The settlers were not the focus of MaschsomWatch’s activity when we began to monitor the goings-on between the army and the Palestinians at the checkpoints, in 2001.
As the ‘peace process’ collapsed at the beginning of the 21st-century, and the agreement to gradually transfer most of Area C to the Palestinians was frozen, the Jewish settlers project attracted our attention more and more.
Soon we saw how Jewish settlements, illegal outposts and the settlers themselves change the situation on the ground. Many barriers and checkpoints (about 700 according to OCHA in 2018) were erected to ‘defend’ the Jewish settlements, thus sequestering vast Palestinian ground in favor of the settlers and their expansion. This is how the settler movement drags the State of Israel towards their own ideological vision – the whole of Eretz Yisrael (from the River to the Sea), intended for one people only.
Vast farm areas were confiscated in Area C (under Israeli total control), intended for the future expansion of the settlements – at times at the expense of the Israeli soldiers’ security considerations.
In numerous places, the Separation Barrier was erected far from the Green Line (1949 armistice line, until 1967 recognized as an international border between Israel and Jordan) and separated thousands of Palestinian farmers from their lands.
As the number of settlements grew, Palestinian communities across the fence became choked enclaves whose inhabitants are forced to move among them in areas and tracks forbidden to Palestinian traffic. This has a severe social and economic effect on the Palestinians of the entire West Bank.
The strengthening of the settlers' project and their proximity to Palestinian communities intensified the hostile and violent friction between the settlers and the Palestinians. Violent settlements are situated in the central and south part of the West Bank and their neighboring Palestinian villages are usually hit the hardest. The village of Burqa has been impacted by the settlers of the illegal outpost Oz Zion; the village of Qusra – by the settlers of the outpost Esh Qodesh; the villages of Bourin, Madame, ‘Urif, and Asira Al Qabaliya suffer at the hands of the settlers of Yitzhar and the outpost Giv’at Ronen (near Bracha Mountain), and there are many more. Not only are the thugs not punished – Israeli soldiers witnessing these pogroms usually do not intervene, and sometimes even cooperate with the attacking settlers. No wonder, then, that the escalating violence reached a peak in the murder of the Dawabsheh family in the village of Duma, on July 31, 2015.
The settlements project in the West Bank, destroying any possibility of eventual understandings and a peace agreement, places the law-abiding Israeli citizenry in a quandary, a situation most Israelis regard as complicated, complex, and thus – better left to the leadership to handle. Traditionally, as a militarist society, Israel is collectively obedient when it comes to ‘defense’ matters, and Zionism, on the whole, has taught us to see Palestinians exclusively through defensive lenses, best left unseen.
The governments of Israel sweepingly surrender to the settlers’ demands, and the Israeli soldiers (‘the people’s army’) often solve the moral dilemma by turning a blind eye on the settlers’ harassment of Palestinians, often even arresting the victims.
The maintenance of settlements and checkpoints entails a massive military presence that is in charge of a civilian population and tramples its human rights. Thus, Palestinian motivation for violence and terrorism only grows. And the Jewish settlers' takeover of the conflict demands a steep monetary and human price for Israeli citizens on the whole.
Sujud, the girl from A-Tawani
June 2021, Impressions from MachsomWatch vigils in the South Hebron Hills
Settlers – neighbors from hell in the center of the West Bank
We visited Yasouf village, invited by H., head of the local council. He opened our meeting by reporting the cutting down of trunks and branches of 58 olive trees, apparently by settlers from ‘Rechelim’ settler-colony. This crime was perpetrated during the night between Saturday and Sunday. We went out to the grove to see the damage and met the farmer, his wife and brother. The brother, fluent in English, said they cannot come to keep watch nights, for fear of being shot. He claimed that the settlers would not be able to approach the grove, which overlooks Rechelim, without the backing of the army. The backing is not only military but political as well – absolute and automatic protection provided for settlers. “If a Palestinian child, no matter how old, would throw stones, they would grab him out of bed that very night, for questioning”, he says. But there is no law nor judgment for the settlers. The police and army do nothing at all. According to him, his brother left 3 full sacks of olives in the grove. They were taken.
Settlers’ false complaints and harassment in the Palestinian Jordan Valley
Najia, from Khalat Makhoul in the Palestinian Jordan Valley, was arrested on Monday, October 18, on the surreal charge of throwing a stone at the car of one of the settlers of the illegal outpost at Umm Zuka. Najia has a 3-month-old baby daughter, and 8 other children, and she is the one maintaining the entire family economy. She is like a busy bee that has not a moment’s rest, from sunrise till sundown. She is busy at home all day long. I have never seen her close to the road, certainly not throwing stones at cars.
At the Binyamin police station, her baby was taken from her and given to her husband who was not allowed into the station. Two hours later the hungry baby began to cry, and the police refused to let her in to her mother to feed. For 5 hours the child was screaming and couldn’t be calmed. In the meantime, her mother sat, shackled hands and feet, hearing her daughter’s screams and crying.
