Western “sanctions” on settlers are an empty gesture

Destruction in the village of Khalat al-Dabe in the occupied West Bank’s Masafer Yatta area, 9 December 2023. Dozens of Israeli soldiers and settlers arrived in the early morning, assaulted residents and stole thousands of dollars and agricultural equipment.

Omri Eran Vardi ActiveStills

As all eyes are fixed on Israel’s genocide of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Jewish settlers continue to steal private Palestinian land and property across the occupied West Bank.

Israeli settlers have established around 10 “outposts” across the area – a term Israel uses for small new colonies erected by settlers in violation even of Israeli regulations – but with tacit permission if not outright support from the occupation forces.

All of Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Syria’s Golan Heights are illegal under international law and are considered a war crime.

The Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now noted the “unprecedented surge” in a report it published last month, stating that settlers “persist in seizing control of Area C,” the 60 percent of the occupied West Bank under complete Israeli military control.

Settlers are constructing “outposts, roads, fences and roadblocks” to impede Palestinian movement between their towns and villages and to create facts on the ground.

Settler violence

Israeli settlers also intimidate Palestinians into leaving their land by threatening them at gunpoint, vandalizing their property, hampering their access to water, ruining their trees, damaging their vehicles, stealing their belongings and intimidating and physically attacking them.

Settler violence has sharply increased since 7 October, with the protection and collaboration of the Israeli army.

Settlers have carried out more than 530 attacks against Palestinians since 7 October, according to UN monitoring group OCHA. The vast majority of these incidents involve property damage, but around 10 percent of them result in injuries to Palestinians.

Olive harvest

Israeli occupation authorities restricted Palestinians from harvesting their olives during the annual harvest in the occupied West Bank in 2023.

Approximately half of Palestinian farmers were unable to harvest their olives in the area, according to a new report by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

The olive harvest – in October and November – is one of the most important events of the year across historic Palestine. In the West Bank, it is a key element of the local economy and a crucial source of income for tens of thousands of families.

Israeli settler attacks over the years have endangered the olive harvest process, which takes weeks and also includes preparing the lands for winter.

Instead of directly addressing assaults by settlers, the occupation military “places the onus on Palestinians,” forcing them to coordinate their harvest in advance.

Not only does this strategy fail to address settler violence against Palestinians, but the Israeli soldiers are also unreliable in showing up despite prior coordination. Even when they do arrive, “they do not prevent or stop the violence, often even joining in.”

“We managed to sneak into our land a few times, but didn’t always evade the settlers’ aggression,” Abdallah Naasan from the village of al-Mughayyir, near Ramallah, told B’Tselem.

“They usually have a drone in the air and see anyone who tries to get close to the land. When they see us, they chase us or call the army, and then our equipment or vehicles are confiscated. So far, the army has confiscated two of our tractors.”

Naasan’s family has over 8,000 olive trees and described how the army has imposed more than usual severe restrictions this year, limiting access to their land.

The rise in settler-erected roadblocks also prevents Palestinian farmers from accessing their lands.

Settler violence against farmers increased in both “frequency and intensity” since 7 October, B’Tselem said.

This included “settlers physically assaulting harvesters, uprooting large olive groves, vandalizing groves by breaking branches, sawing off trunks and torching trees, and stealing olives.”

In many cases, Israeli forces watched. They often even joined in on the attacks, B’Tselem said.

Settler population growth

Israel’s settler population increased by nearly three percent in the occupied West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, during 2023, according to a report compiled by Yaakov Katz, an extreme right-wing former member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, who now runs the pro-settlement population watch West Bank Jewish Population Stats.

The website states that it “provides precise Jewish population statistics of Judea and Samaria,” the pseudo-biblical name Israel uses for the West Bank in order to give its occupation and illegal colonization a veneer of legitimacy.

The report also indicates that the settler population has increased by 15 percent over the past five years, particularly in the Jordan Valley region. The report projects the settlement population in the West Bank to exceed one million settlers by 2047, based on the growth observed over the last five years.

The report does not include figures on Jewish-only colonies in occupied East Jerusalem, though illegality under international law does not differ in those areas.

