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Raja Shehadeh is a Palestinian lawyer and human rights activist. His newest book is We Could Have Been Friends My Father and I.

Anyone following developments in the Israeli-occupied West Bank over the past half century would not have been surprised by the horrific events that took place last month in Huwara. Settler violence against Palestinians has been going on since the early 1980s. What distinguished the episode on Feb. 26 was the scale.

Driven by a strong feeling of impunity from prosecution for harming Palestinians, hundreds of settlers, some masked wielding clubs, iron chains and fuel containers, swept through the Palestinian town of Huwara near the city of Nablus. Five hours later, a 37-year-old Palestinian man died from gunshot wounds to his stomach and some 100 were injured, including four in serious condition. Thirty-six houses were burned along with at least 30 cars. The settlers set fire to a house while a Palestinian family was inside. They had to be rescued by the army.

The settlers were taking revenge for the murder of two Israeli settlers from the nearby illegal settlement of Har Bracha. Though the call to go to Huwara had been circulated on social media, the Israeli army, which had prior notice of the attack, largely stood by and did little to stop the attackers.

The project of building settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank began in earnest soon after 1967, when the Israeli government decided not to annex the Occupied Territories (with the exception of East Jerusalem) and to administer them in a way that enabled the gradual expansion of Israel’s control of the land through the establishment of settlements where Israelis were encouraged to move and where Israeli law applied. Some 500,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank. For many decades, Palestinians have been resisting this process, aware of its detrimental effect on reaching a peaceful resolution of the conflict with Israel, but to no avail.

Over the years, settler violence has been on the increase. It takes the shape of attacks on Palestinians, uprooting their olive trees, preventing shepherds from grazing and farmers from picking their olives. According to the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din, 93 per cent of all investigations by the Israeli police into ideologically motivated crimes in the West Bank over the past 15 years were closed without an indictment. It is possible now to see a correlation between the tolerance of the illegality of the settlers’ project and what is taking place in Israel regarding its legal and judicial system that has given rise to widescale protests.

In early April 1988, at the height of the First Intifada, when the hills were awash with spring flowers, a settler from the nearby settlement of Elon Moreh who was hiking in the area was shot dead in the village of Beita, close to Huwara. The Israeli army blamed the Palestinians. They invaded Beita, dynamited 15 houses, and killed a teenage boy, and arrested all the males of the village, deporting several. Famed linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, who was visiting the West Bank, wanted to speak to the villagers about the incident. I accompanied him to Beita and never forgot his reaction. After he listened attentively, he looked saddened but not surprised. He had anticipated that the increased rate of settlement building would place the occupier and the occupied, the land confiscators and those who lost their land, close together physically with predictable results.

Last Monday, the day after “the pogrom,” as a number of Israeli commentators have described it, Huwara looked like a ghost city. Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s Finance Minister, who is also a minister in the Defence Ministry responsible for the Civil Administration, Israel’s governing body in the West Bank, denied that “Jewish terrorism” existed. He said that “the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out.” He later backed down from his earlier his comments after condemnation from various nations, including the U.S. Another member of the governing coalition, Zvika Fogel added: “Huwara is closed and burned. That is what I want to see. Only thus can we obtain deterrence.” This is what these right-wing leaders believe will bring Palestinians to acquiesce to the injustice under which they have been forced to live.

Throughout the five decades of occupation, our experience has shown that this is not going to happen. The Palestinians are here to stay. The only hope, remote though it might be, is that the present legal and political crisis in Israel will convince the Israeli public that there can be no democracy as long as the occupation lasts. Then they might come to agree with my father, Aziz Shehadeh, who was one of the first to advocate for a Palestinian state next to Israel. As I quote him in my new book, he said the only peace is when we’ve both won.