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Israeli reactions to Saturday settler riots range from fulsome to foul

Sept. 15, 2008 5:19 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 15, 2008 5:19 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - The Israeli response to Saturday's settler attack on the Palestinian village of Asira Al-Qibliya ranges from total support, calling the attacks "necessary" and even "healthy" to total condemnation where Israeli Minister of Defense said police should ensure attackers are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The incident that precipitated the settler attack was the appearance of a Palestinian in the unsanctioned settlement outpost Shalhevet near the larger settlement of Yitzhar, south of Nablus.

The man was seen setting fire to empty homes, when a 9-year old settler boy caught him off guard. The man stabbed the boy, who sustained mild injuries, and ran towards the nearby village of Asira Al-Qibliya.

Approximately 100 settlers participated in the attack on the village that followed the incident. Ten Palestinians were injured, windows were smashed, cars overturned, chemicals sprayed and graffiti painted oh Palestinian walls.

One of the settlers who participated in the riots told the Israeli daily paper Haaretz, "It wasn't exactly our preferred way of spending the Sabbath, but it was what needed to be done."

"The response at the village was a healthy and good reflex," another settler told the paper "the absence of these reflexes would show that something was faulty."

"We, the residents of the Shalhevet neighborhood were those who called out to the men, the women and children of Yithar to go down to the village from where the terrorist came to kill us," a third settler from the bloc commented, "we initiated this and requested they do it."

"People forget that this is an enemy who wants to kill us," he concluded, but "we understand that here."

Shortly after the initial attack on the settler boy was reported, Israeli troops imposed a curfew on Asira Al-Qibliya, and searched the village. When locals inquired about the raids, they were told soldiers were looking for the Palestinian knifeman.

The pack of settlers followed the troops into the village, and began rioting. Dozens carried weapons and fired live bullets in the direction of Palestinian homes.

Palestinian witnesses said Israeli troops fired in the air to protect the settlers from Palestinians. While Israeli media reported that Israeli troops acted like a buffer between rioting settlers and local residents.

The Israeli news agency Yedioth Ahronoth reported Israeli forces as claiming they "worked to disperse the settlers and that the weapons of two settlers were confiscated."

Parliamentary reactions to settler violence

As settlers praised the actions of rioters and soldiers did their best not to get involved, a committee put together by the Israeli Knesset warns of "anarchy" in the West Bank.

One day after discussion of a bill that would see compensation given to settlers who voluntarily leave illegal West Bank settlements, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai reported an increase in disturbances from settlers in the Palestinian territories.

In early August the Knesset announced it would "boost" the numbers of Israeli soldiers around settlements after a string of attacks near Nablus and Hebron. The day before the Israeli decision a pregnant woman and her daughter were sent to hospital when settlers threw a large stone through the windshield of their car on its way to Nablus.

This summer saw a rise in settler violence and aggression, as a stream of visiting dignitaries condemned settlement expansion. As the school year started, Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon's settler evacuation-compensation bill was discussed and began to make headlines.

At the same time, however, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) released a report revealing that the population of settlers in West Bank settlement increased 39 times, while the population in Israel during the same period only doubled.

On 24 July the Israeli Ministry of Defense and civil administration approved the construction of a new settlement to begin with 20 new houses near the settlement of Maskiot in the north of the Jordan valley.

Handling violent Israeli settlers

Since earlier efforts to limit settler violence seem to have failed, in the recent session Vilnai suggested an emergency assessment be conducted. He was quoted by Israeli media as saying without making an assessment soon, "we won't know what to do with ourselves in a year's time."

The issue sparked debate among Knesset members who, on the one hand, pointed to a group of anarchist Israelis in the West Bank who do not take orders or respond to government or military control. On the other hand, a Rotem is reported to have said there are only a "small percentage" of such "hooligans" in the West Bank.

In Sunday's Knesset meeting Rotem claimed 18% of West Bank settlers would voluntarily leave their homes if offered compensation.

Knesset members seemed to be in agreement that the settlers who perpetrate violence in the West Bank should be caught and sentenced for their crimes.
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