On the one hand, Haaretz reported this last Tuesday: “[Israeli] Prosecutors have accused six settlers from Yitzhar of constructing a barrier against security forces and throwing stones at police.” The paper went on to note that, in its indictment, “the Central District Prosecutor’s Office cites ‘systemic and organized conduct of a violent and extreme nature’ around the Yitzhar settlement and ‘serious violence against military and police forces and residents of the region.'”
On the other hand, Israeli human rights NGO Yesh Din reported this last Wednesday:
Figures based on monitoring of the investigations in 938 files opened by the various units of the Samaria & Judea [West Bank] District Police following complaints submitted by Palestinians… show that between 2005 and 2013 just 8.5 percent of investigation files ended in the indictment of Israelis suspected of harming Palestinians and their property.…[Accusations included] damage to property; seizure of Palestinian land; and other offenses, including shooting, stone throwing, arson, the cutting down of trees, injury to livestock, theft of crops, construction on Palestinian-owned land, threats and harassment.
To a certain extent, I will admit, that this is comparing apples to oranges. Story #1 is the tale of one group of hooligans, accused of three incidences of violence; story #2 is a longitudinal study of close to 1,000 cases.
Yet it’s hard to imagine that if settlers had physically assaulted Israeli security forces 938 times in the course of eight years, only 79 of those cases would have ended in indictment (and bear in mind that it’s widely understood that many Palestinians who are attacked never even bother to bring charges).
This is one of the main reasons that most settler “price tag” attacks are directed against Palestinians—they may not like what the government is doing, but they know that physically attacking soldiers and police officers can not only result in prosecution, it might turn the general Israeli public against them. By attacking Palestinians, they make their point, make trouble for the government, and not incidentally deepen their own hold on the land by making daily Palestinian life increasingly insecure—all safe in the knowledge that it’s nearly unheard of for anyone to ever pay for their lawlessness.
Yesh Din researcher Noa Cohen issued this statement about her organization’s findings:
Despite numerous declarations of enhanced enforcement concerning attacks by Israelis on Palestinians, the figures show that in reality there has not been any change. Time after time the police fail to bring offenders to justice. The negligent investigations and low indictment rate send a clear message to offenders that the State has no interest in forcing them to end their actions. Anyone who is familiar with the situation in the Territories recognizes that Israel has abandoned its obligation to protect the Palestinian population.
Abandoned its obligation—or, as four and a half decades of experience would suggest, are choosing to allow certain acts of violence to go unchallenged, because they also further the goal of a slow-motion ethnic cleansing of the West Bank.
Put another way: When Palestinian families give in to fear and pressure and pull up stakes for Jordan or Detroit, no one in Israel’s government mourns—and when the settlers next door take over that Palestinian farm, no one in Israel’s government stops them.
Unless they throw rocks at a soldier on the way. Someone has to be in charge.