© Musa Al Shaer / GettyA Palestinian municipal worker decorates Bethlehem's Christmas tree in Manger Square.
If Christian pilgrims traveling to Bethlehem for Christmas this week happen to witness violence, for the first time militant Jews, not Palestinians, are most likely to be the perpetrators.
Now that a far right-wing government has governed Israel for almost three years, settlers feel emboldened so that Jewish extremists are wreaking havoc and mayhem. West Bank Palestinians, meanwhile, are standing by quietly, largely minding their own business - even as these settler-marauders repeatedly attack them. This has never happened before.
In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority now employs a widely respected police force that has effectively kept the peace. And so it certainly will in Bethlehem. Secret cooperation between Palestinian police and Israeli security forces is "one of the reasons Israeli citizens enjoy such a calm security situation of late," Reuven Pedatzur, a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz
, wrote last summer, before the settler-extremist violence had reached its zenith.
But in just the last few weeks, these settlers have burned two mosques, torched Palestinian homes and cars, threatened Israelis they perceive to be leftist and attacked an Israeli army base, wounding one of its officers. That final act, attacking the army, finally roused the government from its lackadaisical approach to the violence.