— The annual rate of Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians has almost quadrupled in eight years, U.N. figures show, buttressing claims that Israeli security forces have largely failed to stem the so-called "price tag" campaign in which thugs cut down trees, deface mosques and beat Palestinian farmers.
Israeli leaders have repeatedly denounced such attacks — the defense minister last week branded them "outright terrorism" — and the military says soldiers are under strict orders to stop them. Still, critics say Israeli governments stacked with pro-settler politicians have often been reluctant to confront settlers, even those seen as a hardline fringe.
"There is not enough pressure from the prime minister, the defense minister, the interior minister to prevent this," said Gadi Zohar, a former senior army commander in the West Bank.
A dramatic incident near this Palestinian farming village last week highlighted the potential of such attacks to escalate and jeopardize fragile U.S.-led peace efforts. "Price tag" refers to settler attacks on Palestinians in response to army actions against any of dozens of West Bank settlement outposts.
Last week's events began when troops uprooted olive trees planted on private Palestinian land by settlers from the Esh Kodesh outpost.
Later that day, about 20 Israelis moved toward nearby villages, including Qusra. Palestinians said the settlers damaged olive trees, and were caught by villagers after a stone-throwing clash and held by them for more than two hours before being handed to the army.