The settler movement is in serious denial over last week's killings of three Palestinians, including 3-month-old Dia Tmeizi. While all settlers publicly condemn the killings, even the most "mainstream" don't see any connection between the nighttime ambush near Hebron and the incessant cries for "revenge" by settlers at funerals, demonstrations and elsewhere.
"I also shouted 'revenge' at demonstrations," says Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, spokesman of the YESHA Council, the lead political action committee of the settler movement. "There's nothing forbidden about revenge, it's perfectly legitimate as long as it's carried out by the state, not by individuals taking the law into their own hands."
The gunman or gunmen, who opened fire on the car driven by the Tmeizi family, fled in the direction of "Israel proper," not towards a Jewish settlement or Palestinian Authority territory inside. It's possible the gunmen were not settlers. But the more radical settlers insist that Arabs might well have been the killers.
This was the argument Adir Zik, a tremendously popular commentator on the settler radio station Arutz 7, made on his program the morning after the killings. "It's being taken for granted that this was done by Jews, but it's very doubtful," Zik said in an interview, recalling a 1995 murder of Halhoul Arabs at first thought to have been committed by settler extremists, when it turned out to have been done by Palestinians.
Reminded that there have been instances of settlers killing innocent Palestinians, the most grievous case being the massacre of 29 Palestinians by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron, Zik replied, "I have many doubts whether he killed the people there. He might have been pulled into [Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs, where the Arab victims were shot during prayer]. It might have really been a feud between Arab clans."
That Goldstein was seen going into the tomb with his Army rifle; his dead body was found in the tomb afterward; his rifle and his spent bullets were recovered from the tomb; and scores of Palestinian survivors testified that it was Goldstein who opened fire, evidently hasn't made an impression on Zik. Soon after the killings, Women in Green sent out an e-mail headlined, "Don't Blame the Jews!" "The fact that Arab survivors testified that the attackers looked Jewish doesn't mean anything," said Women in Green, noting that Efrat settler Sarah Blaustein was shot to death by Palestinians wearing a kippah. There is no known case of Arabs disguising themselves as religious Jews and killing Arabs for the purpose of discrediting settlers, but this doesn't deter the Women in Green. With Arab pressure mounting to bring international observers to the territories, there is a "clear Arab interest in portraying themselves as victims," went the statement.
A few days before the assault on the Tmeizi family -- all told, three of them were killed and four wounded, including Dia's mother -- Shin Bet head Avi Dichter told a Knesset committee that at least one Jewish terror cell was operating in the West Bank. In June, a Palestinian was killed in a drive-by shooting by unknown gunmen calling themselves the Shalhevet-Zar Brigade, named for two Jewish settler victims of the intifada, the infant girl Shalhevet Pass and security officer Gilad Zar. At the time of Dichter's warning, explosives were found in the car of the wife of Noam Federman, a Kach leader and Hebron settler arrested and convicted numerous times for hate crimes.
Yet while even moderate settlers say the guilt for the Tmeizi killings are confined to the gunmen who carried them out, the Israeli human rights organization B'tselem says that all told during the current intifada, eight Palestinians have been killed by Israeli civilians in what could be called murders. In some cases the killers were never found, in other cases the police arrested settlers but freed them for lack of evidence -- over the testimony of Palestinian who said they witnessed the killings. Beyond these killings, B'tselem points out, settler vigilantism is a continuous phenomenon, and has been especially grievous during this intifada.
"In recent months, settlers have shot at Palestinians, stoned their cars, damaged property, uprooted trees, burned a mosque, harmed Palestinian medical teams, attacked journalists, prevented farmers from going to their fields and blocked Palestinian cars from traveling on roads. Although some of the shooting was in self-defense, the vast majority of violence was premeditated," B'tselem stated.
Asked to respond to this statement, Mor-Yosef interrupted the reading of it and said, "I believe a B'tselem as much as I believe a Hamas report. I don't believe a word they say."
Palestinians have killed scores of West Bank and Gaza settlers in this intifada, and hundreds have been wounded. The roads the Palestinians drive to and from home have become killing zones. But settlers have not only been victims during the current fighting, they have also been victimizers. Their claims of innocence in the killing of the Tmeizis are hollow when their cry of "Revenge!" has become so common.