Settler violence has a history of targeting the Israeli security establishment, which willingly turns a blind eye to it.

Israel’s protection of increased Jewish settler attacks across the occupied West Bank over the past month has resulted in the injury of dozens of Palestinians and proved, yet again, to be a growing detriment to the country’s own military force.

An off-duty Israeli soldier from a settlement in the occupied West Bank near Nablus was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of participating in a settler attack on a military unit. The suspect was handed over to Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet unit, which handles cases of Jewish extremism among its other security concerns.

However, no developments have been reported as to whether charges have actually been laid against the soldier and settlers involved in the attack.

According to a statement issued by Israeli forces, Israeli settlers attacked an Israeli military unit that was dispatched to the Palestinian town of Huwara, near Nablus in the occupied West Bank, where the settlers were throwing rocks at passing Palestinian vehicles.

The military’s statement said that the unit was "violently attacked, including by pepper spray, by a number of settlers” as soldiers tried to control the violence.

As a result, the unit’s commander and another soldier were injured. Israeli forces also reported that settlers pepper-sprayed two additional soldiers at Tapuach Junction, also in the occupied West Bank.

Israel’s military condemned the attacks, saying the behaviour was “unacceptable” and “must be vigorously stamped out”.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid called the attackers "dangerous criminals" who "must be punished without hesitation”.

READ MORE: Rights group: Israel using settler violence as 'major tool' to seize land

Above the law

Settler violence against Palestinians, however, does not receive condemnation from Israel’s politicians. In fact, according to a number of human rights groups, it is protected on a state level.

In a publication released in November last year, the Israeli information centre for human rights in the Occupied Territories, B’Tselem, said: “settler violence against Palestinians serves as a major informal tool at the hands of the state to take over more and more [occupied] West Bank land.”

“As such, settler violence is a form of government policy, aided and abetted by official state authorities with their active participation,” the publication explains.

In a report released by Amnesty International this year, the international human rights group referred to Israeli settler attacks on Palestinian neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem as an effort to displace Palestinian families with the full backing of the Israeli government.

As a result of the impunity offered to Israeli settlers, many from hardline settlements across the occupied territory have developed an above-the-law state of mind, which has often backfired on Israeli forces.

READ MORE: Israeli army identified settler that shot Palestinians, chose to do nothing

Long-standing issue

Israeli settlers have received impunity from the state since illegal settlements started to rapidly expand into the occupied West Bank following Israel’s occupation of the territory in 1967.

Waves of settler violence over the decades have pushed some Israeli politicians to call for stricter measures against the violence, without any significant changes taking effect.

Following a wave of attacks in 2014 by Israeli settlers on Palestinian property in the occupied West Bank and on Israeli soldiers in the hardline settlement of Yitzhar, Israel’s former justice minister Tzipi Livni and former internal security minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch called on Israel’s cabinet to classify groups behind settler attacks as terrorist organisations, opening the way for the possible use of detention without trial.

In an interview with Israeli radio network Army Radio following the call for the classification, Livni said that Israeli settlers “do not accept the authority of the law”.

This was not the first time that Israeli politicians called for the classification against rightwing settlers.

In May 2011, Jewish settlers visiting Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus engaged in a shoving match with Israeli forces deployed to protect them during a confrontation with Palestinians.

Earlier that month, a group of Jewish settlers invaded an Israeli army base near Nablus armed with paint and nail guns while, at the same time, Jewish settlers occupied an Israeli base in the Jordan Valley. The settlers threw stones at Israeli forces and defaced Israeli military vehicles.

One of the most notable examples of settler violence against the state is the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995 by Israeli right-wing extremist Yigal Amir, who is serving a life sentence in prison. 

The former prime minster had signed several historic agreements with the Palestinian leadership as part of the Oslo Accords, which provided for the expansion of Palestinian self-rule throughout parts of the occupied West Bank. 

Amir was strongly opposed to the Oslo Accords and believed Rabin deserved to die for forfeiting land he believed God gave to the Jews. 

Amir waited for Rabin after a demonstration in Tel Aviv in support of the Oslo Accords and shot Rabin twice from a parking lot adjacent to the PM’s limousine and also injured his security guard.

Despite the constant security threat imposed by an extremist ideology among right-wing settlers, the State of Israel continues to protect settler violence, which ultimately aids the state in the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Under these unchanging circumstances and unrelenting settler impunity, Palestinians will continue to pay the heaviest price - violence, intimidation, harassment and displacement.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies