Does Hebron clash signal new round of settler revolts?
Last week's violence in the West Bank reveals just how far ultranationalist Jewish settlers have gone beyond the control of the Israeli government and army.
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He says that settler youths, still feeling furious at the government over its decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005, are disillusioned and acting out. "We never justified that," says Mr. Wilder. "We don't believe in going out and shooting innocent people."Skip to next paragraph
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But that sort of action is happening, and many here are expecting it to happen again.
Simcha Shmuelevitz, 17, says that if the army keeps coming in to arrest people, there will be a palpable backlash. "Sure, guys are upset. The expulsion was for no reason at all," says Simcha, who wears side locks poking out from under his skullcap and an orange scarf around his neck – a symbol of protest against the removal of any settlers from disputed land.
Hebron is a city that is complicated at its core. Jews and Muslims regularly pray here at the tomb of their common forefather Abraham. Jews call it the Cave of the Patriarchs and Muslims call it the Ibrahimi Mosque. To suppress the chances for violence, there are separate entrances to the holy site. The city itself was divided into Israeli and Palestinian-controlled sectors in 1996, leaving just about everyone miserable with the results.
While some Israeli leaders condemned the attacks perpetrated by Jewish extremists – which included setting fires to Palestinian homes and cutting down trees – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday compared it to a "pogrom."
Some say the move to evacuate the settlers was a preelection ploy. Israel faces parliamentary elections in February, out of which will come a new prime minister and a new government.
The big question now is whether growing settler violence will lead to a more radical or moderate direction for the Israeli right.
On Monday, members of the right-wing Likud Party were going to the polls in primaries to choose a new leader. The toss-up is between Benjamin Netanyahu, the hawkish politician who served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, and Moshe Feiglin, a harder-line, religious figure who is closer to the settlement movement.
Israel's decision to yank settlers out of the disputed house gave some Palestinians a sense that the army was able to take control of settlers who have been dominating their lives.
"We appreciate that the army threw them out. I don't see that any Arab army has been able to do that," says Mussab Jabari, who lives across the street from the evacuated building. He has covered his windows with cardboard slats to protect against the rocks thrown at the house. "Last week, we saw the good side of the Israeli soldiers," he says. "There's a change in their attitude toward the settlers."