Why Israeli settlers are lashing out
Rights groups report a sharp increase of attacks by West Bank settlers on Palestinians, as well as rising right-wing violence against left-leaning Israelis.
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Two days later, Mr. Grunzweig was killed at a peace rally here, when a right-wing activist threw a hand grenade into a crowd of people demonstrating against Israel's involvement in the war in Lebanon.
Today, Dr. Ezrahi sees a resurgence of the same blend of violence and lawlessness that took the life of his favorite student 25 years ago. His alarm stems from a pipe-bomb attack last week outside the home of Zeev Sternhell, a colleague to whom he is personally and ideologically quite close.
Professor Sternhell, who has been a prominent and outspoken critic of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and is active in the organization Peace Now, was lightly injured in the attack. Near his Jerusalem home, police found posters offering a 1 million shekel reward [close to $300,000] to anyone killing a member of Peace Now, which opposes Jewish settlement in the land seized in the 1967 Six-Day War.
To Ezrahi, there is a clear connection between an upsurge in violence perpetrated by settlers against Palestinians in the territories, particularly in the northern West Bank, and the reemergence of Israeli-on-Israeli acts of violence inside the Green Line, Israel's pre-1967 borders.
In a report last month, Btselem, an Israeli human rights organization, reported that it was looking into at least five violent settler attacks on Palestinians that occurred between July 29 and Aug. 4. "These cases reflect a sharp increase in reports of such violence, and represent a peak to an escalation that has been under way over the past few weeks," the group said.
"We're at a turning point of great significance," Ezrahi says. "What happened in the occupied territories was a growth of a culture of illegalism, and when this culture is allowed to flourish for a long time, violence enters and people think they will be invincible to any repercussions from the apparatus of the state."
Ezrahi pointed to several recent acts of violence by settlers – both against Palestinians and against Israeli soldiers who are posted in the West Bank.
"Some historians of this conflict say the settlers are feeling weakened by the increasing pressure of the international community on the Israeli public to evacuate settlements," Ezrahi adds. "And the US and Israel are both in a transition to new administrations. This is always a vacuum that they try to enter and make gains: they are trying to impress the new administrations and show what they are capable of doing."
On the eve of the Jewish New Year, Israel is indeed moving into an uncertain period. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, under a cloud of suspicion as part of a major police investigation, has tendered his resignation but is still serving as premier until his successor, Tzipi Livni, can form a new government. At their weekly cabinet meeting, both made statements to condemn the attack on Sternhell and the possibility of more violence on the horizon.