When settlers strike, Palestinians point and shoot video
An Israeli human rights group hopes the 150 video cameras it gave to West Bank Palestinians deter the rising tide of attacks by radical settlers.
Asira IlQabliya And Yitzhar, West Bank
Nahla Mohammed says that it happens almost every weekend. Right-wing Israeli settlers from nearby Yitzhar come to vandalize houses such as hers, which are on the edge of the Palestinian village of Asira il-Qabliya.Skip to next paragraph
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When she hears them coming, she makes sure her children are inside, locks up, and waits with a small video camera that she was given by Btselem, a human rights group. She tries to capture them cutting water mains, breaking windows, or scrawling graffiti on the sides of the Arab houses.
Video cameras like hers have emerged as a new nonviolent weapon for West Bank Palestinians – who face a rising number of attacks at the hands of settlers anxious over their fate in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But the Palestinian video footage often ends up on Israeli TV, thus becoming a tool for both deterrence and justice.
"We're trying to use the cameras to reduce the level of violence as a whole. When settlers see the camera, we hope that they will behave less violently," says Sarit Michaeli, the spokeswoman for Btselem.
"We also want to use the footage to provide to the Israeli media to raise awareness of the problems and to pressure the law enforcement bodies to do their job."
Btselem has given out 150 cameras as part of its Shooting Back program that started slowly last year and is beginning to show results. Already, footage shot by Palestinians has been used in at least 20 cases involving settler violence.
In one well-publicized case in June, four masked settlers were filmed clubbing three members of a Palestinian family grazing their flock south of the Susiya settlement, near Hebron.
"All of them had their faces covered," says Ms. Michaeli. "So, therefore, those who were arrested as suspects were released."
Israeli police have 407 criminal cases against Israelis involved in public disturbances in the West Bank since the beginning of the year.
Danny Poleg, a spokesman for the Israeli police division that covers all of the West Bank, said that between January and August of this year, there was an 11 percent increase in reports of violent incidents over the same period last year.
Settlers on edge
The clash of settlers and Palestinians, especially in this part of the northern West Bank, seems to have become chronic and even cyclical. It rears its head particularly strongly at this time of year, when Palestinians start the olive harvest and have regular run-ins with settlers.
Palestinians says settlers often sabotage their season by cutting down or burning trees, or otherwise preventing them from reaching their orchards.
Settlers deny such activity but say that Palestinians are trying to "illegally" expand their sphere of agricultural influence and take over land the settlers see as their own. Settlers also complain of damage to their crops by Palestinians.
Even though the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has not made major tracks in recent months, many here expect that it could in the near future and this may mean they will be forcibly removed from their homes.
And in Yitzhar, this sort of anxiety about their future is leading to an increasing sense of not being represented by their own government, army, or the Yesha – the leadership arm of the settler movement that many viewed as having "collaborated" with the government during Israel's disengagement from Gaza three years ago.
Now, the more radical wing of the settler movement is trying to show that any move to evacuate settlements – even small outposts – will be met with a tidal wave of resistance.
"Some historians of the conflict say that the settlers are feeling weakened by the increasing pressure of the international community on Israeli public," says Yaron Ezrahi, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University. "They think Amona [a settlement outpost where police clashed violently with right-wing activists in Feb. 2006] increased their deterrence, so they want more of that."