Unruly Israeli Settlers Spark Controversy

Nimer Sultany is a lecturer in public law at Soas University, London. He is a Palestinian citizen of Israel.

It is no coincidence that the Israeli army did not stop the violence in Huwara: such intimidation is key to how the state governs my people

Hundreds of Israeli settlers descended on the Palestinian town of Huwara near Nablus in the West Bank on Sunday evening. They assaulted Palestinian civilians, shot dead one person and set fire to dozens of buildings and cars. This rampage occurred in one of the most militarized territories in the world. However, as far as we were concerned, the Israeli army, the most powerful in the Middle East, was missing.

Witnesses to such a violent rampage, many observers resort to calls for a “return to calm” in Palestine. But such weak calls are no longer enough – if they ever were. One cannot ignore the recurring nature of settler violence and the way it acts as a pillar of Israel’s domination over the Palestinians. The infliction of violence with impunity, the authorization of this violence by the military and the denial of basic rights epitomize the existing order. Sunday’s outburst is therefore a manifestation of the status quo in Palestine, not an exceptional event or a momentary disorder.

Even before the formation of Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent cabinet, informed observers noted that settler violence in the West Bank was sanctioned by the state. But this time, the main arsonists are in the government. Settler violence is now effectively encouraged by a government in which far-right ultranationalist settlers are the kingmakers. The cabinet intends to increase demolitions of Palestinian homes and expand settlement activities. It also pursues a vindictive and brutal policy against all Palestinians.

A recent example is the enactment by the Israeli Parliament of a law, by an overwhelming majority, empowering the Minister of the Interior to revoke the Israeli citizenship or residency status of political prisoners convicted of terrorist offenses who receive financial assistance from the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli Minister of National Security, who leads this campaign, was convicted in 2007 by an Israeli court of “incitement to racism and support for a terrorist organization”.

But the clearest example came this week. In an agreement reached between the ruling coalition, the finance minister, himself a settler, was given broad responsibilities over civil issues related to settlements in the West Bank. The reason this is important is that the West Bank is supposed to be under military administration. The new arrangement normalizes the status of settlers in relation to Israeli state authorities.

They will be treated as if they were ordinary citizens, even if their very presence in occupied territory is a war crime.

Full-Fledged Apartheid

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz called the agreement a step towards “full-fledged apartheid”. Others have called it an act of “de jure annexation”, and therefore contrary to the rules (recently reaffirmed in the case of Ukraine) which prohibit the acquisition of territory by force.

Although this bureaucratic reorganization of Israeli rule over the West Bank does not amount to legislative annexation – which the Israeli parliament has done in the cases of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights – the impact on the lives of Palestinians is the same. West Bank settlers who sit in the Supreme Court, parliament and government seek to consolidate Jewish supremacy over all Palestinians. And this ministerial agreement only accelerates the process of colonization of Palestine. Slowly but surely this would remove the legal smokescreen of temporary military occupation that has so far disguised Zionist expansionism.

Even before the agreement, it had long been clear that the longest military occupation since World War II could not be considered a temporary occupation. Israel rules over all Palestinians between the river and the sea, does not grant them the same rights and denies millions of them the right to vote. Jewish citizens are systematically privileged and separated from Palestinians. The “iron wall” doctrine seeks to make the lives of Palestinians miserable so that they leave or accept their inferior status.

Public figures who have threatened to ethnically cleanse Palestinians, promising them a “second Nakba,” are part of the mainstream discourse in Israel.

Is it enough to call for a return to calm after decades of occupation and colonial annexation? In Eastern Europe, a rapid and unconditional international mobilization supported the Ukrainians in their struggle against Russian occupation and annexation. The Palestinians also need support to resist and assert their rights. Instead of calling for a return to the status quo, we need to fundamentally rethink things to ensure freedom and equality for all.

This article is originally published on lautjournal.info

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