Conflict & Justice

Israeli Settlers Threatening Israelis

A young Israeli man from Jerusalem is facing charges of committing acts of vandalism and making death threats.

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By itself, the case doesn't amount to much in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But some say it highlights a worrisome trend.

So-called "price tag" attacks are acts of revenge for moves that Jewish settlers and their supporters perceive to be hostile. According to the Israeli military, these attacks are on the rise. And they have the potential to spark much greater violence.

Brigadier General Nitzan Alon recently finished a two-year stint as the top Israeli commander in the occupied West Bank.

At a ceremony for his replacement, Alon had some blunt words for right-wing Jewish extremists. He said these individuals are insignificant in numbers, but not in influence.

Alon went on to say these attacks could spark serious violence. He described them as acts of terror and said the military needs to do more to stop them.

These comments are not news to Palestinians in the West Bank village of Burin.

Fifty-year-old Hanan Nasser Sufan lives on the edge of the village in a household of 13 people. They raise sheep and grow olives just down the hill from the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar.

Standing on her roof and wearing a black headscarf, Sufan recounts how her family's cement house has been attacked dozens of times by settlers in recent years.

"They throw stones at us. They spray paint on our windows and our house. And they throw Molotov cocktails on us," she recounted.

Sufan says the family's olive trees have been cut down, their sheep poisoned and their cars vandalized.

Across the West Bank, according to the United Nations, attacks by extremist Jewish settlers on Palestinians or their property has nearly tripled in the last two years. Some incidents follow the pattern of "price tag" attacks. They're carried out in retaliation for specific Israeli government actions, such as the demolition of buildings in illegal settlement outposts.

Mosques have been vandalized. Israeli soldiers and army property have been attacked as well. And what some Israelis find most alarming is that these revenge attacks could be spreading beyond the occupied territories.

One morning last week, peace activist Hagit Ofran woke up to find a warning spray-painted in her Jerusalem apartment building.

"My stairway was sprayed with nasty graffiti calling for my death," Ofran said. "Death threats and some names of illegal outposts are now under threat to be demolished by the government."

Ofran's organization, Peace Now, just received a bomb threat at its headquarters in one of Jerusalem's most exclusive neighborhoods. Ofran thinks the current political climate in Israel is partly to blame. She says extremist settlers are trying to bully their opponents in the streets. And their right-wing allies in the Israeli government aren't stopping them.

Barak Raz, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, says what's going on here is simply criminal violence, carried out by a small number of radical Jewish extremists.

"But their actions do undermine the security stability and that is why the military, but also and mainly the police and other security services, are taking a very serious look at it, and are making arrests and are questioning people and also prosecuting," Raz said.

Twenty-six-year-old Alex Ostrovsky says he was hauled in for questioning about an alleged "price tag" attack. But he says he had nothing to do with it, and he was released.

Ostrovsky is an activist working to expand Jewish settlements, even where the Israeli government forbids it. He says the Israeli army has lost legitimacy, essentially collaborating with the Palestinians to limit settlement expansion.

And the "price tag" attacks, Ostrovsky says they're just self-defense.

"Of course they're self-defense," he said. "It's not like someone wakes up one morning and says, 'I think I'll burn a mosque today.' It's a war," he says. "And at the end of the day, we are going to fight."

At one point, Ostrovsky takes a drag on his cigarette and looks me in the eye.

"We are not like the past generation," he said. "The people who built the first Jewish settlements always tried to politely explain themselves."

But Ostrovsky says he's not going to apologize for living in the West Bank. This is his home, he says. And the time for niceties is over.

  • sufan-250.jpg

    Hassan Nasser Sufan lives in a household on the edge of the Palestinian village of Burin, in the West Bank. She says her home has been attacked by settlers countless times in recent years.

  • ostrovsky.jpg

    Alex Ostrovsky is an activist working to build more settlements and outposts in Judea and Samaria (the Biblical names for the West Bank). He says the Arabs - and, at times, the Israeli army and police - are the enemies of Jewish settlers.

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    Hagit Ofran is an activist with Peace Now, an Israeli organization opposed to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Ofran recently received death threats at her home. Peace Now's office in Jerusalem received a bomb threat.