While such a designation marks a significant development in how the US treats the settlement issue, it threatens to remain a label on paper rather than a term that inspires action. Crucially, the designation “settler terrorism” fails to highlight that the Israeli government bears the major responsibility for this phenomenon through its own policy and the complicity of its response to this violence. Viewing this campaign simply as isolated settler terrorism is likely to limit understanding of the problem and obstruct an effective strategy for addressing it.
Settler terrorism has been rising sharply in recent years. The first half of 2012 alone witnessed 154 attacks. According to a report drafted by senior European officials in February this year, the number of attacks rose from 132 in 2009 to 411 in 2011. A UN report released in July 2012 said that settler terrorism targeting Palestinians in the West Bank had risen 150 percent since 2008. These attacks have not been restricted to violence against individuals. Places of worship (mostly mosques) have been torched, trees have been uprooted, and livestock have been slaughtered. Also in August, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that 14 sheep were killed in a settler attack against Palestinian shepherds near the West Bank village of Akraba.
There is increasing evidence to suggest that the Israeli government has been taking a passive and complicit role in dealing with settler terrorism. Dan Halutz, former Israeli Army chief of staff, recently told the Israeli Army radio that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is not doing enough to stop settler violence. “If we wanted, we could catch them and when we want to, we will,” Mr. Halutz said. Furthermore, Haaretz and Channel 2 television reported in February 2012 that an Israeli justice minister was caught on tape advising right-wingers on how to seek pardons for Jewish terrorists – which he might later approve.