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It is generally claimed that there are between 550,000 and 600,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank of Palestine in 2014. Since the earliest days of the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the number of settlers in the West Bank has only ever increased, even during peace negotiations or even during the unilateral withdrawal by Israel of Israeli settlements in Gaza in 2005.

These settlers are generally divided into two categories: ideological and economic. The term, economic settler, refers to those settlers that have chosen to live in the West Bank because of the great economic benefits that the State Of Israel confers to such people. This group consists of some 85% of all settlers and one could postulate that the vast majority of them would not be inclined to live in the West Bank had not the state of Israel made the prospect of such a move into “enemy territory” so enticing.

The other 15% of settlers fall into the ideological category and are a vastly different group of people to deal with. Many Israelis find this group of settlers to be offensive and are often embarrassed at the violence and racism that often accompanies the behavior of these highly motivated Zionists.

The experience of my fellow EA’s of ideological settlers has completely vindicated the view of these Israelis as violent, religious, gentile hating fanatics. All of my colleagues have related that they feel a sense of dread and even fear for their safety/lives when these types of settlers arrive on the scene. Ideological settlers are possessed by a fanatic belief in their entitlement to all of the land of Palestine/Israel and they see Palestinians as a disease upon the land that must be cleansed in order to redeem the land and make way for the coming of the Messiah. Their religious zeal is centered on possessing the land rather than obeying the ethical and moral teachings of the Torah that emphasize social justice and mercy to the “alien” in the land.

My experience of ideological settlers has thankfully been limited to the stories told to us by various Palestinian farmers in the West Bank who have the misfortune of living near settlements like Gilad, near the Palestinian village of Far’arta.

One such farmer is Abu Wael, who lives in his house on a hilltop in the village of Far’ata. We visited his house a few weeks ago to hear his story and offer him some moral support. Abu Wael has had many dunams of land confiscated by the settlement of Gilad which contains some of the most extreme ideological settlers in the West Bank. He told of his many encounters with settlers coming onto his land while he has been working; threatening to kill him and his family if they did not leave the land at once. Abu Wael often called the military to come and protect him but found, like many other Palestinians, that the military seemed more intent on “protecting” these settlers rather than the people who were most powerless and vulnerable. He told us how one day his son was in the fields with him when settlers came down and started arguing with Abu Wael and his son. One of the settlers struck Abu Wael’s son, fracturing his skull. Though there were numerous witnesses to this event, no charges were ever brought against the settler and the threats of violence and intimidation continue.

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Abu Wael from the village of Far’arta

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Abu Wael’s son. Brutally beaten by settlers.

This is but one of the many incidents that we have heard from eye witnesses while in the Jayyus area. So far during our stay in the West Bank, there have been 48 recorded instances of violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians that have resulted in personal injury or damage to property according to OCHA’s weekly protection of civilians report. No arrests have been made.

With the State of Israel and the Western media very recently fixated on the actions of some 5,000 Hamas militants who are locked up in Gaza, no attention is paid to the nearly 35,000 ideological settlers who run free in the West Bank. These settler groups include people like Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 people in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, while they were praying, in 1994, in an act that triggered Hamas to engage in suicide attacks on Israeli civilians in order to try and even the score. A cold shiver goes up my spine when I see the increasing power in Israeli politics being wielded by Zionists who are seen as heroes by the ideological settler movement,

It has been overwhelmingly my experience, while here in the West Bank, that Palestinians reject this type of extremism and believe that the majority of Israelis, like them, want peace. They reject the Israeli Government stance that Hamas, with it’s so called rejection of the right of the State of Israel to exist, is a barrier to a two state solution. If a Palestinian state with ’67 borders, no settlements in the West Bank allowed and East Jerusalem as its capital, was offered by Israel, ALL Palestinians would accept it and if Hamas continued to resist such an offer, it would simply be political suicide for them as Palestinians would ignore them by the million.

I still passionately believe that peace and justice is possible in this region. We just need the will to make it happen.

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER

I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.

The majority of Christian Zionists in the world applaud the actions of Jewish settlers who take part in the confiscation of Palestinian land in the quest to make greater Israel all it can be. For these Christians it is as though Israel’s only biblical command is to take the land of Promise at all costs. All other issues are trumped by this so-called divine mandate. Christian Zionist churches are allowed to donate millions of dollars to the Jewish settlers in the West Bank with impunity, despite the fact that the vast majority of the international community and the United Nations Charter declare that the settlements are illegal and are provocative to the Palestinians and an impediment to peace. Organizations that donate money to schools in the Gaza strip that have even the slightest links to Hamas can be prosecuted and their leaders sent to jail. The U.S. says it is a fair broker of peace at the same time being an ally of Israel. Could we imagine the Soviet Union as a fair broker of peace in the dispute between the U.S. and Cuba?

But Jewish Rabbis, who understand the true nature of  God’s mandate to the Jewish people, don’t see the settlers as the heroes that John Hagee would have us believe they are. Philip Weiss published this article on the Mondoweiss website on September 21st 2011.

Conservative rabbis overwhelmingly disapprove of settlers and many say they’re ‘sometimes ashamed’ of Israel
Sep 21, 2011 04:11 pm | Philip Weiss

NY Jewish Week’s Eric Herschthal reports on “the increasingly liberal” views reflected in a Conservative movement survey of 100s of American rabbis:

46 percent said they were “always proud” of Israel, but 44 percent said they were “sometimes ashamed.” Sixty-three percent thought that Israel should freeze settlements in the West Bank, and another 17 percent were unsure. More than twice as many rabbis supported Obama’s call for a peace deal based on ’67 borders with lands swaps than those that opposed it, and the vast majority–78 percent–viewed the settler movement unfavorably.

And here’s another poll that suggests politicians are out of step with public opinion, a Think Progress report on a poll of Israeli opinion:

A joint poll by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the Occupied Palestinian Territories found that 69 percent of Israelis think that their country should accept United Nations recognition of an independent Palestinian state, according the Jerusalem Post.