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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"An evil wind of extremism, of hatred, of malice, of violence, of lawlessness is blowing through certain sectors of the Israeli public and threatens Israeli democracy," Mr. Olmert said at the cabinet meeting Sunday.Skip to next paragraph
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Michael Sfard, a lawyer who represents several human rights groups and is the coauthor of "The Wall of Folly," a book on Israel's West Bank separation barrier, said that monitoring groups have noticed a shift in the behavior of rightists.
"There has been an increase in settler violence, and moreover, a change in tactics. We've been saying that a new phase of settler violence, or Jewish terror, is about to happen," Mr. Sfard said at a briefing last week. "We've sent out letters [to government agencies] saying: 'Look. Our research reveals that settlers, the more extreme among them, have decided on a new approach, and that is that there is a price tag for any move that is considered damaging for the settler movement.' "
Sfard says the strategy is to "create havoc on the roads and in nearby Palestinian villages. The logic is that the army, government, and state of Israel should know that dismantling any outpost or stopping construction will bear a price."
In response to official admonitions against settler violence from Olmert and Ms. Livni, a new group called the Citizens Committee for Samaria issued a statement warning that their attitudes were what creates divisions in Israeli society and "would eventually lead it to civil war." In general, Sternhell's right-wing foes charge that his writings justify terrorism and promote violence against Jewish settlers in the occupied territories.
But Ezrahi says that Olmert's government and its predecessors have taken a laissez-faire attitude toward the settlers. He notes that coalition politics in Israel, where any leader needs to lure multiple parties into government – including those more sympathetic to the settlers' outlook – hold leaders back from more concrete action.
Sternhell, who was treated for his injuries and has returned home, says he doesn't plan to be muffled by the attack.
"My job is to criticize," Sternhell told the Haaretz newspaper in a pre-New Year's interview. Sternhell regularly writes a column in Haaretz, the country's left-leaning broadsheet paper of record, and he won the 2008 Israel Prize for Political Science.
"I'm glad my injury shocked the cabinet and Knesset. But what remains of [Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin's murder, which caused a much greater shock? A one-day annual festival," he says about the legacy of the former Israeli leader who was assassinated by a right-wing Orthodox Jew.
"Occupation is rotting our society," Sternhell said. "The terrible violence in the territories is spilling over the Green Line. This is inevitable – different standards and laws for different people cannot exist without affecting all of society. I'm not seeking absolute justice, only an end to building a de facto apartheid, only to ensure the creation of a society that future generations will not be ashamed of."