When evil is allowed to roam free
Speaking to a group of Israeli students on March 21, US President Barack Obama addressed, among other things, one aspect of Palestinian lives: “It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished… or to displace Palestinian families from their home. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer.”
What is so frustrating is the fact that President Obama is right but has done absolutely nothing with that knowledge. Settler violence in the Palestinian territories has reached unprecedented heights, most likely because these illegal settlers are given a free hand to wreak havoc on the Palestinians whenever they please. This violence is not limited to able-bodied Palestinian men either, who have half a chance of defending themselves against the brutality of these armed vigilantes. Settler violence does not discriminate, as the events of this week have proven so poignantly.
Yesterday, seven school children on a school trip north of Nablus were injured when area-settlers pelted their buses with stones, smashing the windshields. The children were taken to hospital for treatment.
On Friday, settlers attacked a farmer working his field in the village of Kufr Al Lubbad near Tulkarm. 80-year old Hasan Barhoush was brutally attacked by settlers from the Enav settlement, suffering fractured bones and bruises and is still in hospital.
Also this week, 200 olive trees were uprooted by Israeli settlers in Al Khader near Bethlehem. Uprooting trees may not seem like a direct act of violence, but for anyone who understands the significance of olive trees to Palestinians would know this is the worst kind. Olive trees not only symbolize the Palestinians’ resolve to remain on their land, they constitute a main source of livelihood for hundreds of thousands of people. When settlers forcefully cut down these trees their goal is twofold. First, this is an attempt to mark this privately-owned Palestinian land as their own – mostly to annex it to their nearby settlement. Second, it is an attempt to break the Palestinian spirit. Israelis understand the significance of the Palestinians’ love for their olive trees and their land and want to cut right at the heart. If the Palestinians have no land or trees to fall back on, they may be forced to leave, freeing the land for these predatory settlers.
One may ask how such hostile acts go unpunished. Easy. Israel’s government and law enforcement establishment turns a blind eye to settler violence against the Palestinians except in very rare cases. This means the hundreds of attacks that take place each year are accepted, even encouraged by the Israeli army, which offers protection to the gun-toting, stick-wielding settlers as they turn on Palestinians.
"When Israelis harm Palestinians, the authorities implement an undeclared policy of forgiveness, compromise, and leniency in punishment," the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem says. "Israeli security forces have done little to prevent settler violence or to arrest offenders."
In Jerusalem, settlers roam the streets of the Old City, armed and with their fingers provocatively on the trigger. Palestinians avoid contact with them as much as possible, not out of fear as much as out of a knowledge that should an altercation take place, they will always be the one to blame. This “avoidance policy” does not always work though. Everyone recalls the incident when a young Palestinian woman was attacked by a mob of orthodox Jewish women at a light rail stop in Jerusalem. The attack was unprovoked, as was the brutal attack last year on a Palestinian youth, Jamal Joulani, by a group of Jewish youths, landing him in hospital with serious injuries.
The lopsidedness of the system is beyond ridiculous. Informed leaders such as President Obama understand this fact and realize how unjust it is. That is why he, along with the rest of the “free world” are to blame for allowing such attacks to go unpunished and for their failure to stand up for a people who do not have the same political and legal means at their disposal. Like the famous English philosopher Edmund Burke once said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”