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Israel’s fanatical settlers can get away with murder – literally

Asa WinstanleyAsa Winstanley

Just before Christmas, a shocking video was broadcast on Israeli television. It showed a large group of Israeli settlers at a wedding celebration dancing and singing. The clip was quickly dubbed the ” wedding of hate” because of the violent nature of the event.

In the clip, the wedding guests wave guns, knives and what is apparently a Molotov cocktail. One of them then stabs a photo of a Palestinian baby. It was a very specific photo.

According to the reports, it depicted Ali Dawabsha, an 18-month-old child burned to death by Israeli fanatics. His home in Duma, near Nablus was attacked in a July fire-bombing. Both Ali’s parents died in agony after suffering severe burns in the attack.

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Ali’s 4-year-old brother Ahmad was the only survivor, and was only very recently released to a special burns recovery unit. Ahmad has been sheltered by his grandparents and still does not know that his family is dead.

Despite the very high profile and shocking nature of the attack, Israeli authorities did not do what they do in the case of suspected Palestinian attackers against Israeli soldiers and civilians: when the suspects are not Jews, they are more often than not gunned down in cold blood, denied medical treatment and allowed to bleed to death. Homes belonging to family members and neighbours of the suspects are then summarily demolished. Quite often this all takes place within days of any attack on Israeli Jews, before any arrest, let alone any trial.

In the case of Jewish settler suspects, things are very different. In Israel’s kangaroo court system, run by its military, there is a 99.7 percent conviction rate for Palestinians who go to “trial.” But Jewish settlers seem to be allowed to get away with murder.

Even in such a high profile and shocking case, the suspects were at large for months. Israel’s Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon admitted as long ago as September that they knew killed the Dawabshas. But arrests were not made till much later, and it was only last week that two suspects have finally been charged.

One report, by Richard Silverstein, suggests that Israel Keller (who he claims is likely a one of the culprits) was actually an informant for the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police: “of all those arrested under suspicion of involvement in the Dawabsheh case, Keller was the only one released.”

This particular suspicion of Silverstein’s is unconfirmed, but there is no doubt that the Shin Bet has good sources within the ranks of the settler extremists. These fanatics are considered ideological rivals to the state of Israel. All are violent Zionists (the Shin Bet is a violent spy agency with a long history of torture and killings of Palestinians) but they are contending and divergent strains of Zionist ideology.

Often, there is crossover. Sometimes the Shin Bet tries to get the radical settlers to do their dirty work for them, creating an element of plausible deniability. There’s no indication that this is what happened in the case of the murders of the Dawabshas, but there is precedent for such machinations.

In 2010, secret video footage showed that the Shin Bet had attempted to persuade Chaim Pearlman (a known settler extremist) to assassinate the Palestinian activist Sheikh Raed Salah. In the video the Shin Bet agent, who befriended Pearlman and was known as “Dada,” can be heard exhorting him to go to an “Arab village” to “turn it into a fireworks display” and to execute Salah.

Salah, an important leader in the Islamic Movement in Israel, has long been a thorn in the side of Israeli occupation forces. And they finally banned his faction of the movement more recently.

It remains to be seen what will happen in the case of the accused murderers of the Dawabsha family. Will they face justice, or will they get off with another light sentence? Whatever the outcome, there seems no doubt that things have already gone very differently than they do for Palestinians.

It is also noteworthy that these extremists are being supported from abroad. As is well-known, some of the most fanatical settlements receive generous (and often tax-exempt) funding from supporters in the United States and Erurope.

From New York, Victor Vancier, a convicted Jewish Defence League terrorist, boasted only in December: “We support them, we support their families. We support them financially, and we support them in other ways.” We was talking of prisoners held by Israel accused of the Dawabsha killings.

Vancier has his supporters in the UK too: the small group calling itself the JDL UK. While nowhere near as organized or numerous as the JDL in France (who are probably the most dangerous Kahanist group in the world today outside of Israel) the JDL UK’s activists did attack a pro-Palestinian book festival in Tottenham in September 2014. Two of them were found guilty of assault (although one of these convictions was later overturned on appeal).

The reason that these extremists can get away with what they do is because (despite some essentially tactical disputes and fallings-out) all the settlers are ultimately protected by the Israeli state. Even those settler fanatics who claim to be hostile to the state of Israel and do things like throw stones at Israeli soldiers, are ultimately protected by the state – soldiers protect and watch over them during their violent “price tag” attacks on unarmed Palestinian villagers in the West Bank.

All Israeli settlers need to be removed: Israeli occupation and apartheid must come to an end.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London and an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.

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