“He wasn’t even fighting, was just trying to protect people,” the widow of Omar Qateen told a delegation of diplomats in between deep breaths on Friday.
The woman said she was in pain from the grief after her husband was killed as hundreds of rampaging settlers, some of them armed, set fire to homes in Turmus Aya, a Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday.
Settlers attacked multiple Palestinian communities in the West Bank this week after Palestinian gunmen shot and killed four Israelis at Eli settlement, before being executed by armed civilians and special forces. One day before the settlement shooting attack, Israeli forces killed several Palestinians during a raid in Jenin, including two children.
At the scene of the attack in Eli on Tuesday, Israel’s ultranationalist national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir called on settlers in the West Bank to pick up arms.
In the revenge attacks that followed, settlers vandalized a mosque and tore up copies of the Quran and set fire to a school in Urif, the Eli gunmen’s hometown. They also cut off electricity to the entire village.The Israeli military and police used live fire and crowd control weapons against Palestinians trying to defend themselves and obstructed the movement of ambulances and fire trucks in Turmus Aya, only several miles away from Eli.
Footage shows settlers firing guns towards Palestinian homes in Turmus Aya:During the rampage in Turmus Aya, 27-year-old Omar Qateen was shot and killed by Israeli police, who initially said that the slain man was armed – a claim refuted by his widow and not repeated in subsequent police statements.
Qateen’s wife said that she was comforted knowing that her husband and father of their two young children died bravely while coming to the aid of others.
Switching from American-accented English – Qateen’s wife and children are reportedly US citizens – to Arabic, the bereaved woman said they needed international protection.
“This is genocide”
That was also the plea from Lafi Adeeb, the mayor of Turmus Aya, after settlers set fire to more than 30 homes in the town, attempting to burn families alive.
“This is genocide, this is a war against us. Settlers carrying weapons and canisters full of fuel attack our small village and set fire to houses over the heads of their inhabitants,” Adeeb told the publication Middle East Eye.
“The attack was large and organized, with full protection and coordination with the Israeli army, which is working against us and protecting them,” Adeeb added.Following Wednesday’s violence in Turmus Aya, famously home to many Palestinian Americans, the US Office of Palestinian Affairs said it was “appalled at ongoing settler attacks.”
The office added that it called on Israeli authorities to “protect US and Palestinian civilians, and prosecute those responsible.”
Tom Nides, the US ambassador to Israel, said that “we do not stand and watch settler violence. I’ve been very clear and very specific that we will not stand by.”
In reality, US policy is even worse than doing nothing. Washington provides Israel a floor of $3.8 billion in military aid each year, allowing for the violent colonization of Palestinian land and brutal repression of any and all resistance against it.Meanwhile, the US shields Israel from accountability at all international fora, including the International Criminal Court, where it opposes the now apparently shelved Palestine investigation.
This impunity breeds the settler rampages that terrorized residents in more than a dozen defenseless Palestinian communities this week, violence explicitly encouraged by Israel’s leaders.Itamar Ben-Gvir, kingmaker in Benjamin Netanyahu’s fragile coalition government, once again made this clear on Friday when he visited Evyatar, a settlement outpost in the northern West Bank. He urged settlers to “run for the hilltops” – harkening back to the identical exhortation made 25 years ago by Ariel Sharon, a notorious war criminal who later became Israel’s prime minister. Ben-Gvir may well hope and expect that he will follow the same path.
“In addition to settling the land,” Ben-Gvir said, “we need a military operation: taking down buildings and killing terrorists.”
“Not one or two, but dozens and hundreds, and if need be thousands!” he said.
“Above all, this is how we will fulfill our great purpose: the land of Israel for the people of Israel,” he added, meaning exclusive Jewish control from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, assuring settlers that “we’ve got your back.”Ben-Gvir was speaking to settlers at an outpost not authorized by the government, built in May 2021 on land belonging to the Palestinian communities of Beita, Qabalan and Yatma on Jabal Subeih near the northern West Bank city of Nablus.
