Settler attacks rise by 78 percent amid pandemic

Israeli forces take position during clashes with Palestinian protesters in the occupied West Bank village of Kfar Qaddum, near Nablus, on 3 April.

Shadi Jarar’ah APA images

There has been a sharp uptick in Israeli settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even after UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for a global ceasefire to obstruct the spread of the pandemic, Israel killed two Palestinians, including a child, and increased its attacks.

Israel continued its “military raids into the West Bank, conducted widespread arrests and administrative detentions, allowed for serious spikes in settler violence and continued its draconian closure of the Gaza Strip,” the Palestinian rights organization Al Haq has stated.

In the last two weeks of March, the number of settler attacks on Palestinians was 78 percent higher than usual, according to the UN monitoring group OCHA.

During that time, “at least 16 attacks by Israeli settlers resulted in five Palestinian injuries and extensive property damage,” OCHA reported.

While Mohammad Shtayyeh, the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, ordered a two-week lockdown on all Palestinian residents in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, during that time, his decision had no bearing on some 800,000 Israelis living in illegal settlements.

These settlers share certain roads, grocery stores and gas stations with Palestinians, frequently subjecting them to verbal harassment, physical assault and property damage.

Israeli forces “failed to intervene to prevent the unlawful behavior, instead providing support and protection for settlers, ensuring that such individuals are not held to account, and consolidating the existing regime of impunity,” Al Haq stated.

Settlers enjoy near-total impunity for violence they commit against Palestinians, which only encourages more attacks.

Faced with constant attacks, Palestinians are struggling to take health precautions in light of the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, settlers are exploiting the lockdown to increase their attacks with little resistance from Palestinian residents.

Attack on cemetery

On Thursday, Israeli settlers vandalized gravestones in a Palestinian cemetery in the West Bank village of Burqa.

Ghassan Daghlas, who monitors settler activities in the northern West Bank, told the Palestinian news agency WAFA that settlers snuck into the village through the adjacent evacuated Israeli settlement of Homesh.

Homesh was cleared of its Israeli residents in 2005 as part of Israel’s supposed “disengagement” of Gaza and several West Bank villages. That land, which belonged to the village of Burqa, was declared a closed military zone in the 1970s.

Last month, settlers beat and threw stones at a farmer tending his land in the Homesh area.

“One of them was holding a pistol in his hand,” Ali Mustafa Mohammad Zubi, 55, told Al Haq.

“Whenever I tried to get up and run, they would push me to the ground, beat me up and verbally assault me.”

Hit with an ax

Meanwhile, a Palestinian was hospitalized after Israeli settlers attacked him with an ax on 24 March in the West Bank village of Umm Safa, west of Ramallah.

A settler led a herd of 50 cows into an olive grove west of the village.

Eight village residents, accompanied by the deputy head of a local council, Naji Tanatrah, asked him to leave the village. When he began to retreat, five armed settlers arrived in two vehicles carrying axes and at least one gun and began to attack Tanatrah, according to B’Tselem.

One settler struck Tanatrah’s head with an ax, causing him to fall on the ground bleeding. Settlers proceeded to beat the 45-year-old as he lay bleeding on the ground.

Residents managed to retrieve Tanatrah and evacuate him to a Ramallah hospital, where he underwent surgery and was diagnosed with a skull fracture.

“I spent five days in [the] hospital and left the moment I could, fearing I’d contract corona,” Tanatrah said, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

The next day, dozens of settlers tried to enter the village of Einabus, also in the Nablus area.

Meanwhile, settlers attacked a shepherd in al-Tuwani village in the South Hebron Hills.

Six settlers, some armed, attacked the shepherd as he was grazing his flock on 27 March, B’Tselem reported.

One of the settlers’ dogs bit him in the arm and the abdomen and he was taken to a medical clinic where he received a rabies shot.

The next day, settlers threw stones on three residents as they were returning to al-Tuwani.

Other villagers came to help the residents until Israeli forces arrived and fired teargas canisters at the villagers.

Israeli forces detained three of the villagers, releasing two of them on bail.


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.