Middle East


In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, near-daily incidents between Jewish settlers and Palestinians keep tensions at a constant simmer. Olive trees and grapevines are destroyed, tires are slashed, mosques are defaced. U.N. figures show that settlers are responsible for the vast majority of incidents and those have nearly quadrupled since 2006.

NPR's Emily Harris has this story of one unusual confrontation and its surprising resolution.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: High on a hill in the West Bank, 23-year-old Pinahasi Baron helps build a house. He lives here in Esh Kodesh, a small community of Jewish families which was built without the approval of the Israeli government. Last week, Baron and more than a dozen other Israelis were trapped in a different half-built house across the valley on the edge of a Palestinian village.

Palestinians say the settlers had come to the village to destroy property. There had already been one relatively small confrontation that day.


HARRIS: This time, Palestinians cornered the Israelis, an angry scene caught on video and later shown on TV. People had been hurt on both sides.

Pinahasi Baron.

PINAHASI BARON: (Through translator) I thought they were going to kill me. I thought about my wife and children. I thought about the hope that people will come and avenge our death.

HARRIS: Ziad Oday was there too. He and other leaders from the nearby Palestinian village of Qusra had rushed over when they heard what was going on.

ZIAD ODAY: (Through translator) We saw how the settlers' faces were bleeding, how they'd been beaten up by our young men. Our message to them was leave us alone. We don't want to kill you. We do want to show our strength.

HARRIS: Village council head Abdel Wadi said he and other Palestinian authorities put themselves physically between the cornered settlers and the angry crowd.

ABDEL WADI: (Through translator) We did not want to turn this event as a black day for both Palestine and Israel. We acted despite the fact that our citizens were extremely angry, and are always angry because their houses have been burned by settlers before, because their trees were uprooted.

HARRIS: The actions of the village leaders won grudging thanks from settler supporters. One conservative Israeli commentator said although he hated to admit it, many settler attacks on Palestinians are immoral and should be stopped.

Dani Dayan, the leader of a settler political group, agrees. He says an extremist fringe is hurting the settler movement overall.

DANI DAYAN: Not only does it not help our cause, it's the single most dangerous, most detrimental issue. The people that commit these things are both criminals and idiots.

HARRIS: But Gadi Zohar, a former Israeli military commander in the West Bank, says Dayan's group, the Yesha Council, and extremist young settlers share a political goal: stopping negotiations that could lead to a possible Palestinian state.

GADI ZOHAR: They do not want this process to succeed and they do not want to be evacuated, and so on. I don't think these youngsters are part of the Yesha Council policy or being directly supported. But the Yesha leadership is not active enough in order to try to stop these activities.

HARRIS: The settlers trapped in the half-built house were eventually turned over to Israeli troops. They maintain they were only out for a hike that day, but Israeli police later detained half a dozen, putting them under house arrest for five days for entering Palestinian areas and attempting to destroy property.

Pinahasi Baron was among those arrested. He says he will not be trapped by Palestinians again.

BARON: (Through translator) We lost this one, but it will never happen again. Maybe we'll walk with weapons to make sure they won't dare attack us again. We've made some decisions which I can't tell you about. But these scenes will not be seen again.

HARRIS: Several people in Qusra said their leaders did the right thing by saving the settlers. One young Palestinian man said he would have listened to the village council members if he had been part of the incident. But his feeling, he said, would have been to break the settlers' necks.

Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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