columnIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

How the ‘settler violence’ campaign works

One of the many distressing aspects of the campaign to criminalize Israeli civilians is that it’s apparently the first target. The next one? The IDF.

Givat Eitam near Efrat, September 2007. Photo by Michal Fattal/Flash90.
Givat Eitam near Efrat, September 2007. Photo by Michal Fattal/Flash90.
Caroline B. Glick
Caroline B. Glick is the senior contributing editor of Jewish News Syndicate and host of the “Caroline Glick Show” on JNS. She is also the diplomatic commentator for Israel’s Channel 14, as well as a columnist for Newsweek. Glick is the senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Center for Security Policy in Washington and a lecturer at Israel’s College of Statesmanship.

This past Last Saturday afternoon, 71-year-old Hagar Gefen was driving through the Jordan Valley when she was waylaid by Palestinian assailants. They pulled her from her car, beat her and stole her vehicle.

Gefen is an anti-Zionist activist affiliated with the radical NGO Looking the Occupation in the Eye. Her group’s modus operandi is to harass Israeli civilians and military forces in Judea and Samaria in order to demonize them. As the organization’s leaders wrote recently, “We initiate direct actions that get in the face of the settlers and challenge the security forces. We work in cooperation with Palestinian colleagues who often stand together with us in the West Bank.”

Gefen was carjacked just after she had just finished such a “direct action”: “Protecting” Palestinian shepherds from Israelis who live in the area. When security forces came to help the elderly woman as she sat beaten on the side of the highway, Gefen refused to file a complaint against her assailants.

Her story is notable because all aspects of it—the carjacking, her efforts as an anti-Israel activist to demonize Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria, and her refusal to report on Palestinian violent attacks, even when she is the victim of those attacks—expose the nature of the current international campaign against Israel’s civilian and military presence in Judea and Samaria. This campaign reached its pinnacle on Feb. 1 with an executive order issued by U.S. President Joe Biden, directly targeting Israeli civilians in Judea and Samaria as quasi-terrorists.

Galloping Palestinian terrorism

This week, the Israel Defense Forces published its final statistics for 2023 regarding Palestinian terrorism in Judea and Samaria. Last year saw a 350% increase in terrorist attacks over 2022 levels, with 608 attacks last year and 173 in 2022. The IDF reported that 300 of the 608 attacks were shooting attacks—the highest number since the Second Intifada from 2000 to 2005.

The IDF data only includes incidents that ended with wounded or dead Israelis and others. The full data shows that the dimensions of Palestinian terrorism in Judea and Samaria are much greater.

United Hatzalah’s Rescuers Without Borders serves as the first responders in Judea and Samaria. Its data enumerated 4,099 terror attacks during the first six months of 2023 alone. In the 100 days following Oct. 7, Palestinians carried out another 2,674 attacks on Jews in Judea and Samaria. Rescuers Without Borders includes vehicular stoning attacks in their data. Those average around 10 per day.

Not including stoning attacks, the Oct. 7 massacre or the casualties of the war in Gaza, the Shin Bet tallied 3,436 attacks in Israel, including Judea and Samaria in 2023. A total of 43 Israelis were murdered and another 224 were wounded. Israel Police put the total number of terror attacks in Judea and Samaria during 2023 at 5,600.

While the data varies depending on the source and what is counted, the trends are clear: 2023 saw a massive increase in Palestinian terrorist attacks, and in the number of Israeli victims. The steepest increase came in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks.

Elusive settler violence

This brings us back to Gefen and her bid to “protect” Palestinian shepherds from “settler violence” in the Jordan Valley last Saturday. The level of Palestinian terrorism against Israelis in Judea and Samaria, coupled with the sheer volume of terrorist agitation in the areas, make it difficult for Gefen and her comrades to claim that Israeli Jews are the cause of the dire security situation in the areas.

But they don’t let the absence of evidence stop them in their bid to demonize and criminalize “the occupation.” To advance this line, as Looking the Occupation in the Eye explained, anti-Zionist activists from Israel and abroad working with the Palestinians have developed a pipeline for pumping libelous claims against Israeli Jews into the international discourse, and most importantly, into the U.S. State Department. The process, stunning in its boldness, was first exposed by the Hakol Hayehudi (“The Jewish Voice”) news service early last November in a report on one such NGO, the Hamas-aligned and Muslim Brotherhood-funded International Solidarity Movement (ISM), whose members overlap with members of Gefen’s outfit.

