For the first time, violence by Israeli settlers, such as torching mosques and firebombing Palestinian taxis, has made it on to the list of US state ‘terrorist incidents’.
Although the list hasn’t gone as far as to call the settlers involved in the incidents ‘terrorists’, it’s still a big step for the US, a famously supportive friend of Israel.
Palestinians want to expect results but many have grown cynical, as they live with the effects of settler attacks that have been ignored for years by both Israel and the outside world.
When the mosque in the West Bank village of Bruqin was set alight last December, villagers were devastated but not shocked. It was part a spate of attacks by settlers that have become part of everyday life, particularly for Palestinians who live close to the settlement buildings.
Schools such as those in Deir al Hatab village near Nablus for example, lock down their playgrounds by early afternoon, fearing that Israelis from the nearby settlements will attack the grounds and potentially harm the schoolchildren.
In the last year alone, three Palestinians were killed and 183 injured by settlers. Attacks on buildings and farmland are even more common: in the same period of time 10 mosques have been vandalized and countless olive trees uprooted or burned.
It is not just Palestinians who are on the receiving end of the violence. For some of the most extremist settlers, both the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and some of the ‘mainstream’ settlement leaders are legitimate targets.
Cynics might say this is the real reason behind the new classification of the violence by the US state department. The label ‘terrorism’ officially refers to violent acts perpetrated by non-state actors against non-combatants with the intention of causing terror. This accurately describes the settler attacks but it has been accurately describing it for many years.
These same extremists have been getting more and more radical: last Friday a Palestinian taxi near Bethlehem was firebombed, injuring six people, including four-year-old twins. But the attacks by radical settlers on the IDF and other Israelis, while in no way condonable, is good news for Palestinian West Bankers.
By attacking Israelis, settlers have drawn the world’s attention to their terrorist acts. Perhaps this will finally signal the beginning of a crackdown on the violence.
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