The next day, at midnight, a barrage of stones was thrown at Najia’s house. Settlers from the nearby outpost left their car on the road and silently approached the house. Since then, she has not had a moment’s sleep at night. The trauma she has suffered is not enough, she keeps seeing things in her mind – after all, these settlers are crazy, and no one stops them. What if they decide to burn her and her children (as happened in Duma)? It pains one to see this energetic woman so anxious. Nearly not-functioning. But when clients arrive to order cheeses, one does see the old Najia emerge, valiantly arguing and getting the price she wants.
The explicit goal of the settlers is to prevent any possibility for political solution, while setting facts on the ground. They contain a certain public that constantly acts to further friction and ignite the area. The situation thus created is then used to expand the settler-colonist project. They are backed up by a strong ruling lobby and robust economy that approves construction plans and expansion of settlements and bypass roads (at the expense of the Palestinians’ transport options), which will lead the settlers to work at the center of Israel fast, daily, with no checkpoints nor contact with Palestinians. The goal is to reach one million settlers by 2030.
According to the Oslo Peace Accords, the West Bank was divided into areas with Palestinian contiguity. When the agreement died, the settlers began to erect outposts and settlements in strategic places, nullifying the possibility of a two-state solution. This takes place by constantly creating a settlements’ buffer zone between the different parts of the West Bank: between its northern, central and southern parts; by creating separate enclaves of the cities Nablus, Ramallah and Jerusalem while crushing the organic connection between then and most parts of the West Bank; and by separating Bethlehem from the southern part of the West Bank. this situation, the Palestinians are forced to take long, potholed tracks bypassing these colonies, crossing numerous internal checkpoints on their way from one bloc to the next, giving up many privately-owned farming lands, and splitting their living environment and their families’ lives among isolated areas.
The long-term result of the settlers’ plan for the Israeli public is the perpetuation of conflict as an unending war. The solutions are becoming harder and harder: a cruel apartheid state that survives solely on its sword and places its young soldiers throughout the West Bank; or the state of all of its citizens, which will involve acute demographic problems and lead to a most violent social reality.
The settlers do an excellent job at expanding. Over the years, they have learned to do it effectively, to the despair and at the expense of the Palestinians living in the area, and while outrageously disregarding the law and rulings of the Israeli courts. The settlements flourish with far-reaching governmental budgets, and spread out systematically with various excuses – a nature reserve turns into a settlement, an army base turns into a settlement, violent settlers make Palestinian grazing grounds and natural water sources inaccessible, etc. Everything is done in order to prevent Palestinian contiguity and the erection of a contiguous Palestinian entity.
In recent years, the system of illegal outposts has returned, whereby settlers set facts on the ground, create new settlements and the Israeli government allows this and helps them stay and flourish. Thus 40 new outposts have sprouted in the past few years. Some of them are in fact a new variant: farming ranches. Two structures are erected on a hill, a road is paved, sheep, goats, and cattle are brought in, and horses. A drone is flown up every morning, Palestinian flocks are located grazing around. The ranch flock is brought to the site backed up with horses and dogs, and the Palestinian shepherds are forced to flee. Thus, grazing grounds and farmland are taken over. In 2021, the settlement movement “Amana” has bragged that this is an especially economic method. Thus 1,000 dunams have already been ‘occupied’. And there’s more to come.
Settlements take over nearby farming areas and annex them: not only does the State of Israel not enable Palestinian farmers to build on their own lands in Area C, lands that are mainly targeted for expanding the settlements. The Palestinian farmers even need to ‘coordinate’ with the Israeli army in order to tend their own lands right next to them. Therefore, a Palestinian needs a special permit to reach his own fields… To avoid friction as it were between settlers and Palestinians. In fact, this ‘coordination’ aims to prevent Palestinians from tending their land, thus losing their property and livelihood. The prohibitions are naturally valid only for Palestinians. The Jewish settlers may build, graze, farm, settle anywhere, and even take the law into their own hands, attack and damage and threaten as they please.
The suffering of West Bank villages does not end with violent harassment and creeping annexation. It also means a massive reduction of water sources versus plenty of water for the settlements. The right to water is perhaps the most vital of all basic human rights. According to the World Health Organization, the minimum allotment of water per person a day is 100 liters. Most of the Palestinian villagers receive much less. In the Palestinian Jordan Valley, the Palestinian communities are allotted a mere few liters. Consequently, Palestinians have had to give up farming and sheep-herding for dairy products and make do with olive trees, that do not need irrigation.
With desperately longing eyes, the natives of the Palestinian West Bank watch their neighbor settlers (some of whom settle right on their lands) playing in their swimming pools alongside blooming decorative gardens, while Palestinians are forced to purchase water at an exorbitant price and transport it in tankers. Just for basic needs.
Settlers are known to have fired at water tanks placed on Palestinian roofs and punctured them. Moreover, sewage and waste flow into Palestinian villages from the settlements placed on the surrounding hilltops.