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“Pure gaslighting”: Israeli officials condemn six-day settler rampage while giving new outposts a thumbs-up

Jerusalem24 – Israeli settlers continued throughout Sunday to attack Palestinian villages between Ramallah and Nablus in the occupied West Bank for the sixth consecutive day. A 27-year-old Palestinian man was killed on Wednesday, hundreds have been injured, and dozens of homes, businesses, vehicles, and agricultural fields have been torched.

In an attack on Saturday afternoon, unusual for Shabbat, dozens of armed settlers shot at residents of the village of Um Safa near Ramallah with military-grade submachine guns and set fire to houses and vehicles. The Ministry of Health condemned an attack on an ambulance transporting a patient as it was passing the village. The settlers renewed the attack at first light on Sunday morning.

In the village of Orif, which was attacked on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, settlers set a school on fire and stormed a mosque with attack dogs and desecrated the Qur’an by tear out pages and throwing it on the ground.

Israeli officials, both from the government and military, have begun publicly condemning the settler violence – while simultaneously enabling the takeover of more land by the same settlers, and offering protection to settlers while they commit the attacks. Seven new illegal outposts have been established since Wednesday with the knowledge of Israeli authorities, while the evacuated illegal outpost of Evyatar has been repopulated without meeting any resistance from the Israeli Border Police or army.

Far-right settler extremist and member of Knesset with the Religious Zionism party, Zvi Sukkot, was photographed on Saturday by Israeli NGO Yesh Din watching the attack unfold on Orif from an observation deck in the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Yitzhar.

One soldier and four settlers have been arrested for taking part in the attacks. It is not yet known if any remain in custody or will be charged.

Attacks on Shabbat: The new normal?

Located on a hillside a few kilometers north of Ramallah, Um Safa is a small village of 720. The residents are accustomed to settler violence, with the illegal Israeli settlement of Ateret a mere 500 meters away. But they were still taken aback by the level of violence of Saturday’s attack – and the number of settlers involved (while attacks do happen on Saturday, they are usually less frequent as many Israeli settlers observe Shabbat).

“The attack was barbaric,” Marwan Sabah, head of the Um Safa village council, tells Jerusalem24’s sister station 24FM. “They were firing live ammunition. All of them were armed.”

Video footage shot by Palestine TV journalist Mohammad Radi moments before he and fellow journalist Valentina Abu Hamed came under fire by settlers, destroying their camera, shows the settlers shooting at Um Safa residents with Israeli army-issued Colt M4 assault rifles.

The Israeli army who was present at the scene to offer protection to the settlers further prevented the journalists as well as emergency crews from entering the village. A Civil Defense crew which eventually managed to enter the village helped evacuate a family of eight, whom Sabah says were trapped in their burning home.

“They miraculously survived the attack on their house,” says Sabah, “Eight family members were inside including an infant. Altogether, three houses completely burned down, seven houses were partially burned, ten suffered damaged such as broken windows and doors, three cars were completely burned, and another ten were damaged.”

Photographs from the scene show tires set alight in front of the entrances and exits of houses in a bid to stop their inhabitants from escaping. Similar tactics were used by settlers during their pogrom on Huwara in February.

Sabah says the army also shot sound bombs “on purpose” toward the village generator, setting it alight and leaving the village without electricity on Saturday night – a tactic repeated in nearby Orif, as well as in the village of Hussan near Bethlehem.

Around 20km to the west, the wealthy town of Turmusaya survived its own pogrom on Wednesday – all except 27-year-old Omar Qattin who was shot and killed by either armed settlers or soldiers while trying to repel the attack along with other residents, all of whom were unarmed.

For Olfat Abdulhaleem, who had just brought her children from their home in the United States to Palestine for their very first visit, the experience was deeply traumatizing.

“The children are devastated and scared – I didn’t want them to witness this,” she tells Jerusalem24. “Most of them wanted to leave. But the others said no, we are not leaving, that’s exactly what they want us to do.”

Abdulhaleem says the 400 settlers who rampaged through the village specifically targeted houses whose residents were inside at the time of the attack. The whole family is staying with a relative elsewhere in the area since that afternoon, and the future of their visit seems uncertain. “We’ll see. Maybe we’ll stay at my brother’s house, or maybe I’ll rent an apartment. Because we can’t sleep in the house.”

Abdulhaleem is particularly frustrated with the US administration, as she feels her American citizenship has failed to protect her (as the majority of Turmusaya residents, Abdulhaleem has dual Palestinian-American nationality). “[Our taxes go] to Israel,” she exclaims. “Shiloh [the nearby settlement] is attacking Turmusaya constantly. They are attacking at night. What did the US do?”

“Pure gaslighting”

Both Palestinian and Israeli pundits have condemned as hypocrisy the Israeli administration’s attempts to distance itself from the settlers’ actions.

Settler violence actually enables the government’s agenda and amounts to state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing, according to Palestinian National Council member Dr Hanan Ashrawi.

“Israel’s vigilante settlers are its weapon of choice,” she wrote on Twitter. “By terrorising vulnerable Palestinians in rural & isolated areas with army collusion/protection & with full impunity, they’re carrying out an ethnic cleansing agenda openly espoused by officials in the government.”

+972 Magazine executive director Haggai Matar highlighted the active role taken on by the Israeli army and police in facilitating settler attacks.

Pointing out the small number of arrests carried out since the latest pogrom began on Tuesday, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor chief of communications Muhammad Shehada described an Israeli army statement decrying the attacks as “nationalist terrorism” as “pure gaslighting”.

Hours after having described the settler attacks as terrorism, the Israeli army, in its announcement that a solider had been arrested on suspicion of participating, reverted to describing the attacks as “a violent confrontation between Israeli civilians and Palestinians”.

In response to Israeli military spokesperson Richard Hecht saying these “acts of terror” are “not who we are”, B’Tselem international advocacy officer Sarit Michaeli said Israel “funds, arms, supports and refrains from enforcing the law on violent settlers”.

“Run to the hilltops and settle”

In a second Tweet, Michaeli draws a connection between settler attacks and the funding the government routes to the settlement enterprise – including illegal outposts, via settlement councils and private organizations.

Following last Tuesday’s shooting attack in the illegal settlement of Eli which killed four Israelis, the Netanyahu administration has also begun the process of fast-tracking the building of 1,000 new settlement units in Eli; the retroactive legalization of three illegal outposts adjacent to Eli, where live most of the settlers who regularly attack the nearby village of Al-Laban Al-Shariqiya, one of the first targets of last week’s sustained attacks; as well as turning a blind eye to the seven new illegal outposts erected in the last week.

Israeli military analyst Amos Harel writes in Haaretz that while the Israeli government “winks” at settler attacks before issuing “a partial disavowal of the incident [with] little impact”, it “directly encourages” the setting up of new outposts.

Far-right extremist and Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, speaking from the evacuated Evyatar outpost on Friday where he and dozens of settlers illegally assembled, called for settlers (and the so-called Hilltop Youth in particular) to “Run to the hilltops and settle”.

In the same address, he called for the killing of “thousands” of Palestinian “terrorists”, “if need be”.

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