Settler violence rises in West Bank; more expected before UN vote

Palestinian activists in the West Bank are organizing to document and prevent settler violence.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler

JERUSALEM (IPS) - Amid reports that the Israeli military is arming and training Israeli settlers in advance of a United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood later this week, Palestinian activists in the West Bank have organized emergency response teams to document Israeli settler attacks and prevent more from taking place.

“This project came from the continuous and frequent attacks by the settlers in the last days. The settlers have many plans to attack Palestinian houses and lands and they announced that they will make the Palestinians suffer as a punishment for going to get full membership in the United Nations,” Issa Amro, a Palestinian human rights activist with the Hebron-based Youth Against Settlements organization, said.

From fending off attack dogs and knowing how to protect their children and where to hide in their homes during an attack, Amro explained that Palestinian and international activists have visited and provided advice to Palestinians living close to illegal Israeli settlements in the Hebron area.

“We are giving them a protection plan. We don’t have any weapons. We give them what we can. We give them cameras because we think that the cameras are the most reliable witness and it’s the best protection too these days,” said Amro, adding that activists will also stay with Palestinian families in their homes to fend off the settlers.

“The settlers don’t want us to show how violent and how aggressive they are and how the army and Israeli police is not fulfilling their responsibility which, under international law, mandates them to protect Palestinians living in Israeli-controlled areas,” he said.

Israel arming settlers

In late August, Israeli media reported that the country’s military was training and arming Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank with tear gas and stun grenades to disperse Palestinian demonstrations following the United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood, scheduled to take place when the UN reconvenes later this week.

On Sunday, 18 September, settlers’ councils throughout the West Bank signaled their intention to march towards the Israeli army’s District Coordination and Liaison Command and onto major Palestinian cities under Palestinian Authority control, in protest against the PA’s bid for recognition of a Palestinian state. Being dubbed “sovereignty marches” by the settlers, the extremist rallies are set to begin Tuesday afternoon.

It is estimated that approximately 500,000 Israeli settlers currently live in illegal settlements throughout the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, amid a Palestinian population of about 2.5 million.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israeli settler violence in the West Bank is on the rise and is contributing to the risk of displacement of many Palestinian communities.

On 9 September, for instance, OCHA reported that settlers set fire to a residential tent in the farming community of Susiya, in the south Hebron hills area, injuring one Palestinian and displacing a family of 12, including seven children.

Destruction of trees

OCHA also reported that from 7 to 13 September, Israeli settlers injured seven Palestinians in three separate incidents, and noted 16 incidents in which Palestinian vehicles and trees were destroyed. Since the beginning of 2011, it is estimated that Israeli settlers have cut down, uprooted or set fire to at least 6,680 trees located in Palestinian communities.

In response to this wave of settler violence, Palestinian popular committees throughout the West Bank launched a new campaign on Monday to document and attempt to stop settler attacks on Palestinians.

“It started because of the increasing of violence that the settlers are now doing and the protection that the Israeli army is giving to them. They are above the law and they are using the weapons that the Israelis are giving them to attack us, Palestinians in the villages. We are saying that we refuse to be silent,” said Mohammad Khatib, a member of the popular committee in the West Bank village Bilin.

Called “Refusing to Die in Silence,” the campaign will involve several cars — filled with Palestinian, Israeli and international volunteers and directed from a control room in Ramallah — that will patrol the West Bank, documenting and attempting to prevent settler violence.

“The idea is that we will be a group of volunteers with cameras trying to protect Palestinians. If this will not prevent the settlers, we will protect our people by our bodies, without using any kind of violence against anyone. If they want to use violence, they can do it. But we will stop them in a nonviolent way,” Khatib said.

He added that Israeli claims that Palestinians will demonstrate violently in support of the Palestinian Authority’s statehood recognition bid are entirely false, and instead, this accusation has been used as a pretext to justify settler attacks.

“They are using this idea that the Palestinians will demonstrate to free the hand of the settlers to attack the Palestinians and to encourage them to attack by giving them weapons, by training them. They want to threaten the Palestinians by using the settlers and they give them an easy right to shoot and to kill,” Khatib said.

“We hope that this campaign will break the fear to stop the settlers’ attacks, and also tell the settlers: ‘If your government is supporting you and your army is protecting you, we will not stand quietly waiting for you to kill us. We will protect ourselves and we will use nonviolence to show the reality of what’s going on.’”

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