JERUSALEM- Settlement leaders have expressed worry this week following the announcement that Palestinians will begin unofficial civil defense patrols throughout Judea and Samaria.
The Popular Committees, a Palestinian group known for its involvement in protests against Israel’s West Bank security barrier, and Anarchists Against the Wall, an Israeli organization with which they frequently collaborate, have called for volunteers to man “several cars [that] will patrol the West Bank” in order to “quickly respond to cases of settler attacks.”
Participants in the “volunteer-based campaign” will also stand guard over local Arab villages in order to prevent price tag attacks by Israeli settlers.
Price tag is a term adopted by the extreme fringe of the settlement movement for assaults on Arab infrastructure and property as a retaliatory measure against the dismantlement of unauthorized outposts.
Mohammed Khatib of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee commented that “if anyone needed further proof that Palestinians cannot count on Israeli authorities to prevent settler violence, recent events show beyond doubt why we need to organize to defend ourselves.”
Khatib was most likely referring to a recent price tag incident in which a mosque in the village of Qusra was vandalized, allegedly in response to the demolition of three houses in the settlement of Migron.
The four initial patrol teams, the Popular Committees announced, will “document settler-attacks, but will also intervene to prevent and stop them when possible.”
Teams on the ground, which will be “composed of Palestinian, Israeli and international activists, will be directed from an operations-room in Ramallah, to which toll-free calls will be routed.”
Kobi Snitz, a Jewish activist and organizer of demonstrations against Israel’s West Bank barrier, emailed members of Anarchists Against the Wall on Friday, calling on them to “support this campaign” by volunteering to “cover shifts” when there are not enough Palestinians available.
The Popular Committees stated that they have already seen success in their initiative, telling website Islam Online that they “succeeded in fending off several settler attempts to infiltrate a number of towns and villages.”
Despite Khatib’s assurances that his volunteers will operate in a “civic and peaceful manner,” a photograph taken by AFP showed at least one Palestinian participant standing near an Arab village armed with a blunt object that appeared to be a baseball bat, prompting worries by some settlers over the possibility that the patrols could lead to violent clashes.
According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, a think-tank with close ties to Israeli intelligence, the “popular resistance” employed by the committees in their demonstrations is “represented as non-violent, but in reality it often employs well-organized, ‘soft’ violence, such as throwing stones at and physically assaulting IDF soldiers, and the occasional Molotov cocktail.”
Among the settlement leaders who have expressed their concerns is David Ha’ivri, the spokesman for the Samaria Liaison Office, the public relations branch of the Samaria Regional Council.
Ha’ivri alleged that the patrol initiative was “another effort by the extremist left wing and Anarchist activists in Israel to cause friction between Jewish and Arab residents.”
The committees are looking to “provoke violence in Judea and Samaria” he stated. “I expect that the police will deal with those who come from afar to stir commotion in our region.” Ha’ivri called on his “Arab neighbors” not to “cooperate with provocateurs who’s only goal is the inflame the region.”
The leader of one settlement’s civilian rapid reaction force, who declined to be identified publically, said that he thinks “it would be helpful if these groups would document the dozens of unprovoked Palestinian rock attacks on Israeli civilians; specifically children.”
He expressed anger over the deaths of two Israelis on Friday in a Palestinian ambush.
“On Friday, Palestinian rock throwers murdered Asher Palmer and his infant son Yonatan as they smashed Palmer’s car[‘s windshield with rocks] on highway 60, causing it to overturn, killing Asher and Yonatan,” he said. “Last week, a 16 month old infant was seriously wounded, when Palestinians smashed rocks into her car windshield. The infant is currently in serious condition.”
However, despite his anger over Friday’s attack, the security officer requested that the residents of Judea and Samaria “obey the law” and “let Israel’s security forces bring Arab terrorists to justice.”
Friday’s attack came as Palestinians rallied throughout the West Bank in celebration of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ request for United Nations’ recognition of a Palestinian state. Israeli security forces have been on high alert due to fears of possible Arab unrest following Abbas’ UN bid. Palestinians did not wait for Friday to escalate the situation, however, with several shots fired at motorists near the town of Karnei Shomron last Wednesday.
Hebron community spokesman David Wilder also reacted angrily, saying that the Popular Committee’s security patrols were “terror in disguise.”
“I fully expect Israeli security forces to stop them before they begin,” Wilder stated. “Of course it is a provocation – any Arab attacking a Jew will be dealt with accordingly.”
Adding to settlers’ worries regarding the new Palestinian highway patrols, Wilder wrote on his blog on Sunday that the Palestinians “have begun using a new method in their continued attempts to kill Jews” involving motor vehicles.
“Instead of standing on the side of the road and throwing a rock,” he claimed, “they are heaving them from moving cars, coming at you from the opposite direction. They toss a rock out their window, in front of your car, just prior to passing you.”
Despite prior assurances from Palestinian police spokesman General Adnan Damiri that no forces independent of his command would be allowed to operate in the territories, the PA has come out in favor of the civilian initiative.
“This is not about any security functions, but rather about Palestinians, Israeli[s] and international [activists working] to document, in order to protect, Palestinians from settlers’ attacks. Therefore it does not contradict with what Damiri said,” stated PA spokesman Ghassan Khatib.