Israeli settlers shoot unarmed Palestinians; Israeli army stands by

by Michael Petrou

One might imagine that filmed evidence of civilian thugs shooting an unarmed protester in the head while soldiers stand by and do nothing might be big news in Canada — especially if those thugs and soldiers are citizens of a country that our Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird says “has no greater friend than Canada.”

On Saturday afternoon, Israeli settlers from Yitzhar, a small community of Orthodox Jews in the occupied West Bank, descended on the Palestinian village of Asira al-Qibliya. Some carried guns and wore masks. According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, one of the settlers was armed with a “Tavor” rifle used by Israeli infantry, suggesting he was a soldier on leave

B’Tselem filmed this and what happened next. Settlers begin throwing stones. Palestinians from the village confront them and do the same. Gunshots are heard. Uniformed soldiers arrive, as do more armed settlers and police. Grass fires burn behind the settlers. Then three of the armed settlers, one of whom is wearing what looks like a police cap, appear to open fire. The soldiers do nothing to stop them. At one point a settler appears to motion to a soldier to get out of his line of fire. The soldier appears to comply. One Palestinian, Fathi Asayira, is wounded in the face. He is not critically injured and will survive.

The Israeli military issued a statement: “The incident is currently being investigated by the division commander. It appears that the video in question does not reflect the incident in its entirety.” A spokesman for the Yitzhar settlement told the BBC that the settlers had approached the Palestinian village to put out fires the Palestinians had started with the intention of burning down the Jewish settlement. The B’Tselem video shows no smoke or fire visible when the settlers first approach.

Palestinians often report settler abuse and Israeli military indifference. What is unique in this case is that it was caught on film, and that the military’s indifference was in the face of what appears to have been attempted murder.

And yet in today’s papers, the story was buried by the Globe and Mail and the Ottawa Citizen, and not covered at all by the National Post or the Toronto Star. CBC’s The National also ignored it, but it did dedicate a chunk of its foreign coverage to the Chelsea Flower Show. I suppose it’s a trade-off.

Israeli officials say many settlers live in the West Bank for economic reasons and will willingly leave if there is a peace deal requiring Israel to hand over parts of the territory to a future Palestinian state. This may be true. But it’s also true that radical settlers — a description often applied to residents of Yitzhar — are growing in number and influence. I haven’t spent a lot of time as a reporter among Israeli settlers. But rarely have I encountered elsewhere the same sense of entitlement and casual racism displayed by some of those I have met.

This is a problem for Israel that is not going to go away. Writing in Haaretz, former Israeli soldier Nathan Hersh describes guarding areas between West Bank Jewish settlements and Palestinian villages. One night a settler came and befriended one of Hersh’s fellow soldiers, who turned out to be a distant cousin of the settler. When the time came, the settler asked the soldier, would he be ready to “refuse orders.”

The settler was referring to orders to dismantle and relocate illegal settlements. “I am confident that my religious friend would act according to the orders of our officers and not those of his religious cousin,” writes Hersh. “But when it comes to other soldiers, I’m not so sure. The army is already engaged in a struggle against emboldened religiousness.” This worries Hersh. The Israel Defence Forces, he says, “cannot become another arena for the ultra-Orthodox onslaught against civic equality.”

It’s not just the army where secular and religious politics are at odds in Israel. The country is polarizing. Its future may be shaped by the liberal and empathetic values of, say, Shimon Peres, or, to generalize, Tel Aviv; or by the messianic supremacism of extremist settlers. Sooner rather than later, those desiring the former will have to confront the latter. They might start by preventing settlers from shooting unarmed civilians, rather than ducking out of the way so the settlers can take better aim.




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Israeli settlers shoot unarmed Palestinians; Israeli army stands by

  1. And it’s for this very reason that many people in the world have turned against Israel. We wouldn’t allow any other country to have this kind of leeway, without heavy protest and sanctions.

    One can only hope secular Israelis get into their own civil war with the Orthodox, so the Palestinians at least get half a chance to have a life.

