WhatsApp Group Fuels Settler Violence against Palestinians
A group of Jewish settlers hailing from the contentious Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, situated in close proximity to Jerusalem, has come under scrutiny for orchestrating activities aimed at diminishing the Palestinian presence within the city. A recent report by Israeli Kan public broadcaster has cast a light on these unsettling developments.
The group, self-styled “Restoring Security,” is under the leadership of two candidates contesting positions in the Israeli forthcoming municipal elections, representing Otzma Yehudit, a far-right political entity led by the extremist National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir. Their actions have ignited profound concerns as they systematically target businesses employing or serving Palestinians and organize patrols designed to interrogate and terrorize Palestinians in the city.
Shiran Mirzai, a leading figure within the group, proclaims their mission as one aimed at “encouraging Hebrew employment” and prioritizing the welfare of their own residents. She adamantly disavows allegations of racism, instead asserting that their activities are rooted solely in their purported concern for the city. She, however, concedes that some businesses in Ma’ale Adumim may favor employing Palestinians due to the allure of lower labor costs.
The group’s tactics have extended to exerting pressure on a local gym to impose a ban on Palestinian customers, dubbing it as “Islamicized.” Following a boycott campaign orchestrated by the group, the gym acquiesced, admitting only Israeli settlers as members. A video posted by the group employed derogatory language when referring to Palestinians.
Furthermore, the group took exception to a mall’s Facebook page offering Arabic translations and issued threats of a boycott unless modifications were undertaken. Their rhetoric also included the use of derogatory terms, such as “rats,” to refer to Palestinians. In a further display of their aggressive posture, the group targeted driving instructors who catered to Palestinian students from neighboring communities, offering free advertising for those instructors willing to abstain from teaching Palestinians within the city’s confines.
The report by Kan spotlights the involvement of the Fake Reporter social media watchdog, which was the first to detect and document the group’s activities. The watchdog has drawn parallels between the group’s rhetoric and the Nazi propaganda directed against Jews in the lead-up to the Holocaust. Despite these comparisons, Shiran Mirzai and her colleague, Moti Peretz, staunchly denied any association with such historical precedents.
Ma’ale Adumim stands as one of the largest and most densely populated Israeli settlements within the occupied West Bank. Under international law, it is unequivocally deemed illegal, a classification that extends to all Jewish settlements established by the Israeli occupation on Palestinian territories. Geographically situated to the east of Jerusalem, its unchecked expansion poses a direct threat to severing the northern and southern regions of the West Bank.
The nefarious WhatsApp campaign constitutes but one facet of a broader surge in Israeli settler violence directed against Palestinians. Earlier this year, scores of Israeli settlers rampaged through Palestinian villages, resulting in the conflagration of homes and vehicles and culminating in the tragic loss of a Palestinian life.
The U.S. State Department has condemned the settler attacks as “widespread, indiscriminate violence,” extending heartfelt condolences to the families of all victims affected. In tandem, the European Union delegation to Palestine has categorically denounced Israeli settler violence, articulating a resounding call for accountability.
The settler violence has also drawn criticism from human rights groups and civil society organizations, who have documented numerous cases of attacks, vandalism, harassment, and intimidation against Palestinians by Israeli settlers. They have accused the Israeli occupation authorities of being complicit in the violence by providing legal, political, and military support to the settlers, and by failing to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators. They have also called for an end to the Israeli occupation and settlement expansion, which they say are the root causes of the conflict and the violations of international law and human rights. Against the backdrop of this mounting settler violence, anxieties mount concerning the potential initiation of a cycle of hostilities against Palestinians, which could further undermine the prospects of peace and stability in the region.