Settler Violence In-Depth and More…
Settler Violence Remains a Problem
This week, another suspected incident of settler violence highlighted the tensions in the West Bank between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. On August 16, a Molotov cocktail near the Gush Etzion settlement. The attack wounded five Palestinians, including two young children, as they were traveling on a road frequently targeted by settlers. Ynet, Israel’s leading online news site, reports that police say the attack was “nationalistically-motivated.” A search of the area revealed another firebomb that was still unlit.
This is not an isolated incident. At the end of 2011, the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that attacks by settlers against Palestinians were up 32 percent from 2010 and 144 percent from 2009. These include attacks against Palestinians that result in injury or death as well as attacks against Palestinian property. So far in 2012 (as of August 7), OCHA reports that 89 Palestinians received injuries caused by settler violence. Additionally, OCHA reports that 26 settlers received injuries as a result of violence by Palestinians.
On August 14, Foreign Affairs magazine published a lengthy piece on the rise of settler violence in the West Bank that underscores the urgency of a two state solution. Writers Daniel Byman and Natan Sachsfirst explain that settler violence has not been such a pervasive problem in the past and that most settlers oppose attacks against Palestinian civilians. However, following the 2005 disengagement when Ariel Sharon’s government removed 8,600 settlers from Gaza, many in the settler movement felt “betrayed” and became more radical. The authors write, “Faced with what the radical settlers saw as a choice between the state and the settlements, they picked the latter. To stave off another disengagement of any kind, they resolved to retaliate against any attempt by the Israeli government to crack down on the movement.”
The Israeli government has encouraged most settlement activity, even the outposts that are built without any official government approval. Often the settlers build the outposts on Palestinian private property, which is illegal under Israeli law. In 2011, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled several outposts had to be removed and gave the government a series of deadlines. Already this summer, settlers in the Ulpana outpost were forced to leave their homes. Workers started dismantling the remaining structures on August 16. Migron, another outpost, must be evacuated by August 21. These court rulings sparked an increase in price tag attacks. The extremists have torched and vandalized several Palestinian mosques, fields, trees and cars in retaliation for the outpost evacuations.
One glaring feature of these attacks is the lack of prosecution. Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization, reports that from 2005-March, 2012, 91 percent of cases involving Israeli civilians committing crimes against Palestinians concluded without any indictments. Much of this problem may stem from the military rule in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers focus more on stemming Palestinian violence and protecting Israelis settlers than the converse. On several occasions, Israeli soldiers have been caught witnessing attacks against Palestinians and failing to intervene.
Byman and Sachs argue that the violence is making the peace process more difficult. They write, “Whenever extremist settlers destroy Palestinian property or deface a mosque, they strengthen Palestinian radicals at the expense of moderates, undermining support for an agreement and delaying a possible accord.” The authors also add that when the Israeli government fails to confront the perpetrators, they become emboldened and Palestinians will have doubts over Israel’s ability to enforce its own laws, a necessary element in maintaining a peace agreement.
The Foreign Affairs piece recommends that the Israeli government take steps to stop the violence. After members of the extremist settler organization “Hilltop Youth” vandalized an army base, several ministers in the Israeli government discussed designating them as a terrorist group. The government should also work with more traditional settler leaders that disavow violence and realize how it is tarnishing the reputation of the settlement enterprise. The authors also recommend that U.S. officials stop waiting for a peace agreement to solve the settler violence problem and instead designate the responsible groups as terrorist organizations so that American citizens cannot send money to help fund attacks.
Many Israeli leaders are beginning to voice their concern over the violence. In July, the chairman of the settler umbrella organization Yesha Council, Danny Dayan, criticized the perpetrators of the violence. Dayan told his supporters, "Violence has become common currency in our camps while we remain silent…These acts present the biggest threat to the settlement enterprise. More than Barack Obama, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu." Israeli police appear to be working more diligently to find the criminals. This week, Israeli police arrested a 17-year-old suspected of participating in an arson attack on a mosque in the West Bank town of Jabaa.
Following Thursday’s taxi firebomb, Prime Minister Netanyahu sent a reassuring message to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, telling him that he views the incident seriously. Netanyahu’s envoy called Abbas to say that Israeli security forces will do everything in their power to arrest those responsible. This is an unusual step for Netanyahu who typically only condemns the attacks. Haaretz explains the call, saying, “the attack on the Palestinian taxi apparently has the potential to cause an escalation in violence in the West Bank, and so Netanyahu decided on a different response this time.”
According to Haaretz, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to bury the controversial Levy Commission Report, which found that Israel’s presence in the West Bank does not constitute occupation and suggested legalizing all settlements and outposts. The United States has condemned the report and instructed Netanyahu to reject it. Netanyahu has been concerned that adopting the report would generate major international controversy and has told several ministers that there are currently more important issues on the agenda.
On Wednesday, August 15 Israel’s foreign ministry condemned a decision by the European Union to label parts of an Israeli town as a settlement in a new list of places not entitled to European tariff exemptions. The EU specifically prohibits member countries from applying a tariff exemption granted to Israel to products made inside the occupied territories, including the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights. In a list published this week by the European Union, parts of the city known as Modin-Maccabim-Reut, which lies halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, were designated as outside Israel for the purposes of a tariff exemption program. The three zip codes included in the list fall in an area east of the Green Line, which makes them outside Israel under the EUs definition. Officially, the area lies in a narrow strip designated as neutral or unclaimed territory. The EU has repeatedly condemned settlements, claiming that Israeli actions and policies in the West Bank beyond the Green Line are detrimental to the peace process.
The East Jerusalem power company that supplies electricity to parts of the West Bank warned that its Israeli partner has threatened to cut power supply over unpaid debts. The Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO) distributes power purchased from Israel to Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethlehem, and Ramallah. The Israel Electric Company (IEC) is demanding payment of debts totaling 421 million shekels, a third of which is owed to JDECO by the Palestinian Authority, which has been in the midst of an ongoing financial. The largest portion of the debt is the result of electricity theft and unpaid bills from Palestinians living in refugee camps and Area C, which is under full Israeli administrative and military control. Power cuts in the West Bank could become as frequent as in Gaza, which has been plagued by intermittent blackouts since February. The IEC has agreed to temporarily hold off on cutting power until after Eid, the festival that concludes Ramadan.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) is calling on the Justice Ministry to reopen cases of police misconduct filed by Arab residents of East Jerusalem. ACRI is an Israeli human rights organization that focuses on ensuring that Israeli authorities are respecting civil rightsin Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The 270,000 Arab residents of East Jerusalem carry Israeli ID cards and are required to pay taxes and are entitled to all rights and services that are provided to Israeli citizens, except for the right to vote in the general elections. On Monday, August 13 Haaretz reported that due to lack of evidence or public interest, the department in charge of investigating police misconduct closed several cases filed by Arab residents. In one case, Israeli police allegedly detained a 7 year old suspected of throwing stones using violence, tear gas, and rubber bullets against family members. The boy was then taken to the police station without his parents and unlawfully detained. ACRI claims that the ministry has not implemented basic investigative protocols, including questioning the policemen themselves, other witnesses, and family members.
Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a coalition of 24 national Church denominations and organizations, including Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. It works to encourage U.S. government policies that actively promote a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ensuring security, human rights and religious freedom for all people of the region.