Middle East Features
Hebron violence underscores dilemma over settler anarchy (Feature)
By Ofira Koopmans Dec 18, 2008, 1:08 GMT
Hebron, West Bank - Days after Israeli authorities evicted Jewish settlers from a disputed house in Hebron, the dust has settled and a tense calm has returned to the divided West Bank city.
But a trail of damage remains of the violence that raged through the Biblical town.
Broken grave stones, some of them with black and blue Stars of David painted on them, lie scattered around a Muslim cemetary located just metres from the evacuated house.
A burnt-out car wreck stands nearby. White paint covers up slogans spray-painted by rioting settlers on the walls of a Palestinian mosque adjacent to the house, one of which read 'Mohammed is a pig.'
Dozens of radical settlers went on a rampage after Israeli forces, following days of escalating tensions, moved on December 4 to evacuate what Israeli media call the House of Contention.
The images of stone-throwing Israeli youths, some of them masked, clashing with Israeli soldiers and police and with local Palestinians, evoked associations of a 'Jewish Intifada,' a commentator on Israel's leading Channel 10 news said.
The Hebron violence highlighted a long-standing Israeli dilemma. How does Israel deal with a radical hardcore of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, among the more than 270,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank, which does not recognize the authority of its own government and courts and clashes with its own army?
The dilemma will become acute when Israel is to uproot West Bank settlements as part of a future peace deal with the Palestinians. Israel wants the route of its West Bank barrier to be the basis of its future final border.
This means it would have to evacuate some 69 settlements located to the east of the barrier and containing nearly 60,000 settlers - an evacuation multiple times larger in scale than the 2005 unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip, when Israel uprooted some 8,500 Jewish settlers from 21 settlements.
Widespread warnings and threats of serious violence preceded the Gaza evacuation, but despite predictions that it could take three weeks or more, it was completed within six days, with no deaths or major injuries. The settlers' resistance had been largely passive.
But settlers have warned that next time round, their resistance will not be passive. Some have called the rioting ahead of and following the evacuation of the house in Hebron a foretaste.
Activist Nadia Matar, who was injured in the evacuation, told the extreme-right Arutz (Channel) 7 radio station settlers had to ensure that 'this expulsion crime will have a high price,' so the Israeli government would understand that if the Hebron unrest was the result of removing settlers from just one house 'they will never succeed in touching our settlements.'
Illustrating the contempt in which right-wing and extreme-right settlers hold the Israeli authorities, whom they view as 'ultra- left,' she referred to the current Israeli government led by the centrist Kadima party as 'Bolshevist' and the 'evil regime,' and called the Israeli police who carried out the Hebron house evacuation 'black monsters.'
Others compared the police, who used minimal force during the eviction, dragging and carrying the occupants out the house, to 'Nazis.'
Disregarding even Israel's 'super left-wing' Supreme Court, the settlers called its ruling that the Hebron house must be evacuated illegitimate and said it was politically motivated.
'We're dealing with political bias, not with judicial professionalism, but with judicial terrorism,' said David Wilder, a spokesman for the Hebron settlers, 'There is no legal system. It doesn't exist.'
'It has to be understood that we're fed up, that we will not roll over and play dead, that we're not gonna walk out like in Gush Katif,' he warned, referring to the non-violent resistance by those evacuated from the settlement block of Gush Katif in Gaza in 2005.
The Israeli mainstream unanimously condemned the settlers' actions in Hebron, with caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saying he was 'ashamed' and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni saying she would not allow areas in West Bank settlements to become a 'Wild West.'
The Israeli debate on how to handle the anarchic group of radical settlers periodically intensifies whenever Israel attempts to remove an 'unauthorized outpost.' Under the 2003 'road map' plan, Israel committed to uproot all such outposts erected by settlers without government authorization on hilltops across the West Bank.
But five years on, the number of such outposts remains largely unchanged at some 100. Evacuating the outposts is much like mopping the floor with the tap open - each time the Israeli army removes one, its founders, often referred to as the 'hilltop youths,' return soon afterwards and set up new caravans and structures at the same site.
Olmert has tried a different approach by negotiating with the settlers, offering them a relocation to settlements he wants to keep as part of a future peace deal in return for a voluntary evacuation.
His government reached a deal with settlers of the unauthorized outpost of Migron, north of Jerusalem, last month, allowing them to stay put for the coming years until they are moved to new homes to be built on a different site near another West Bank settlement.
But the Israeli Peace Now movement slammed the compromise, calling it a 'surrender' and a reward to lawbreaking settlers.
Thus far the Israeli government has taken little action against the outposts, whose removal uses up many resources with little gain. The settlers, it seems, are currently winning the cat and mouse game.