Empty gestures

In an apparent attempt to divert attention from their complicity in Israel’s genocide of Palestinians in Gaza, France and the UK have followed the United States in imposing token sanctions on a small number of Jewish Israeli settlers earlier this month.

Four of them, to be exact.

These sanctions falsely convey the impression that settler violence is caused by a few bad apples, and sidestep that Israel’s illegal state-directed policy of settler-colonization is inherently violent. The settlers are not acting as individuals but on behalf of the state whose goal is the theft and total control of all the land in the West Bank.

The settlers are the foot soldiers of the state and its expansionist policy.

The sanctions should, therefore, be against Israel and its leaders, not a few individuals.

Settlers erect outposts on land forcibly taken from Palestinians, squatting on it until their theft is retroactively approved by the state.

Israeli lawmakers have moreover been actively encouraging the most fanatic Jewish settlers to attack Palestinians since the start of Israel’s genocide in Gaza in October. At one point, Ben-Gvir said his ministry was purchasing 10,000 rifles to distribute to Israeli civilians.

Biden signed the executive order sanctioning the settlers earlier this month, stating that their actions “constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

Punishment of the settlers includes bans on travel to the US and freezing any assets they may have there.

Israel’s finance minister Bezalel Smotrich and national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, both extremely right wing members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bloc, protested the decision.

On Tuesday, France announced it was banning 28 settlers “who have been guilty of violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank” from entering French territory. The French ministry reiterated its “strong condemnation” of this violence and called on Israeli authorities to hold the “perpetrators accountable.”

Israeli authorities rarely hold settlers accountable for their attacks and harassment of Palestinians. Settlers enjoy near total impunity, with nearly 94 percent of all cases against Jewish Israeli settlers between 2005 and 2023 were closed without indictments, according to the settler violence watchdog Yesh Din.

This discourages Palestinians from reporting violence committed against them by settlers. Yesh Din says that 38 percent of Palestinians who contacted the organization in the six years up to 2023 decided not to follow up on the cases with the Israeli police.

This number of Palestinians who chose not to file complaints reached nearly 60 percent last year.

The British government also placed financial sanctions and travel restrictions on four settlers.

Despite this token gesture, UK foreign secretary David Cameron said Israel’s failure to act had led to “an environment of near total impunity for settler extremists.”

Canada will follow suit, the country’s foreign minister told the public broadcaster earlier this month, adding that Hamas leaders will also be sanctioned.

US policy change ruled out

US officials were considering imposing restrictions on Smotrich and Ben-Gvir as part of the same package of sanctions it imposed on settlers, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday citing unnamed officials.

The Biden administration reportedly also wanted to reverse two US policies that changed under President Donald Trump: “one that allows products made in Jewish settlements in the Israel-occupied West Bank to be labeled as being ‘Made in Israel,’ and another that upended longstanding US policy that the West Bank settlements violate international law.”

But Biden chose not to take those measures, instead opting for toothless gestures that leave US economic and political support for the illegal settlements intact.

Ultimately, punishing individual settlers – as responsible as they may be for violence – with sanctions that are unlikely to cause them any real discomfort, scapegoats them and absolves not only Israeli leaders and state institutions, but also the Western states who continue to allow trade with the settlements, enriching and strengthening them.

Forcible displacement

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities destroyed almost 130 homes in the occupied West Bank since 7 October, forcibly displacing more than 800 Palestinians, including more than 330 children.

The vast majority of those displaced were concentrated in three refugee camps, all in the northern occupied West Bank Palestinian resistance is growing: Jenin, Nur Shams and Tulkarm, according to OCHA.

Since 7 October, Israeli authorities have forcibly displaced more than 500 Palestinians, half of them children, in Area C of the West Bank and in occupied East Jerusalem under the pretext of not having building permits, which are almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain.

Area C is roughly 60 percent of the West Bank that remained under full Israeli control under the 1993 Oslo accords.

Israel denies Palestinians under military occupation the right to build on their own land. They are forced to build without permits and live in constant fear that their homes will be demolished.




Aqui no Brasil o nosso presidente concedeu uma declaração a imprensa na Etiópia criticando os ataques israelense causadores da morte de milhares de crianças e mulheres em Gaza.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.