Settler Violence

A number of reports from various United Nations institutions and human rights organizations, along with Israeli governmental investigations,[i] have drawn attention to the problem of Israeli settlers committing crimes against Palestinians. This issue is well known and has been officially recognized by the Israeli government since the early 1980s. Despite this, the Israeli government has continuously been accused of not fulfilling its duty of protecting the civilian Palestinian population against attacks from the settlers.

Ideologically motivated violence – Palestinians are forced to move

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, published a report in December 2008 claiming that settler violence has a significant impact on the humanitarian situation in the West Bank. Attacks occur frequently and have become a part of everyday life for many Palestinians.[ii] OCHA notes that incidents of settler violence are not arbitrary events, but are instead well planned and ideologically driven with the aim of gaining control over certain areas.[iii] In some cases, the attacks from the settlers have been so systematic, and the response from the Israeli authorities so weak, that Palestinians have felt forced to move.[iv] Mentioned amongst the acts of violence committed are settlers unleashing their dogs at women and children, assaults with different kinds of weapons, the poisoning of livestock and the burning of olive groves.[v] About 50% of the Palestinians injured since 2006 are children, women and people over the age of 70, according to OCHA.[vi] About 40% of the apartments and 75% of all businesses in the old part of Hebron, the second largest city on the West Bank, have been abandoned.[vii] This part of the town was once the commercial center of the entire southern West Bank, but as a result of the harsh living conditions caused by Israeli settlers’ harassment and the restriction imposed by the Israeli army, thousands of Palestinians have left their homes and businesses.[viii]

 

The settler violence is increasing

Several international and Israeli organizations have reported increasing settler violence. 2008 was the worst year yet. OCHA registered an increase of 50% in comparison with 2006, the year OCHA started to document the attacks from the settlers on a regular basis. From January to October 2008, OCHA recorded 290 cases of crimes committed by settlers against Palestinians and their property.[ix] This figure is believed to be deceptively low, according to OCHA and the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din, amongst others, since only a small portion of crimes committed are reported to the police. The low levels of confidence in the Israeli police amongst the Palestinian population and the frequency of the attacks are the two main reasons why crimes are not reported.[x]

Settler crimes are ignored

The deficient legal system is, according OCHA, a key factor behind the increasing settler violence.[xi] Yesh Din published a long report on settler violence in June 2006. The report reveals deficiencies in the rule of law when it comes to dealing with settlers committing crimes against Palestinians.[xii] Israeli soldiers who witness these crimes tend to ignore them, according to Yesh Din. Normally they remain passive when these crimes are committed and they rarely arrest the perpetrators.[xiii] The investigations by the Israeli police have also proven to be very insufficient. More than 50% of the 299 cases Yesh Din examined were so flawed that they led the organization to appeal the closing of the cases. The failure to visit the crime scene, the failure to question main witnesses, and the failure to interrogate the suspects of the crimes or check their alibis before the cases were closed, are some of the inadequacies noted by Yesh Din. 5% of all the crimes reported were never investigated since the case files were lost. Over 90% of all the investigations were closed without anyone being prosecuted.[xiv]

The conclusions reached by Yesh Din are supported by the Sasson Report, an Israeli governmental report concerning the establishment of outposts ordered by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005. The report claims that the attitude towards settlers committing crimes normally tends to be very forgiving, resulting in an increase of law violations.[xv] Criminals are not tried in court.[xvi] Several Israeli chancellors of justice have directed strong criticism against the inabilities of the Israeli authorities when it comes to dealing with the crimes of the settlers. In November 2006 then Attorney General Menachem Mazuz claimed that the preservation of law and order on the West Bank was not just unsatisfactory, but very poor. He argued that this had been the case since the settlements were established and that the Israeli government did not invest sufficient resources to improve the situation.[xvii]

Israeli obligations according to international humanitarian law

Israel is, as an occupying power, responsible for upholding public order and security on the West Bank according to international humanitarian law. The final responsibility rests on the Israeli army, who are obligated to protect the civilians living under their control.[xviii] Article 43 in the Annex to the Fourth Hague Convention states that the occupying power “shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety (…)”[xix]. The Fourth Geneva Convention states in Article 27 that the civilian population living under occupation ”shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity.”[xx]

