RAMALLAH: Kayed Odeh, 40, the owner of a construction material store in the town of Hiwara, was at work on Jan. 24 when about 20 settlers attacked his shop and car.
Armed with sticks, rifles, pepper spray and teargas cans, the settlers caused $14,000 of damage. The facade of his shop and his vehicle were smashed by the criminals.
“The attacking settlers broke my store’s glass door with stones and sticks, and when I tried to get out, they stoned me to prevent me from leaving the store,” Odeh told Arab News.
The attack came as settlers were celebrating the release of an Israeli from a nearby settlement who had been convicted of attacking Palestinians last year. Another shop and a further 20 vehicles were damaged in the attack.
This was the latest in a series of violent incidents suffered by Palestinians at the hands of settlers in the West Bank. Settler groups are active across the West Bank and they frequently target Palestinians.
According to Palestinian security officials, several settler groups that either call for violence or have carried out violent attacks against Palestinians are operating in the West Bank. The Yitzhar settlement near Nablus and the old city of Hebron are strongholds of these violent extremists.
“Since the Homesh settlement attack on Dec. 16, in which a settler was killed by Palestinians, there have been about 30 attacks by settlers on three neighboring villages. The attacks are getting fiercer and more violent,” Munir Kadus, a researcher with the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din, told Arab News.
The attacks threaten the West Bank’s fragile security situation and pose a threat to regional stability owing to the risk of violent reactions from provoked Palestinians.
These assaults are known as “Price Tag” attacks because they are depicted as revenge attacks for violence suffered by settlers. They are launched mainly in the West Bank by young extremist settlers, widely known as the “Hilltop Youth.”
Palestinian officials told Arab News that the rise of settler violence could lead to reciprocal attacks, especially following particularly brutal assaults or the burning of mosques.
Some 650,000 Jewish settlers live in more than 250 illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. They are provided security by the Israeli Defense Force.
“The purpose of the settlers’ attacks on the lives and properties of the Palestinians is to force them to leave their lands, to be later seized,” Younis Arar, head of the International Relations Unit in the Commission to Combat the Wall and Settlement, told Arab News.
He added that the settlers’ anti-Palestinian violence is encouraged by the right-wing government, which gives the settlers support and refuses to define their attacks as acts of terrorism, an army that gives them protection and a judicial system that colludes with their crimes.
Arar said his commission tries to support victims of settler violence by forming night protection committees mainly in Burin, Burqa, Qasra near Nablus and Masafer Yatta near Hebron.
The commission also files complaints about the attacks to the Israeli courts and cooperates with the Ministry of Agriculture to green the lands that are threatened with confiscation by settlers, providing them with new trees after the old ones are uprooted by settlers.
The Palestinians who live in Area C, which forms 60 percent of the West Bank and lies under full Israeli security control, are frustrated that the Palestinian security forces are failing to protect them. Many Palestinians have called for the formulation of their own local protection committees in villages and towns that are vulnerable to settler attacks.
Some Palestinians have adopted technological solutions by installing surveillance cameras to detect settler attacks in villages and towns neighboring their settlements.
“Settler terrorism has become one of the biggest security challenges facing the Palestinian citizen today, and as long as the settlers are not punished for their deadly violence against the Palestinians, they will not stop their brutal attacks,” Arar said.
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