1708854337 The Settlers Israel39s Other Army in the War Against Hamas

The Settlers, Israel's Other “Army” in the War Against Hamas | International

“We have an enemy. You must help us fight against the devil, against Hamas and against terrorists. We are not the terrorists.” Ilana Shimon, 49, makes this call from the kitchen of her prefabricated home in an illegal West Bank hilltop settlement in Israeli-occupied Palestine, while several of her 10 children hang around. Under some kind of divine mandate that supposedly grants these lands to the Jews, Ilana and her husband, lawyer Yehuda Shimon, rely on messianic and biblical arguments to survive along with 400 other people in the settlement of Havat Gilad (Gilad Farm). To defend. , just outside the city of Nablus.

Since October 7, the day the war began with the Hamas attack that murdered some 1,200 people in Israel, the violence perpetrated by the settlers, as well as the impunity and support they receive from the state apparatus, has multiplied, In Israel it is called the United Nations and Israeli humanitarian organizations such as B'Tselem or Peace Now. In those four and a half months, Israeli troops killed almost 30,000 Palestinians. The conscription of more than 300,000 Israeli reservists has resulted in many settlers now wearing uniforms like Havat Gilat's 40, representing nearly half of the settlement's hundred adult men.

Since 2007, the Shimon family has been among half a million Jews living illegally in the West Bank (there are about 100,000 more in East Jerusalem). Contrary to reports from human rights organizations, they deny the attacks and justify them by saying that the Israelis' violent acts are only a reaction to the Palestinians' violent acts.

“There are about 500,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria (the official Israeli name for the West Bank), and there can be twenty, even up to a hundred who take part in these events,” says David Haivri, referring to settler attacks. was a resident of the Tapuah settlement for three decades before recently settling in Jerusalem. “It's not representative, even though it's very colorful in the eyes of the media,” he notes while driving through the area. “I don't think anyone can say that the attacks by Jews on Palestinians can be considered a major event compared to the situation that might exist in Spain, England or any other part of the world,” he says.

General view of the Havat Gilad (West Bank) settlement, where around 400 Jewish settlers live on the outskirts of the Palestinian city of Nablus.General view of the Havat Gilad settlement (West Bank), where about 400 Jewish settlers live on the outskirts of the Palestinian city of Nablus.Luis de Vega

Israel believes the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) must be dismantled after accusing 12 of its 33,000 staff of involvement in the October 7 attack. When asked whether these 12 are representative, Haivri reiterates that the settler movement is “not an official body,” unlike UNRWA, “a humanitarian organization that receives international funding.”

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Settlers often enter the fields and uproot Palestinians' olive trees or prevent them from picking olives. “It could be true. So what? “They are cutting off ours,” replies Yehuda Shimon, bringing up the problems that can arise between neighbors while insisting that coexistence is something that the holy books provide for, regardless of the religion each professes . But he immediately adds: “The Palestinians are always crying.” Look at my house (he comments, pointing to his prefabricated house) and look at theirs. We give them everything. Roads, electricity, water… and they don't pay. I pay taxes to the government so they can have all this without paying.”

“Do you see any felled or burned olive trees around us?” asks David Haivri, pointing to a field next to the road. He alludes to the West Bank as the promised land, but also adds that Israel gained its right to it by winning the “war of defense” against the Arabs in 1967. Haivri is coherent: “A two-state solution? That's not an option. There cannot be two states here, and especially not if one is a Palestinian state with an army.” They can adapt to and integrate Israel's laws without ceasing to be Muslim or Christian, he adds.

Western sanctions

In an unprecedented move, the US imposed sanctions in early February on four settlers it described as extremely violent. Days later, the UK did the same with four others. France announced it would punish 28 people but did not reveal their identities. Now Spain is planning similar measures. The sanctions “seem like a joke to me,” says Yehuda Shimon. “We know from history and the Bible that every time someone does something in the name of the devil, they end up paying for it,” he adds.

Havat Gilad was founded by Moshe Zar, a member of a cell of the Jewish underground group that attacked the mayor of the Palestinian city of Nablus in 1980. It is an organization that Israel considers terrorist. The colony was founded in revenge for the 2001 killing of his son Gilad Zar by Palestinians on a West Bank highway.

“We can’t be stupid. If they come to kill us, we have the right to kill them first,” defends Ilana Shimon, continuing to defend that we must build “bridges of coexistence.” He says that just days before this interview, he had demonstrated with his children and other settlers in the neighboring Palestinian town of Hawara, a constant flashpoint of tension and the site of recent attacks by Jews on Palestinians. When asked about the cars that the Jewish settlers burn in Hawara, she replies that she doesn't know, that it could be they, the Palestinians, who burn them.

