Nazi-like Jewish settlers have continued to attack mosques and churches in the West Bank as part of a seemingly concerted effort to force Palestinians to leave their homes.
The government-backed settlers often describe their frequent attacks on Palestinians and their properties as "price tag" reprisals against the Israeli army for daring to dismantle some isolated Jewish settler outposts.
As to why the settler terrorists choose to target innocent Palestinians, not the army, settler spokespersons argue that attacking Palestinian mosques -- and to a lesser extent churches -- creates headlines, and effectively highlights the settlers' "grievances" in addition to embarrassing the occupation army.
Another reason for the wanton terror has to do with the simple fact that the settlers can do it virtually with impunity. Indeed, despite the fact that as many as 20 mosques and six churches have been targeted of late, not a single settler has been apprehended for the attacks.
This colossal failure, say Jewish commentators, may be attributed to two main reasons. First, lack of political will on the Israeli government's part to harm or collide with the settlers since a confrontation with the settlers would probably bring down the government, or at least make a sizable segment of Israelis lose confidence in it.
The current coalition government includes key fundamentalist Talmudic parties that are largely considered "settler parties". These include the so-called National Union, which advocates ethnic cleansing of non-Jews, Shas, the Haredi ultra-orthodox party representing Middle Eastern Jews, as well as the Likud, which is no less demagogic and racist vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
Second, Israeli settlers and their supporters have infiltrated both the Israeli army itself as well as the justice system, hence the "kid gloves" treatment settlers receive from the political and military establishment as well as the courts.
Israeli leaders, embarrassed by the horrifying regularity of settler attacks on mosques, vowed ad nauseam that they would catch the perpetrators and bring them to justice. However, the persistence of the attacks and the defiance displayed by the settlers suggest that the government is either unable or unwilling to enter into a confrontation with the settlers for the sake of the Palestinians and even if Israel's already tarnished image suffers further harm.
The seemingly coordinated campaign of terror and vandalism continued unabated for the third consecutive week with no sign of a let-up. The latest violence occurred at Al-Sahaba Mosque in the town of Bani Naim near Hebron on Sunday, 18 December, when settlers attempted to torch the holy place. The vigilance of locals forced the would-be arsonists to flee. However, they did so only after they inscribed sacrilegious graffiti on the exterior of the mosque.
At the same time, another gang of young settlers set several Palestinian cars in the village of Tebbin on fire. The Israeli media reported that two settler boys were arrested in connection to this attack. However, according to Israeli law, Jewish minors can't be arrested and the harshest measure that could be taken against them is a brief house arrest, a symbolic and insignificant measure in real terms.
This is in sharp contrast to the stringent and harsh punishments inflicted on Palestinian minors, even as young as eight or nine years old. The use of children and minors by settlers to attack Palestinians is a potentially serious phenomenon.
The two incidents happened hours after dozens of Talmudic settlers overwhelmed an army camp in protest against intentions to dismantle an isolated settler outpost. One soldier was reportedly injured after a stone hit him on the head.
Observers in the occupied Palestinian territories argue that many if not most of the soldiers serving in the West Bank are themselves settlers answerable their rabbis and Talmudic "sages" rather than to their immediate army superiors.
The settler-soldiers also follow rather meticulously an elaborate regime of instructions, such as proving alibi and other evasive "evidence", aimed at exonerating themselves from possible charges stemming from their involvement in terror and vandalism against Palestinians.
Despite the shocking frequency of settler attacks and what could be a looming religious war in Israel-Palestine, the Israeli government is still refusing to call a spade a spade, even the culpability of settlers is crystal clear.
Earlier this week, Binyamin Netanyahu refused to call the settlers "terrorists" although he wouldn't refrain from using the same epithet against Israel's Palestinian victims. Netanyahu used the innocuous term "troublemakers" to describe settler gangsters, giving the false impression that the settlers are much like small children who are naughty but without direct intention.
Last week, this writer asked a Jewish liberal commentator why the Israeli government refuses to use the authority of the law against settler terrorists in the West Bank. The commentator, who didn't want his name to be mentioned, said the following: "We Jews usually answer a question with another question. Do you think a venomous snake would bite its own tail?"
* Khalid Amayreh a journalist based in the Occupied Palestinian town of Dura. He obtained his MA in journalism from the University of Southern Illinois in 1983.