Mark Perry writes: Seven months ago, during the early morning hours of May 30, Jewish settlers visiting Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus in the Palestinian West Bank engaged in a shoving match with IDF soldiers deployed to protect them. Within minutes, the confrontation escalated; several soldiers were punched by Jewish worshippers and rocks rained down on the soldiers from settlers atop the tomb. A YouTube video of the incident was later circulated on the internet at the request of the IDF. The Nablus incident was among the first in a growing series of confrontations between settlers and the Israeli military — and it sent shock waves through the Israeli military establishment. Brig. General Yoav Mordechai called the settlers “irresponsible lawbreakers” and pointed out that the IDF in the West Bank was deployed to protect settlers from “terrorists.” His message was clear: the settler confrontation had placed the lives of his soldiers at risk.
Mordechai’s statement must have brought wry smiles to Palestinian villagers near Nablus, whose olive groves have been burned and mosques desecrated by the same settlers who attacked the IDF detachment. But the Joseph’s Tomb incident was only the beginning: throughout July and August, settlers from Yitzhar — a hotbed of settler extremism — forced a series of confrontations with the IDF until, in August, a stone-throwing incident pitting settlers against Palestinians threatened to get out of control, with the IDF pushing Palestinians away from the settlers in order to protect them from the violence — and not the other way around. “It was an amazing scene,” a Palestinian organizer who witnessed the incident said during a recent trip to Washington. “At one point, one of the IDF commanders turned to me and said, ‘why don’t you do us a favor and just shoot these people?'”
The settler-on-IDF confrontations have increased over the last weeks, sending ripples of concern through the Israeli establishment. While no senior Israeli elected official has yet to suggest that the program of settlement expansion needs to be rethought, the viewpoint is the subject of sotto voce reflections throughout the Jewish state. After all, the unstated goal of the national settlement enterprise is to put obstacles in the way of Palestinian national claims — not to seed a nascent and nasty internal conflict. Now, and particularly if the confrontations continue (or escalate), Israeli officials will have to ask themselves whether it is wise to continue a program that is providing the equivalent of a Palestinian fifth column. It’s not as if the Palestinians haven’t noticed. Asked about the recent settler-IDF dust-ups near Nablus, a serving Palestinian legislator waves away a question about whether or not Abu Mazen and company will return to the peace talks: “What we ought to do is sit back and watch,” he says, “while Israel starts to unravel.”
“I don’t want to exaggerate, but it’s time to call this what it is,” a veteran IDF officer noted in a recent telephone conversation on the Nablus incident. “It might be news in America, but it’s no secret in Israel. This is a very real crisis. What we have here is the birth of a state within a state. The birth of a kind of Jewish Hezbollah.” [Continue reading…]