Since then, several Palestinians have been killed during or in close proximity to protests against the settlement.
Ben-Gvir is honest about the fulfillment of Israel’s state ideology, Zionism – that it requires killing Palestinians and pushing them off of their land.
After all, that is how the state was founded – by militias massacring and terrorizing Palestinians, forcing them to flee and denying their right to return to their land and property. And now the state is being steered by messianic figures like finance minister Bezalel Smotrich who seek to impose Jewish theocratic rule.Smotrich infamously called for Huwwara, a town near the West Bank city of Nablus, to be “wiped out” after a settler rampage there in February, similar to the one in Turmus Aya this week.
His allies in Netanyahu’s extreme-right coalition are seemingly open to any means of securing Jewish domination in Palestine, including burning children alive in the sanctity of their homes.
The chief of staff in Ben-Gvir’s ministry is Hanamel Dorfman, who was filmed dancing at his 2013 wedding as his guests stabbed and burned photos of Ali Dawabsheh, a Palestinian toddler who was killed along with his parents when settlers firebombed his family’s home.
Ben-Gvir, who provided legal defense for the suspects of the 2015 firebombing attack that killed the Dawabsheh family, was among those in attendance, as was Bentzi Gopstein, one of his advisors. Gopstein’s daughter was the bride whose nuptials were being celebrated at the infamous “wedding of hate.”
Before he started donning suits, Dorfman led the Hilltop Youth, an extremist and religious-nationalist group of Israeli settlers who agitate for a Jewish kingdom from which non-Jews would be expelled.
The ringleader of the attack against the Dawabsheh family home was allegedly part of the Hilltop Youth.
Once on the fringe, Jewish supremacists who venerate Baruch Goldstein, a US-born settler who murdered 29 Palestinian men and boys in Hebron’s Ibrahimi mosque in 1994, are now running the Israeli government and have oversight of its police and military forces.
Settler terror is state terror
Israel tries to maintain the pretense that settler violence is not sanctioned by the state, with its military spokesperson describing this week’s rampages as “very grave,” adding that it hinders the army’s ability to fight “terror.”
The spokesperson has also claimed that the Israeli military – which subjects Palestinians under its rule to total surveillance – had no advance knowledge of the attack by hundreds of settlers in Turmus Aya, despite it being planned in WhatsApp groups and reportedly leaked on social media.
As one Israeli analyst put it, if the military spokesperson’s claim is to be believed (which it shouldn’t be), it doesn’t make sense that Israel wouldn’t know about the plans unless they didn’t want to have prior intelligence.In an editorial on Friday, the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz observed that the attack on Turmus Aya “was predictable,” as was the army’s claim of intelligence failure.
“When a failure keeps recurring for decades, it’s clear that the problem isn’t lack of control, but a pattern of behavior and a decision from on high – that is, from the country’s leadership – to allow Israelis to attack Palestinians,” the editorial states.
“There’s no need for explicit orders; it’s enough to know the spirit of the commander.”
While the military seeks to preserve plausible deniability, Ben-Gvir is forthright with the unpalatable truth: Backed by various state apparatuses, settler terror in tandem with brutal military repression (this week that included the first ever military drone strike in the West Bank) is what will secure exclusive Jewish rule from the river to the sea.
Netanyahu has expedited settlement expansion by giving “practically all control over planning approval for construction” in settlements to Smotrich, as reported by The Times of Israel.Settlers established several new outposts since four Israelis were killed on Tuesday and others are set to be regularized by Netanyahu’s government. Ben-Gvir’s orders are clear: grab the hilltops.
As bad as this week’s settler attacks may have been, the worst is yet to come. And Israel’s powerful friends will be 100 percent complicit, having ignored the pleas from Turmus Aya by answering settler state terror with only empty gestures of toothless solidarity.