The case first reported by Hakol Hayehudi occurred on Oct. 25. That morning, Israeli and foreign ISM activists began harassing IDF reservists in a guard post outside the Maon Farm in the south Hebron Hills. When the reservists left their post to confront the activists, ISM member Allison Russell filmed them in an unflattering way that made it appear the reservists were instigating an altercation. Russell posted her video on Facebook later that morning.

Shortly after Russell posted the video, Breaking the Silence reposted it on its Twitter feed, presenting it as proof of “settler violence.” Breaking the Silence is an Israeli-registered NGO that runs international political and lawfare campaigns to demonize the IDF.

Breaking the Silence is funded by foreign governments, the United Nations and anti-Israel far-left NGOs aligned with the Democratic Party and the State Department, including George Soros’s Open Society Foundations and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Given its connections, once the video was posted on Breaking the Silence’s Twitter feed, it quickly made the rounds in Washington. Around 20 hours after the ISM provocation outside the Maon Farm in the south Hebron Hills, Biden issued his first broadside against Israeli civilians in Judea and Samaria. Standing next to visiting Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, he condemned “settler violence” and accused “extremist settlers” of “pouring gasoline on a fire.”

Two days later, a coalition of 22 anti-Israel NGOs, mainly funded by foreign governments, including the U.S. government, the New Israel Fund, the Open Society Foundations and the Ford Foundation, published a document titled, “Emergency Call to the International Community: Stop the Forcible Transfer in the West Bank.” Datelined from the south Hebron Hills, they decried what they referred to as “the state-backed wave of settler violence.”

The groups alleged, “For the past three weeks, since Hamas’s atrocities of October 7th, settlers have been exploiting the lack of public attention to the West Bank, as well as the general atmosphere of rage against Palestinians, to escalate their campaign of violent attacks in an attempt to forcibly transfer Palestinian communities.”

The truth was very different both then and since. IDF data showed that violent incidents involving Palestinians and Israeli civilians in October 2023 were down 31% over the corresponding month in 2022. Violent incidents involving Israeli civilians and Palestinians were 55% lower than they were in November 2022.

In other words, as Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis reached a 20-year high, incidents involving Jewish violence were down by half, standing at 201.

Moreover, as veteran investigative reporter Kalman Liebskind demonstrated in the Israeli newspaper Maariv in December 2023, among the 201 reported cases of violence involving Israeli civilians and Palestinians, the IDF could not determine in 136 cases, or 67% of the incidents, who had started the incident. As Liebskind and others showed at the time and since, in the vast majority of those cases, the “settler violence” was simply Israeli civilians trying to defend themselves against Palestinian terrorists and lynch mobs.

As Liebskind reported, in one typical incident designated as “settler violence,” an Israeli motorist driving to his home in Tekoa in Gush Etzion with four teenage passengers was blocked from advancing on the highway by a herd of sheep. He slowed down only to have his vehicle pelted with rocks by a dozen or so Palestinians. Armed, he exited his car and shot two shots at the ground to try to scare them away. His gun jammed, and the Palestinians began beating him with rocks and sticks, and tried to steal his gun. When the teenagers tried to help him, they were also assaulted. Another Israeli driver saw what was happening, and armed, he got out of his car to help. He shot into the air, and the Palestinians began attacking him as well. The first driver was bleeding from his head wound. A military patrol that arrived at the scene was also attacked with rocks. The soldiers opened fire on the assailants, shooting three of them, before rescuing the Israeli drivers and teenagers from the lynch mob that ambushed the first driver.

Since the IDF force arrived after the incident began, it was classified as an act of “Jewish nationalist violence,” rather than a terrorist attack. This misclassification is so routine that even the United Nations acknowledges it is standard practice.

On its website, the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs acknowledges that its data on Palestinian casualties of so-called “settler violence” “includes Palestinians killed or injured during attacks or alleged attacks they perpetrated against Israeli settlers.”

The purpose of the slanderous charges of Jewish aggression is obvious. They are leveled against Israeli civilians to assert a moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorists and their Israeli victims. Particularly after Oct. 7, the case for Palestinian statehood hinges on criminalizing Israeli opponents of Palestinian statehood. And the most easily caricatured and demonized opponents of Palestinian statehood are Israelis who work to maintain Israeli control over Judea and Samaria by farming, herding sheep and living in scattered communities. Israelis in these areas are law-abiding and peaceful. But if they are perceived as such, the U.S. and other Western governments will have no way to justify their policy of forcibly expelling these Israelis, along with the rest of the 500,000 Israeli Jews who live in Judea and Samaria, from their homes and communities, and transferring control over areas where no Jews live to Palestinians who overwhelmingly support the genocide of Jewry and the annihilation of the State of Israel. Demonizing them is key.

