On July 3, an Israeli settler named Yair Har-Sinai was shot to death near a settlement enclave south of the West Bank.
Fellow-settlers, who were extensively interviewed, explained two things about him: unlike other settlers, he did not carry a gun and claimed to be in favour of co-existence; and, more than any other settler, he was zealous in constantly staking a claim to "state lands" (confiscated Palestinian lands), day and night herding his sheep onto them so as "to make them into Jewish lands in practice".
One could feel sorry for this misguided man, as for the ever-increasing number of victims claimed by the violent whirlwind of the past nine months.
But any impartial observer would have to admit that Har-Sinai's two attributes were in flat contradiction to each other. You just can't be a seeker after coexistence, much less an unarmed pacifist, and at the same time actively engage in dispossessing your neighbours. Har-Sinai died of that contradiction.
On July 4, just hours after Har-Sinai's body was found, Israeli military forces entered neighbouring Palestinian villages, systematically blowing up houses and the caves in which many of the poor Palestinian peasants of this area have their dwellings, destroying terraces and filling up wells. Some 500 people were rendered homeless.
Full details are as yet not available, since the army surrounds the whole area, allowing in neither human rights field workers nor the Red Cross which offered to provide tents to the newly dispossessed families.
This was clearly an act of collective punishment, in flagrant violation of international law. It was also something worse - using a killing as a pretext for continuing the implementation of a long-lasting, comprehensive plan of dispossession.
As long ago as 1982, the whole area - some 8600 hectares - had been declared "a closed military zone" and the Palestinians residing in it ordered to leave, so as to make place for the creation of Israeli settlements.
They refused to leave the string of small villages, often consisting of caves rather than houses, where their ancestors had lived for hundreds of years: Wad Rakhaim, Karbet al-Nabi, Imnaizel, al-Shatneh and Kharbet al-Sussia (the name of the last, as well as its lands, were appropriated for the Israeli settlement created nearby).
For the past two decades they have been living precariously on the fragments left of their land, subject to harassment and constant encroachment by the settlers. Now, it seems, the killing is being used in order to complete the work of dispossession.
This tragic and infuriating affair illustrates the deadlock Israel is in. The government of Israel demands a ceasefire - "complete, utter quiet, with not a shot fired and not a stone thrown", in the words of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
At the same time, settlers are allowed to continue expanding their armed enclaves and dispossessing their neighbours, under the protection and with the active cooperation of the mightiest army in the Middle East.
[Reprinted from Gush Shalom (Israeli Peace Block). Gush Shalom is circulating a statement opposing the destruction of the houses. It is available at