RAMALLAH, Mar 22, 2011 (IPS) - Israeli settlers observed their own 'Day of Rage' last Thursday, launching reprisal attacks on Palestinians for the recent murder of a settler family in an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, and the demolition of a settlement structure by the Israeli authorities.
Over the years, Israeli settlers have carried out the much publicised "price tag" policy of intimidation and violence against Palestinians and their property every time Israeli officials have demolished a settler outpost.
The outposts, mostly comprising a few caravans often unconnected to water and electricity, are deemed illegal by the Israeli authorities unlike the larger settlements.
A settler family comprising a mother, father and three children, including a three-month-old baby, were stabbed to death in Itamar, a settlement near the city of Nablus in the northern West Bank.
Suspecting the killer or killers to be Palestinian, without any evidence and despite rumours that Thai labourers involved in a pay dispute with their employers in Itamar could have been responsible, settlers attacked Palestinians and their property throughout the West Bank as their day of rage extended over the week.
This followed days of rage carried out by pro-democracy protestors against authoritarian governments throughout the Arab world including Palestine.
"The government must understand that it doesn't pay to destroy our homes and we are going to make them regret what happened here," said Rabbi Meir Goldmintz, who teaches at West Bank seminary.
"We are going to pay them (Palestinians) a visit to do what the Israeli government should be doing to them and not to us," he said pointing at nearby Palestinian villages.
On Thursday, true to their word major traffic intersections near Nablus were blocked by settlers burning tyres as cars and pedestrians were attacked with stones and Molotov cocktails. A group of settlers firebombed a house in the nearby village of Huwwara, forcing the evacuation of two Palestinian children to hospital for treatment for smoke inhalation.
On Monday a Palestinian was stabbed by settlers, a shop was set on fire and later a group of settlers were seen stoning Palestinians' cars in Hebron in the southern West Bank. One of the Hebron settlers also ran over a five-year-old Palestinian boy causing moderate injuries while on Sunday an 11-year-old Palestinian girl walking to school was run over.
Jewish settlers armed with machine guns and accompanied by Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers uprooted hundreds of olive trees planted by Palestinian farmers near Bethlehem.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government announced that 500 new settlement units would be built in response to the settler murders. Some analysts argue that Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu has used the killings as a political tool to present Israel once again as the victim in the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a time when Israel is becoming increasingly isolated as international condemnation of the occupation intensifies.
Simultaneously, Israeli officials have carried out a massive demolition policy against what they describe as illegal Palestinian homes and property built without permits in the West Bank. Palestinians face enormous bureaucratic difficulties obtaining the permits.
"It is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits for Area C of the West Bank, which comprises approximately 60 percent of the territory," Sarit Michaeli from Israeli rights group Btselem told IPS.
Israel has divided the West Bank into Area A which falls under Palestinian control, Area B which falls under Israeli military control and Palestinian civil control and Area C which falls under full Israeli control.
Figures released by the United Nations show a two-fold increase in the number of Palestinian homes and agricultural buildings destroyed by Israel during this year, causing concern among officials.
The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) recorded 70 demolitions since the start of 2011, displacing 105 Palestinians, of whom 43 were under the age of 18. The demolitions were carried out across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and ordered by Israeli police, municipal officials and Israel's Civil Administration.
"The process of demolitions is a triple humiliation, with families forced to build illegally, faced with the demolition of their homes and a process that all too often occurs in front of the faces of their children," said Chris Gunness an UNRWA spokesman.
However, despite announcing that settler outposts deemed illegal by the Israeli government would also be demolished, a report by the Israeli daily 'Haaretz' revealed that settler property demolished was for the most part tents and tin shacks.
Furthermore, according to the report the Israeli government will retrospectively legalise a good portion of the outposts it previously declared illegal.
Israel rights group Peace Now revealed several years ago that more than 50 percent of the land the illegal settlements had been built on had been expropriated from Palestinian villages and communities and retroactively declared Israeli "state land".
The group also revealed that there are more than 100 wildcat West Bank outposts set up without permission from the Israeli authorities.
"Parallels between Israeli and Palestinian construction in the West Bank can't be drawn. All Israeli settlement in the West Bank is illegal under international law. Settlers are positively discriminated against when it comes to illegal construction. Palestinians should have the right to build and grow but Israel is using its illegal construction policy as a political tool to restrict the Palestinians," Michaeli told IPS.
All Israeli settlement in the occupied Palestinian West Bank is illegal according to international law, specifically various U.N. resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention. (END)