantling of settlements and outposts in the West Bank. According to a recent report on rising settler violence by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, retaliation often includes “blocking traffic, setting fields on fire, [and] throwing rocks.”
The price tag for evicting settlers from Hebron, though, is a bit higher than usual. According to an article titled “Settlers Rampage in Palestinian areas after Hebron Eviction” in Ha’aretz, “The Israeli rights group B’Tselem released video that appeared to show a settler shooting a Palestinian in the stomach from point-blank range, and Palestinians pelting the settler with rocks.”
Ha’aretz reports that 17 Palestinians have been injured, 5 from gunshots, and that settlers have set fire to 9 cars and near several houses. In Hebron, “Dozens of masked settlers surrounded the home of a Palestinian family…setting its laundry ablaze and throwing stones at it” (among those hit was Ha’aretz correspondent Avi Issacharoff).
By evening, Hebron and the surrounding areas had been declared a military zone, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who praised the evacuation, had vowed strong and quick responses to any settler violence against Palestinians. Meanwhile, former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei was calling for UN intervention, and some Palestinians were on the verge of taking matters into their own hands. Ha’aretz reported that the Palestinian governor of Nablus, Jamal Moheisen, threatened that if Israel did not reign in the settlers, “we will call on the Palestinian residents to go out to the streets and fight back.”
Olmert may be a lame duck (JTA, Time, NY Times, etc.), but if he wants to salvage his reputation and help pave the way to a two-state solution, which he says he does, he should deal firmly with settlers who break the law. Like those who practice violence anywhere else in the world, even inside Israel, settlers who turn violent should be arrested and imprisoned. If Olmert sets this precedent–that settlers are equal before the law–he might actually be able to remove one of the biggest obstacles to peace.