By Geoffrey Paul
July 21, 2009
Time and again in accounts of Cossack raids on their Jewish or Polish neighbours, we read of men on horseback, wielding fiery touches, setting fire to fields and crops and terrifying the local populace. I recalled these accounts with a prickle of horror when I read today's Israeli press reports of between 1,500 and 2,000 Arab olive trees being set on fire by horseback riding settlers from the ever-troublesome West Bank Jewish settlement of Yitzhar. It is from this place, you may recall, that Israel paratroopers were withdrawn a few years ago after clashes with settlers. What gives this ugly story an even uglier twist is that the settlers say their attacks are not aimed specifically at local Arabs but at the Israeli Government as a warning of what will happen if they continue to demolish illegal structures on West Bank settlements. If and when the Israel Government moves against the settlements themselves, I fear we will see battles of Jew against Jew as have not been experienced in modern history. It is a terrible prospect, made worse by the fact that one side believes it is acting in the name and with the blessing of God.