Ilana Shimon at a car repair shop in the Havat Gilad neighborhood on February 21.Ilana Shimon at a car repair shop in the Havat Gilad neighborhood on February 21. Luis de VegaAhava Shimon, 19, with one of her nine brothers. Ahava Shimon, 19, with one of her nine brothers. Luis de VegaIlana Shimon, 49, in front of the house where she lives with her husband and ten children. Ilana Shimon, 49, in front of the house where she lives with her husband and ten children. Luis de Vega

In 2018, the community's rabbi, Raziel Sevach, was also assassinated in an attack similar to Gilad Zar. This opened the door for the Israeli government to legalize the Havat Gilad settlement, which has not happened six years later. “We still receive from the authorities no electricity, no water, no gas, no security, no daycare, no health center, no gardens, no road …,” explains Ilana Shimon, responsible for raising funds to “survive “, without recriminations, because He assures that they receive sufficient private contributions from “people who believe in the Bible, who believe that God gave us this earth.”

For this reason, when then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreed to the expulsion of the more than 8,000 settlers who had occupied Gaza in 2005, Yehuda Shimon decided to settle there with his family. They lived in a tent on the beach for three months until they had to agree to leave. “We wanted to fight against the evacuation,” he explains.

Today, around a hundred families live in Havat Gilad, a hill overlooking the Mediterranean coast from where you can see the cities of Tel Aviv and Netanya, about twenty kilometers away as the crow flies. Surrounded by small Palestinian villages, the settlement is dominated by prefabricated houses like the one where the Shimons live, and there are still those who live in one of the old buses that greeted the first neighbors at the beginning of the century.

Murder of a Palestinian farmer

A shot in the chest ended the life of Bilal Saleh, a 40-year-old Palestinian farmer, on the morning of October 28th. This special envoy interviewed several witnesses, including his two sons, on the same day after the funeral in the town of Sawiya (West Bank). Everyone agreed to point to a settlement from which several armed men advanced into the Saleh family's olive grove, without the military or witnesses in the distance doing anything to stop them.

Yossi Dagan, one of those responsible for the settlements in the area where the attack in which Bilal Saleh died, said that the perpetrator of the murder acted in self-defense because they were attacked by “dozens of Hamas members.” . “I fully support the fighter who shot,” he added, according to The Jerusalem Post. “It is ridiculous that the settlers are killing,” says lawyer Yehuda Shimon, repeatedly denying these facts. Two days later, an off-duty soldier was arrested and accused of killing Bilal Saleh. His defense attorney, Adi Keidar, belongs to Honenu, the same association that Shimon works with and which, according to Peace Now, “provides legal assistance to settlers or other people who commit violence.”

During the current conflict, the NGO B'Tselem has documented the forced displacement of 151 West Bank Palestinian families from their homes, a total of 1,009 people, including 371 minors, due to attacks and pressure from settlers. who act in the company and protection of the military.

The sanctions against individuals from countries such as the United States or the United Kingdom do not reflect the responsibility of the Israeli government for the use of this violence, understands Dror Sadot, spokesman for this Israeli human rights organization. “We are essentially confronted with state violence because these settlers are granted impunity,” he defends himself. He understands that it is important to send this message, but believes the effectiveness of these sanctions against a handful of settlers is “limited.” According to Sadot, since October 7 there have been more attacks, more violence, more shootings, more settlers have been armed and some of them are now part of the army. The state wants to stay away from these violent acts, but B'Tselem understands that this is a top-down policy.

“A good year for the settlements, a bad year for Israel,” is how the Israeli organization Peace Now summarizes the activities surrounding Jewish settlers last year. The figures they processed show that “unprecedented conditions” have been created for the rise of this movement in Palestine, which has been in the shadow of the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since December 2022.

In the 12 months of 2023, according to data released last week, 26 new colonies were founded while a total of 21 Palestinian cities were displaced from their land; the creation of 12,349 new homes in the West Bank was announced and approved; administrative advances to annex more land; and a budget of three million shekels (about 750,000 euros) for new roads in settlements, which represents about 20% of this type of investment. Authorities have announced a plan to build 3,000 new homes in the West Bank following last Thursday's attack by three Palestinians on the gates of one of these settlements, in which an Israeli was killed. The illegal real estate spiral shows no sign of stopping.

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