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UN Experts Alarmed By Rise In Settler Violence In Occupied Palestinian Territory

UN human rights experts* have expressed alarm at the rising rate of violence directed by Israeli settlers towards Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory.

“Settler violence has always been an extremely disturbing feature of the Israeli occupation,” said the experts. “But in 2021, we are witnessing the highest recorded levels of violence in recent years and more severe incidents.

“The Israeli Government and its military have done far too little to curb this violence and to protect the Palestinians under siege. In several cases, Israeli security forces and outsourced private security companies stand by and take no action to prevent the violence; instead, they respond to settler-related violence by ordering Palestinians to leave the area, including Palestinian-owned land, or even actively support the settlers.”

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), already in the first 10 months of 2021, there have been 410 attacks by settlers against Palestinians (302 against property and 108 against individuals). Four Palestinians were killed by settlers this year. In 2020, there was a total of 358 recorded attacks. In 2019, there were 335 such attacks.

These settler attacks are primarily directed against rural Palestinian families living on small farms or in villages and towns in the occupied West Bank located in close proximity to Israeli settlements. Many of these Palestinians reside in the so-called “Area C” of the West Bank, which is under complete Israeli security and civil control, and where Israel’s de facto annexation stratagem is most evident.

The experts noted that settler violence has taken many forms, including physical violence, shooting with live ammunition, torching of fields and livestock, theft and vandalization of property, trees and crops, stone-throwing and tenacious intimidation of herders and their families. In the autumn, it is often directed towards Palestinians engaged in the olive harvest. Harvested olives are stolen or ruined. Olive trees are destroyed. Harvesters are attacked with rocks and pipes, or threatened with weapons.

On other occasions, settlers have seized private or public Palestinian land and brought sheep and cattle to graze on the land, as an initial step to drive Palestinians away from their land. If Palestinians attempt to keep their land, they are frequently met with violence.

“The ubiquity of these attacks, and the credible reports of the Israeli military’s passivity in combating this violence, has deepened the atmosphere of fear and coercion throughout the West Bank,” said the experts.

“We are very troubled by the failure of Israel, the occupying power, to exercise its substantial obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention, including Article 27, to protect the population under occupation.”

According to Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization, 91 percent of investigations into settler attacks against Palestinians between 2005 and 2019 were closed by the Israeli authorities with no charges filed. Yesh Din has also reported that more than 40 percent of the Palestinians who have contacted the organization since 2018 to report settler violence have chosen not to file complaints with the Israeli authorities because they have no expectation that justice will be served.

“This precipitous rise in settler violence is not simply the result of a few ‘bad apples’ among the settler population,” the experts said. “The deep state support provided by Israel to the illegal settlement enterprise, including to the more than 140 settlement outposts established throughout the West Bank in defiance of even Israel’s own laws, has fueled this coercive environment and encouraged violence.

“In an atmosphere where the rights of the protected population are ignored, where settler violence is met with complicity and the prevailing political message from the occupying power is that this land belongs to only one people, the international community has a solemn responsibility to impose accountability measures to end this climate of impunity and to insist upon respect for the international rule of law.”

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