The demonization campaign against the Israelis in Judea and Samaria brings U.S. diplomats together with Palestinian terrorists and terrorism boosters. It culminated on Feb. 1 with Biden’s executive order. Titled “Executive Order on Imposing Certain Sanctions on Persons Undermining Peace, Security, and Stability in the West Bank,” it makes Israeli Jews targets of U.S. economic and travel sanctions. The order reads like a press release from the anti-Israel NGOs it relies on for its false accusations. It asserts that Biden “find(s) that the situation in the West Bank—in particular high levels of settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages and property destruction—has reached intolerable levels and constitutes a serious threat to the peace, security and stability of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel and the broader Middle East region.”

Their ascribed actions, the order goes on, “undermine the foreign-policy objectives of the United States, including the viability of the two-state solution.”

Biden’s order freezes all funds belonging to the targets of the sanctions. The four Israeli farmers named in the order stand accused of no crimes and were never convicted of any crimes. Their families report, however, that they were subjected to daily assaults and provocations by ISM and other anti-Israel activists who have trespassed on their land and have harassed them, and their wives and children, daily for the past four years. They are not U.S. citizens and have no property in the U.S. or accounts in U.S. banks. All the same, after the Treasury Department threatened Israeli banks with sanctions, the men’s bank accounts have all been frozen.

Arguably worse, the order prohibits other Israelis—and presumably non-Israelis, including attorneys—from helping the sanctioned men or their families. Among other things, the order prohibits “the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked in pursuant to this order; and the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods or services from any such person.”

Israeli forces carry out counter-terrorist operations in Judea and Samaria, April 30, 2023. Credit: Israel Defense Forces.

Next target for demonization: The IDF

One of the many distressing aspects of the campaign to criminalize Israeli civilians is that it is already apparent that they are only the first target. The next one is the IDF.

Two months ago, as the administration and its allied anti-Israel NGOs were kicking their post-Oct. 7 demonization campaign against “settler extremists” into high gear, the State Department sent the IDF a list of military operations that its forces in Judea and Samaria had carried out since Oct. 7, demanding detailed explanations and justifications of the operations. The State Department gave the IDF three months to submit its response before the United States began banning weapons transfers to the units involved in the incidents.

For their part, NGOs like Breaking the Silence work with anti-Israel reporters to demonize the IDF war in Gaza as well.

Last week, CNN ran a report featuring videos that IDF forces in Gaza took of themselves and their units blowing up buildings in Gaza. Recognizing the justice of Israel’s war in Gaza, the soldiers are proud of their contribution on the battlefield. The videos posted have gone viral in Israel, and play a key role in boosting and maintaining morale.

Yet spurred by Breaking the Silence’s CEO Avner Gvaryahu, the CNN report presented the videos as sinister admissions of Israeli venality, in general, and of the malicious nature of IDF soldiers specifically. “Israel is under increasing scrutiny over the war in Gaza. These videos may well be adding fuel to that criticism,” the reporter intoned.

The anti-Israel NGOs rejoiced at the report. Looking the Occupation in the Eye tweeted its glee at the thought of war-crimes trials against IDF soldiers.

“Take a look [at the CNN report]. Here are the soldiers that are helping the Government of Israel prepare its report to the [International Court of Justice at the] Hague [where Israel is being tried for genocide]. From anonymous warriors to celebrity bombers. Who wants to go abroad, and can’t? [For fear of war crimes charges, CBG] Raise your hands!”

Today, 92% of Israeli Jews oppose Palestinian statehood. Following Oct. 7, the vast majority of Israelis across the political spectrum recognize that a Palestinian state is as great an existential threat to Israel as Iran’s nuclear-weapons program.

Recognizing that they have no domestic support for their prized program, Israeli anti-Zionists and the State Department have joined forces to extort the government and people to act against their existential interests. The people, army and government of Israel now face a choice: They can stand up to this campaign of extortion through criminalization, even at the cost of an open breach with the Biden administration, or they can accept the destruction of their country.

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