EAPPI FACT SHEET: Violence Without Sanctions

12:00 Mar 23 2012 West Bank

from EAPPI via Wafa News Service, 23-3-2012

In recent years, violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians has risen sharply. The Israeli authorities do little to prevent or punish it. This EAPPI fact sheet shows how settler violence affects Palestinian communities, and calls for violent settlers to be held to account for their actions.

[The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) brings internationals to the West Bank to experience life under occupation. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. When they return home, EAs campaign for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through an end to the occupation, respect for international law and implementation of UN resolutions.]

Late in 2011, Khaled was alone making coffee in a school kitchen in the settlement of Betar Illit, where he worked as a caretaker.

He took little notice of somebody approaching him from behind.

Suddenly, the person hit him on the back with a stick covered in spikes. As Khaled struggled to protect his face, his assailant stabbed and cut him several times with a kitchen knife, then fled the scene. Khaled recognized his attacker, a resident of the settlement.

The police interrogated Khaled while he was still receiving first aid. After two weeks in hospital, he went with a Jewish friend to a police station to follow up on his case.

“Instead they arrested me for the night, and then the police did not call me again,” he told EAPPI.

Israel’s illegal settlements impact every area of Palestinian life in the West Bank. They confiscate valuable agricultural land, restrict freedom of movement, building, and access to water. Moreover, Israeli settlers often commit violence against the local population, and the culprits are rarely punished.

Since 2007 the number and severity of attacks has risen sharply, in the form of arson attacks, offensive graffiti on mosques and churches, physical assault and in some cases, murder. Human rights organizations say attacks rose by 315% between 2007 and 2011. Meanwhile, Palestinian violence against settlers significantly decreased.

Most settler attacks happen in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel has full control under the Oslo Accords. Under International Law, Israel is obliged to protect civilians and their property in the territory it occupies. It should investigate settler attacks in a thorough, impartial and independent way.

But while Palestinian violence invariably provokes a swift and sweeping response, the authorities rarely prevent or punish violence by settlers.

“If I attacked an Israeli I would spend the rest of my life in prison,” says Khaled.

Palestinians say they have little faith in the Israeli authorities. Many do not report settler violence to the police, partly for fear they will themselves be arrested.

After being attacked, Khaled had to pay his own medical costs. He lost his job in the settlement.

“Even my boss did not call me afterwards, although he used to visit my house many times. It hurts my heart,” he says.

Khaled’s family was still clearly in shock when we visited. The man suspected of committing the attack was detained and questioned, then released. Khaled has hired a lawyer to deal with his case, but says he has little hope of justice.

Violence by settlers has risen markedly since the Israeli government evacuated its settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

The withdrawal pushed a number of settlers into a radical trend of vigilantes who began carrying out violent attacks against Palestinians, including arson attacks and shootings. Settlers also issued death threats against Israelis who oppose the settlements.

The settlers call these attacks “price tags” for demolitions of unauthorized outposts.

All settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law, and unauthorized extensions to existing settlements are also illegal under Israeli law.

Occasionally, the Israeli government razes these outposts, and radical settlers react by punishing Palestinians. Some have even attacked Israeli soldiers and broken into army bases to damage equipment and steal weapons.

Recently, attacks have become more systematic. Dozens of settlers have arrived at pre-arranged locations for night time attacks under a unified command.

For Palestinians already suffering other policies of the occupation such as arbitrary detention and house demolitions, settler violence is an extra factor pushing people to leave their homes. In 2011, 139 Palestinians relocated due to such violence. Forced displacement violates international law.

The growing pro-settler lobby in the Israeli parliament has strong financial and political support from lobbies overseas. Recently the government started retroactively legalizing outposts on private Palestinian land.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) says this “actively promotes a culture of impunity that contributes to continued violence.”

UNOCHA argues that “the root cause of the settler violence phenomenon is Israel’s decades-long policy of illegally facilitating the settling of its citizens inside occupied Palestinian territory.”

It is unlikely that the Israeli government will take serious action against settler violence without pressure from abroad.

In January 2012, European diplomats recommended creating a “blacklist” of violent settlers, possibly banning them from entering the EU. They also suggested that EU countries could outlaw money transfers for settlement construction, and raise public awareness about products from settlements.
Action is needed to pressure Israel to live up to its obligations to protect civilians in the occupied territories.

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