    • No matter how much you support the Palestinian struggle, it is still a bit extreme to hope for a civil war in any country. Death and destruction and human suffering on either side of the conflict should be seen as something to try and avoid.

      • Oh puleeze….self-righteous much?

      • Finally, an intelligent suggestion.
        Thank you.

        • No, it’s just the latest fad in faux rightwing arguments. Pretend to take something literally,and then moralize about it and expect praise.

          You fell for it.

    • Really?
      Maybe you should start reading about all the Muslim nations that perpetrate grave injustices against their own people.
      Maybe you ought to study the African countries where millions of people, babies & children included are murdered every year due to hatred and racism.
      Read about the world and become knowledgable before you profess to have an educated opinion.

      • Maybe you should just stick to the topic of foreign squatters in Israel murdering citizens of a neighbouring village.

  2. When you view your neighbor as anything but an equal you will not have true peace.
    It’s disturbing that that possibly the military allowed the alleged events to take place. With the instability in neighboring Syria, the soldiers should be thinking twice before adding political fuel to ancient fires.

    • Check your facts with a reliable source before making comments such as these

  3. Outrageous. And outrageous of our media to give this a pass. Still, there are two sides and while an actual film of it is pretty good evidence, Fox News teaches us that what we see may not be what we see. Still, I really look forward to hearing how the film got it all wrong.

  4. Clearly, you are uninformed and ignorant in the situation in the “West Bank”.
    People who write one-sided articles and put them out as the truth are the cause of
    intolerance and serve to grow the hatred and tension in the area.

    • And people who view any criticism of Israel as anti-semitism are part of the problem not part of the solution.

  5. Also, please re-post the article you wrote covering the murder of the Fogel family in Itamar, a neighboring settlement, when 2 Arabs entered the Israeli neighborhood on a Friday night and cut the throats of a father, mother, 2 little boys and decapitated a 3 month old baby girl.
    Where is your outrage???
    One-sided reporting is deceitful and false and clearly an act of anti-semitism.

    • In Canada, we spell it neighbouring. Where are you from? And stick to the topic.

  6. This incedent is just another anti-Israel propaganda stunt by B’Tselem.

  7. Uncivilized brutes. Foreign bullies and murderers. Just how many of these squatters (settlers, my arse!) were even born in Israel? Too many have east coast accents and 2 passports.

    • you sit on your arse in Canada and judge while we in Israel have to deal with risky situations every day. it doesn’t matter here if I like the settlements prospect or not, the fact is that the army and those so called setlers are there and will not retreat with no security asusarnces from our ‘civilized’
      neighbours. obviously strange incidents such as these will occur. if there was no justification (I trust what an investigation will tell us that) these “brutes” should be handled by the law, but until then calling them murderers is far away as possible then doing any justice.

      • Here is the Reuters slant on this. I don’t know what to believe anymore. Remember the coverage of the Palestinians dancing in the streets right after 9/11? Did it really happen or was it taken out of context? I remember Netanyahu talking about how the removal of settlers from Gaza nearly caused a civil war. What a mess!!

        “The Israeli Defence Force has ordered an investigation and confirmed that live fire was used during the confrontation. “That said, it appears that the video in question does not reflect the incident in its entirety,” it said in a statement.

        A spokesman for the settlers said the violence flared when they were pelted with stones as they tried to put out a scrub fire allegedly started by the Palestinians.

        B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, provided the cameras used to document the event, as part of a program started in 2007 whereby it has distributed around 150 camcorders to “citizen journalists” throughout the West Bank.

        The group aims to use social media to bring alleged violations by settlers and the military into public view.”

        http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/23/us-palestinians-israel-videos-idUSBRE84M0FQ20120523

  8. There is a shameful conspiracy of silence in Canada when it comes to reporting anything negative about Israel. Back in 2009 the UN Goldstone report on the Gaza Massacre War was making the news. It was the top story on Google News and GN reported over 11,000 sources at the time.

    In Canada? — All you could hear were the crickets chirping.

    I admire your courage in publishing this piece Mr. Petrou, but I would not be surprised if someone has a little talk with you about it.

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