"This is how I understand the struggle...To stand steadily like spears, and never give up." Naji Al-Ali

Friday, October 1, 2010

Settler Violence in the Occupied West Bank

Settlements are illegal under international law. This is an indisputable fact. But the  act of settlement itself, confiscating Palestinian land and transferring Israeli citizens onto it, is not the only problem. In reality, settlement of the West Bank brings along with it an axis of control over Palestinian livelihood, hindering construction in Palestinian villages to accommodate their natural growth, monopolizing resources, poisoning the environment and strangling the economy with limits on movement and access to farmland among other injustices.

Most disturbing, yet hardly reported in the mainstream media, is the horrendous phenomenon of settler violence against the indigenous Palestinian population. Worse yet, settlers who attack Palestinians and their property act with utter impunity, rarely if ever being punished. When settlers are held accountable for their actions, punishments are usually laughable at best.

In a lecture (slideshow available here) given by the Executive Director of the Palestine Center, Yousef Munayyer on September 15th, he revealed that between 2009 and 2010 settlers committed at least 1,000 separate acts of violence against individuals or their property. This destruction originated in at least two-thirds of settlements, the majority of which coming from the most religious, and predominantly in the form of stone throwing, trespassing, assault, destruction of property and arson.  90% of these attacks took place in areas where Israel has security jurisdiction under the Oslo Accords.

As the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem explains in “The Nature of the Violence:” 
From the beginning of the [Al Aqsa] Intifada, in late September 2000, to the end of 2004, Israeli civilians have killed thirty-four Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. In some of these cases, the Israelis acted in life-threatening situations, such as when armed Palestinians infiltrated Israeli settlements. In many cases, however, the Israeli civilians did not act in self-defense. This occurred, for example, in those instance in which Israelis chased stone-throwers and fired at them as a form of “punishment.” Acts of this kind violate the penal law and the open-fire regulations applying to civilians. 

Israelis, individually or in organized groups, carry out the attacks on Palestinians and Palestinian property to frighten, deter, or punish them, using weapons and ammunition they received from the IDF. The settlers sometimes act in retaliation for violence committed by Palestinians, and sometimes not.

The actions against Palestinians include blocking roadways, so as to impede Palestinian life and commerce. The settlers also shoot solar panels on roofs of buildings, torch automobiles, shatter windowpanes and windshields, destroy crops, uproot trees, abuse merchants and owners of stalls in the market. Some of these actions are intended to force Palestinians to leave their homes and farmland, and thereby enable the settlers to gain control of them.

During the olive-picking season, when many Palestinians are at work in the orchards, settler violence increases. The violence takes the form of gunfire, which sometimes results in casualties among the Palestinian olive-pickers, destruction of trees, and theft of Palestinian crops.
A study conducted by the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din on offenses between 2005 and 2006 indicates that of those reported to the Judea and Samaria (Israel’s renaming of the West Bank) District of the Israel Police:
  • More than 90% of the complaints and files in which the investigation was completed here closed without indictments being submitted.
  • 96% of the files on trespassing (including all the cases of harming trees) in which the investigation was completed were closed without indictments being submitted.
  • 100% of the property offenses in which the investigation was completed were closed without indictments being submitted.
  • 79% of the assault files in which the investigation was completed were closed without indictments being submitted.
  • About 5% of the complaints filed were lost and apparently were never investigated.
B’Tselem elucidates:
This policy is in total contrast to the rigid policy of law enforcement and punishment where Palestinians harm Israelis. Towns and villages in the area of the incident are routinely placed under curfew, which has at times lasted for many days, and intensive searches and arrests are made. In many cases, Israel demolished or sealed the suspect's home. Palestinians who are tried and convicted for offenses against Israelis are given maximum punishment.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights does its best to document all incidents of settler violence, which can be found in its weekly reports on Israeli human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Since the “moratorium” on settlement construction has ended, even more will be built and expanded to accommodate the ever-growing settler population, at least 40% of which will be from Jewish immigrants from abroad rather than natural growth, and one can expect the violence to only escalate. As recently as Tuesday, two new incidents were reported to the International Middle East Media Center. In the village of Qaryut, south of Nablus, settlers broke the home of Najla'a Abdelfattah and threatened to kill her. They were only forced to leave when a group of youths came to her defense. The report goes on to say, “Near the northern city of Nablus, another group of settlers trespassed into the olive orchards in the village of Awarta, and stole olives. The villagers told media the settlers came form the nearby settlement of Yitzahar, adding that this is not the first time they invade the fields and steal the olives.”

These are the consequences of the policy the European Union subsidizes, the consequences of the policy countless US citizens endorse with the government’s help, that the US Senate has deemed immaterial to peace negotiations and that the international community has done nothing to stop (excluding the occasional hollow condemnation, followed up by...nothing). Who will hold Israel, its army and its settlers accountable? Who will come to the aid of the defenseless population of the Occupied West Bank? If Abbas doesn’t walk away from peace negotiations after consulting with the Arab League this week, the unfortunate answer will most likely be no one.

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