Substantial lack of knowledge regarding the obligations of the Israeli army

Israeli law also clearly states that Israeli soldiers have to intervene when settlers are committing crimes. The soldiers are obligated to use any means necessary to prevent harm being done to life, person or property.[xxi] Many reports claim that the soldiers in the Israeli army seem to be unaware of their obligations to protect Palestinians against attacks from the settlers.[xxii] There are also claims being made that officers in the Israeli army encourage their soldiers to remain passive during settler attacks, arguing that dealing with them is a task for the police.[xxiii] This insufficient knowledge seems to be widespread even among the political leaders. In 2007 for example, then Defense Minister, Amir Peretz, erroneously concluded that Israeli soldiers witnessing the attack of Palestinians by settlers lacked the authority to intervene and therefore those who didn’t do so acted correctly.[xxiv]


[i] See for example the Karp-commission from 1981, the Shamgar-commission from 1994 or the Sasson-report from 2005

[ii] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, Unprotected: Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians and their property, OCHA Special Focus, 2008, p. 3

[iii] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, Unprotected: Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians and their property, OCHA Special Focus, 2008, p. 3

[iv] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, Unprotected: Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians and their property, OCHA Special Focus, 2008, p. 6

[v] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, Unprotected: Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians and their property, OCHA Special Focus, 2008, p. 6-8.

[vi] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, Unprotected: Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians and their property, OCHA Special Focus, 2008, p. 1

[vii] B’Tselem, Ghost Town, 2007, 1994, p. 5

[viii] B’Tselem, Ghost Town, 2007, 1994, p. 75-77

[ix] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, Unprotected: Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians and their property, OCHA Special Focus, 2008, p. 1

[x] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, Unprotected: Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians and their property, OCHA Special Focus, 2008, p. 3 samt Yesh Din, A Semblance of Law – Law enforcement upon Israeli Civilians in the West Bank, 2006, p. 44-48

[xi] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, Unprotected: Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians and their property, OCHA Special Focus, 2008, p. 15

[xii] Yesh Din, A Semblance of Law – Law enforcement upon Israeli Civilians in the West Bank, 2006, p. 6

[xiii] Yesh Din, A Semblance of Law – Law enforcement upon Israeli Civilians in the West Bank, 2006, p. 71-72

[xiv] Yesh Din, A Semblance of Law – Law enforcement upon Israeli Civilians in the West Bank, 2006, p. 6-7

[xv] Sasson, Summary of the Opinion Concerning Unauthorized Outposts, Official Israeli governmental report, p. 26

[xvi] Sasson, Summary of the Opinion Concerning Unauthorized Outposts, Official Israeli governmental report, p. 25

[xvii] B’Tselem, Ghost Town, 2007, p. 42

[xviii] Yesh Din, A Semblance of Law – Law enforcement upon Israeli Civilians in the West Bank, 2006, p. 23

[xix] International Red Cross Committee, Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land. The Hague, 18 October 1907, available at http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/385ec082b509e76c41256739003e636d/1d1726425f6955aec125641e0038bfd6

[xx] International Red Cross Committee, Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949., article 27, available at http://www.icrc.org/IHL.nsf/FULL/380?OpenDocument

[xxi] B’Tselem, Ghost Town, 2007, p. 48

[xxii] See for example B’Tselem, Ghost Town, 2007, p. 41-51

[xxiii] B’Tselem, Ghost Town, 2007, p. 45-48

[xxiv] B’Tselem, Ghost Town, 2007, p. 47-48

Settler Watch

Settler Watch är en partipolitiskt och religiöst obunden ideell förening. Vårt syfte är att sprida information om israeliska bosättningar och internationell humanitär rätt samt skapa opinion för ett omedelbart stopp för all utvidgning av israeliska bosättningar på ockuperat palestinskt territorium.

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