Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had tough words to describe the militant actions of Israeli settlers living on occupied lands in the West Bank as he prepares to step down from office.
Olmert, who is resigning his post in the face of a criminal probe into his administration, criticized the settlers, most extremist fanatics including many with dual citizenship from the United States, as perpetrating "pogroms" against Palestinian civilians.
A "pogrom" refers to a mob riot that targets a group of people based on their race or religion.
Olmert referenced the period in the 19th and early 20th Century when Russian governments ordered their citizens and soldiers to riot and assault Jews, forcing them to leave their lands and homes. Olmert's comment was made in response to a settler mob attack from one settlement against Palestinian civilians living in a neighboring village.
The settlers fired weapons and live ammunition at Palestinian women and children and destroyed property in response to an apparent criminal assault by a Palestinian against one of their settlers.
At a government cabinet meeting, Olmert said, "The State of Israel does not allow pogroms against non-Jews." He said settlers who "take the law into their own hands" will be prosecuted.
Despite the strong words, Israel's policies have been lax towards settlers, which represent a growing segment of the extremist religious political factions in the Jewish State.
It is rare that Jewish settlers, who live on lands confiscated from Palestinian Christian and Muslims in the West Bank, are punished for their attacks against Palestinian civilians.
While it is illegal for Palestinians to carry weapons to defend themselves against Israeli settler assaults, Israeli settlers are often armed to the teeth, training their children at a young age to fire their weapons at target practices that Palestinian witnesses contend display Palestinian images.
The confiscation of Palestinian land is a part of the conflict and has been used by Palestinian extremist groups as justification to attack Jewish settlers and Israeli targets.
Hamas has often targeted Israeli civilians, declaring that there is "no difference" between Israeli soldiers and civilians. The Palestinian terrorist organization tried but failed to usurp control of the Palestinian government sparking a mini-civil war in the Gaza Strip, a conflict that has paralyzed Palestinian government and weakened the Palestinians' ability to negotiate with Israel from a position of strength.
While Israel has failed to prosecute it's own citizens accused of attacking and killing Palestinian civilians, they have aggressively pursued Palestinians accused of crimes, going so far as to implement a policy of "extra-judicial killings." These killings have been denounced as a violation of international law and presume from its name that the targets are denied any rights of judicial review before being executed by Israeli government order.
On the same token, Palestinians have also rarely prosecuted its citizens who have engaged in terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, often branding the terrorists as "martyrs," a word that technically applies to individuals who sacrifice their lives for a just cause. The term has been bastardized by Islamists and extremist secular Palestinians to also include suicide bombers who have killed themselves often while attacking Israeli women and children.
Despite the tough talk against Israeli terrorists like the settlers, it is doubtful that it will mean any change in the government's policies. In fact, Olmert's courage in finally speaking out against the extremist factions in Israel that often use violence and terrorism against Palestinians stems from the fact that his political career in Israel is over.
Israel's police said they will pursue criminal charges against Olmert, who has been accused of taking money from a wealthy American Jewish businessman in exchange for political favors.
It is doubtful Olmert would have made the strong and accurate comments had it not been for the scandal and his eminent departure from office.
This week, Kadima, his political party, will elect his successor as party leader.
Kadima was in part a spin-poff of the Labor Party movement, headed by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. But both Kadima and the Labor Party support peace based on compromise with Palestinians, policies opposed by Israel's ultra-religious organizations like the extremist Likud Party headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, and the settler organizations.
Regardless of the reasons, though, Olmert's words resonated throughout Israel and Palestine as at least one high ranking government official has finally recognized the terrorism practices of the settlers.
-- Ray Hanania
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