Israelis who attack Palestinians and their property in the occupied West Bank are seldom investigated thoroughly or punished, according to a new data sheet published by the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din.
Published on 12 November, the data sheet’s shocking statistics are based on 1,045 Israeli police files opened in the West Bank between 2005 and 2014.
Yesh Din’s statistics do not include occupied East Jerusalem despite how the United Nations considers it part of the West Bank.
The report paints a picture of widespread impunity for Israeli settlers suspected of violent and vandalistic crimes, as well as a consistent pattern of neglect by the Israeli police authorities assigned to investigate such allegations.
According to the report, nearly half (47.4 percent) of all investigative files opened in that time “involve complaints by Palestinians of damage to their property,” such as homes, vehicles, crops and olive trees. Another 34.5 percent “involve complaints of violence by Israeli civilians against Palestinians in the West Bank.”
Another 13.6 percent are complaints related to theft of Palestinian land, and 4.5 percent “include the killing of farm animals, desecration of mosques and cemeteries, discharging of sewage into Palestinian farmland, dumping of waste on land belonging to Palestinians, and other offenses,” the report notes.
Regarding complaints of “harm caused to Palestinians and their property,” the Israeli police issued indictments in a mere 7.4 percent of 970 cases, and from 2013 until this year, only two files led to indictments.
Settler violence is a daily reality for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation across the West Bank. And as Israeli settlements continue to expand, settler violence continues without pause.
Yesh Din’s fact sheet reports, “Violent incidents include instances of shooting, beatings, stone throwing, assault with clubs, knives and rifle butts, running Palestinians over with a vehicle, as well as threats of assault or harm and other offenses.”
There are also more than one hundred “outpost” colonies, which, despite being considered illegal even by Israel, are protected by the Israeli military and receive government funding.
On 19 October, five-year-old Inas Khalil was killed when an Israeli settler used a vehicle to run her over while walking home from school near her hometown of Sinjil, a village near Ramallah.
Far from being exempt from violence by Israeli settlers, children are often the deliberate targets.
A March 2014 report by Defense for Children International – Palestine Section (written by this author) examines the widespread and systematic settler violence that often fatally targets Palestinian children.
“In offenses involving violence, 83.3 percent of the files in which the investigation was completed and the outcome is known to Yesh Din were closed in circumstances suggesting investigative failure,” the Yesh Din fact sheet notes.
The group adds that most investigative files were closed “on the grounds of ‘offender unknown’ or ‘insufficient information.’”
“Price tag” attacks
Attacks on Palestinian property and holy places are often referred to as “price tag” attacks, which occur on both sides of the so-called Green Line dividing the West Bank from present-day Israel.
On 12 November, Israeli settlers torched a mosque in the Ramallah area village of al-Mughayir. The attackers are believed to have come from the nearby settlement of Shilo, according to an Al Jazeera English report published the same day.
According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, the arson attack in al-Mughayir “brings to ten the number of Muslim houses of worship in Israel and the [occupied] territories that have been targeted in arson attacks in less than three and a half years. No one has been charged in any of these incidents.”
In October 2013, Israeli settlers set ablaze a mosque in the West Bank village of Burqa, also near Ramallah, and vandalized three cars belonging to local Palestinians, as The Electronic Intifada reported at the time.
More common, however, are Israeli attacks on Palestinian olive trees, a staple of livelihood in the West Bank and elsewhere.
According to Yesh Din, “vandalism of olive trees and other fruit trees severely damages property owned by Palestinians and directly harms their welfare, as most of the Palestinian population of the West Bank relies on farming as a significant source of income, predominantly olives which supply income and jobs for roughly 100,000 households.”
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has also reported that “around 10,700 Palestinian-owned trees, including saplings, were cut down or otherwise damaged by Israeli settlers across the West Bank” in 2013.
Jerusalem left out
Yet by leaving out East Jerusalem, the Yesh Din fact sheet only provides a partial picture of the widespread lack of accountability for Israelis who attack Palestinians. Like elsewhere, settler violence, police harassment and systematic neglect is part and parcel to Palestinian life under Israeli occupation in Jerusalem.
The Israeli authorities and settlers have recently escalated an already suffocating atmosphere of siege imposed on Palestinians in Jerusalem.
On 16 November, a Palestinian bus driver was found hanged from a steel bar inside his bus in Jerusalem. Though Israeli occupation authorities claim it was a suicide and that an investigation is ongoing, 32-year-old Yusef al-Ramouni’s family suspect settlers are behind his death.
“We reject the suicide theory. We all know it was settlers who killed him,” Osama al-Ramouni, the victim’s brother, told AFP. “He had no problems that would make him [commit suicide].”
Back in July, a group of Israeli settlers kidnapped, tortured and murdered sixteen-year-old Muhammad Abu Khudair in Jerusalem. The subsequent autopsy suggested that the child had been forced to drink gasoline before being burned alive.
Though six Israelis were arrested as suspects, The Electronic Intifada reported at the time that three were subsequently released. Given Israel’s long track record of impunity for settler violence, few have faith in a just investigation.
Aminah Abdulhaq, lawyer and advocacy officer for the Jerusalemites Campaign, a group that campaigns for Palestinian rights in that city, said that Palestinians in Jerusalem “are at a particular disadvantage.”
“The police force that is meant to handle legal disputes and crimes are part of the very entity that is occupying their land,” she told The Electronic Intifada by email.
“Because of this, few Jerusalemites have any trust in the police,” Abdulhaq explained. “Most go out of their way to avoid interacting with them, and those that are compelled to report harassment or attacks from Israelis rarely see their assailants charged.”
- Yesh Din
- Israeli settlers
- West Bank
- Palestinian children
- Aminah Abdulhaq
- Jerusalemites Campaign
- price tag
- Muhammad Abu Khudair
- Yusef al-Ramouni
- Osama al-Ramouni
- olive trees
- Al Jazeera English
- Defence for Children International-Palestine Section
- settler violence
- East Jerusalem
- Inas Khalil