The culture of settler impunity to which Galon and Khenin refer is one that human rights activists have challenged for years — in vain. The entire system of governance in the West Bank is designed to protect Jewish settlers and leave Palestinians vulnerable. The settlements have security systems and armed guards, while Palestinian villagers are not only physically unprotected but also forbidden to own weapons. A Palestinian who defends his property is liable to be arrested by soldiers and detained for weeks or months in a military prison.
Several years ago, I visited a Palestinian village in Area B of the West Bank, where some of the local men decided to sleep in their family olive groves after settlers torched several of their trees. Settlers carrying jerrycans of kerosene returned, saw the village men waiting for them and attacked them. The Palestinians fought back, using their fists. To prove they were unarmed, they showed us photos of the altercation. When soldiers arrived, they arrested the Palestinians and sent the settlers home. Since then, the Israeli army has carried out several nighttime raids on the village, banging on the doors of private homes at 3 or 4 a.m. and searching the premises. Jewish settlements suspected of harboring perpetrators of price tag attacks might receive a visit from the civilian police, but a warrant would be needed to search a house or to carry out an arrest.
While Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to Israeli military law, under which many are routinely imprisoned on the basis of flimsy evidence, Israeli settlers in the same territory are subject to Israeli civil law and the protections it offers. Although Palestinian Authority security forces refrain from protecting Palestinians from Israeli settlers or soldiers, the Israeli military is not viewed as a protector for Palestinians even when settlers are breaking Israeli law.
Stories abound like the one involving Palestinian villagers being arrested for trying to protect their olive trees from settler vandalism. Despite frequent inquiries, I have yet to find any Israeli soldiers whose unit has been ordered to protect Palestinians from violent settlers. Their orders are to protect Jews. In interviews, some soldiers acknowledge discomfort with those orders, but they do not feel they are in a position to question — let alone defy — them.
Incidents of settler violence are reported by the Israeli media as the actions of extremists, implying that the perpetrators are deviants. Mainstream Israeli society does not embrace the worldview and actions of the violent settlers, and the army has been known to turn them away from military enlistment centers. But, despite being disgusted by the gratuitous violence of some settlers, mainstream Israeli society is not comfortable with Palestinians. Polls show that a majority of Israelis do not see Palestinians as potential neighbors with whom they are prepared to share their streets or apartment buildings. And their failure to connect the ever-expanding settlement enterprise with the violence being visited on the Palestinians has cultivated the climate of impunity now under international scrutiny.