Commentary Magazine


Who’s Committing West Bank Violence?

To listen to some reporters and commentators, the only violence in the West Bank in recent years are attacks against Arabs by maniacal right-wing Jewish settlers. That was the conceit of a New York Times feature published on Friday — the same day Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas delivered his request for statehood at the United Nations. According to Ethan Bronner’s report, Israel’s main worry wasn’t about Palestinian terror but an escalation of settler violence. The story depicted the settlers as being out-of-control and having no respect for innocent Palestinians.

However, as Friday’s lethal attack on a Jewish vehicle in the West Bank proved, the belief violence on the West Bank is a one-way street is simply untrue. Settler violence is wrong, but the notion it is unprovoked or Jews are more likely to attack Arabs in the territory is an absurd distortion of the truth.

Yet that is exactly the impression Bronner’s story left about the situation in the West Bank. In this telling, the Jews living in settlements are giving the Israeli government nightmares because they are liable to attack peaceful Arab protesters with lethal force in the coming weeks. Even more worrisome is their propensity to launch “price tag” assaults on Arab persons or property, including mosques. Such attacks are routinely portrayed as a radical Jewish tactic designed to intimidate their neighbors as part of a plot, as the Palestinians allege, to “steal” their land.

While Bronner does reference one infamous act of mass slaughter committed by Arabs against the settlers that took place in 2002, there is no mention in the piece of contemporary Palestinian violence against Jews. But like the attack near Kiryat Arba in which a father and a child were killed after their vehicle crashed as a result of a rocks crashing through the windshield, the Jews in the settlements are routinely subjected to deadly attacks from Palestinians. According to the Israeli police, there were 18 such incidents in the Hebron area alone this month. Fortunately, the aim of the Arab stone-throwers is not always as accurate as the one who killed 25-year-old Hillel Palmer and his one-year-old son Jonathan on Friday.

The murder of these two people cannot justify any violence committed by settlers against Arabs. Any Jews carrying out vigilante attacks or any other illegal activity should be caught and punished. But the idea such Jewish crimes outnumber or are even remotely comparable to the vast total of Palestinian attacks on Jewish property or individuals in the West Bank is simply crazy. The nearly 300,000 Jews who live in the territories do so under constant threat of terror attacks and the sort of vehicular homicide that took the lives of the Palmers. Yet only a tiny minority has ever resorted to retaliation of any kind.

Recent events in the West Bank are merely a continuation of the same narrative that has characterized the conflict during the past century. The Arabs have always treated Jewish settlement in any part of the country as a foreign invasion to be resisted by all means. Jewish retaliation for this violence has been sporadic and rare. One needn’t be a proponent of the settlements or the settlers to understand the common portrayal of them in the Western press as violence-prone maniacs is a politicized distortion of the truth. The same can be said of the depiction of West Bank Arabs as only being hapless victims rather than is actually the case–the source of almost all of the violence.