Al-Haq emphatically condemns yesterdays killing of four Palestinian civilians by an Israeli settler in the Shilo settlement, located between Ramallah and Nablus in the occupied West Bank. These killings are a brutal manifestation of the sustained and increasing violence inflicted upon Palestinian civilians by Israeli settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), whose aggressive actions, and indeed very presence in the OPT including East Jerusalem, are violations of international law.
After finishing their days work at around 16:45 on 17 August 2005, four Palestinian workers in a small aluminium workshop in the Shilo settlement got into a car that would drop them in the nearby Palestinian village of Turmusayya, from where they would make their way home. The car stopped at the gate of the settlement, about 70 metres from the workshop, and the driver went into the guard post to recover the identity cards of his passengers, held at the post while the Palestinians were at work.
The driver, although known to them, was not their regular driver, nor was it usual that the driver collect the identity cards; the security guard at the settlement entrance would normally bring them to the car. When the driver, Asher Weissgan, from the neighbouring settlement of Shavot Rahel, emerged from the guard post he was armed with the security guards gun and opened fire on the car and its passengers, instantly killing brothers Bassam Mousa Tawafsha, 25, and Usama Mousa Tawafsha, 28, both of whom were from Sinjel, near Ramallah.
Muhammad Hasan Mausour, 53, from Kufr Qalil, near Nablus, was critically wounded and later died from his injuries. The fourth passenger, Rawhi Muhammad Kassab, 44, was unhurt. Kassab exited the vehicle and began to chase Weissgan who was running towards the workshop, weapon in hand. Weissgan again shot at Kassab when the latter called upon him to stop, forcing Kassab to escape in fear for his life.
Weissgan then continued to the aluminium workshop where he shot and killed a fifth Palestinian worker, Khalil Walwil, 40, from Qalqiliya. He then ran back to the entrance of the settlement where he jumped into a waiting settler security jeep before it drove away. The circumstances strongly suggest that the attack was planned in advance and can accurately be described as premeditated murder.
The overt endorsement of the illegal settlement enterprise by the Israeli authorities, most recently in Prime Minister Ariel Sharons statement, made on the same day as the killings, that, [s]ettlement is a serious programme that will continue and develop, and the systematic Israeli failure to investigate and punish illegal actions carried out by settlers against Palestinians, have paved the way for such killings.
Incidents of violence by settlers against Palestinians are rarely investigated and the perpetrators seldom held to account by the Israeli authorities, creating an atmosphere of impunity in which excessive (and in this case lethal) violence is an increasingly common practice.
Under Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, an Occupying Power is forbidden from transferring its civilian population into the territory it occupies. Further, under Article 43 of the Hague Regulations, regarded as customary under international law, an Occupying Power is responsible for the safety of the occupied population. Not only is the existence of Israeli settlements in the OPT illegal under international humanitarian law, but Israels failure to protect Palestinians against the grave consequences of its own illegal action places it in further breach thereof.
Further, Articles 6 and 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights respectively protect the rights to life and security of person. Under international human rights law, Israel, as a result of its effective jurisdiction over the OPT, must act to prevent violations of these provisions, provide an effective remedy if violations occur, and enforce remedies when granted.
Israels current withdrawal from the Gaza Strip has, in recent months, provided the backdrop to a notable increase in settler violence towards Palestinians. Al-Haq fears that this disturbing trend will only increase further as settlers, prompted by the prior inaction of the Israeli authorities in holding them to account for recent attacks, strike out with greater determination at the Palestinian population of the OPT.
Israels continued pursuit of its illegal settlement policy in the West Bank, and the increasing assault by settlers on Palestinian civilians and villages in their vicinity, is impossible to reconcile with Palestinians enjoyment of the rights and protections guaranteed by international law.
Al-Haq therefore calls upon the Israeli government to: Bring those responsible for the killing of the four Palestinians before the full process of the law. Rigorously investigate all instances of settler violence committed against Palestinians and their property, providing effective remedy, including access to justice and reparation such as restitution, guarantee of non-repetition and compensation. Take the necessary judicial and other appropriate measures to protect Palestinians from setter violence.
In addition, the international community must also take steps to protect the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people by exercising sustained diplomatic pressure on the Israeli government to: Freeze all settlement activities and dismantle all established settlements throughout the OPT, including East Jerusalem. Rigorously investigate incidents of settler violence against Palestinians and bring the perpetrators to justice and provide effective remedy to the Palestinian victims.