There has been a noticeable surge in attacks by Israeli settlers throughout the West Bank over the past few months, with a large percentage of those attacks coming from the illegal settlements in the Nablus region. Residents of the Palestinian villages in this region have borne the brunt of the recent onslaught, with numerous assaults on people (including numerous murders); livestock; properties; and olive groves.
Burin, hedged on the south by Yitzhar settlement and on the north by Bracha, is under constant attack from settlers, who light fires; poison and shoot livestock; cut telephone and power lines; and attack houses. At least 50 percent of Burin’s olive trees have been destroyed by settler fires, which are happening with greater regularity. Ali Eid, mayor of Burin, echoes the confusion voiced by many Palestinians living in these villages. “Why they do this, we don’t know. This year women, girls, guys, they all make fire. Why? We don’t know.”
The answer, however, has become apparent. Israeli settler “activists” have recently confirmed that these attacks are not just random, but are indeed coordinated, as Palestinian villagers suspect. The attacks form the basis of the campaign known variously as “price-tag” or “mutual concern” – a coordinated effort to prevent any dismantling of illegal settlements and outposts by creating “days of chaos” so that Israeli police forces “can’t come, do the evacuation and then go,” says Itai Zer, a founder of the 20-family Havat Gilad outpost that was responsible for the fires in Sarra and Tell on 18th September – a response to the removal of the outpost Yad Yair, west of Ramallah.
Recommended methods reportedly include arson and road-blocking to force troops to abandon the evacuation and deal with the protesters’ actions, as well as demonstratively entering Palestinian villages – a tactic used repeatedly in the village of Asira al Qibliya. Activist Daniella Weiss and regional settler leader Yitzhak Shadmi in a media interview both drew the line at attacking Palestinians or their property, but said they wouldn’t dissuade others who advocate more extreme action.
These attacks are not just limited to the area where an evacuation is happening, but, like the response to the Yad Yair outpost, are encouraged to occur throughout the West Bank, so that any attempted evacuation, no matter how small, is responded to with widespread attacks on Palestinian villages.
Under international law, all Israeli settlements are illegal, but during Annapolis negotiations, Israel promised to remove just the outposts constructed since March 2001 and halt all settlement expansion. In reality, settlement expansion has continued apace, even in periods when the Israeli government publicly declared a complete halt to all settlement construction. While most settlements and outposts enjoy full support of the Israeli military, a handful of caravans and demountable buildings have been demolished in the past 10 months. This small number of demolitions, however, has sparked the campaign of reprisals primarily taking the form of attacks on Palestinians.
The campaign began in June 2008, and while attacks on Palestinians are widely under-reported, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) indicate that reported incidents increased by 46 percent from June to July 2008, with the Israeli police recording an 11 percent spike in rioting over the past months..