The incidence of Jewish settler violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank has increased exponentially in the past few years, and is aimed primarily at Palestinians but also at Israeli security forces.
There were 363 violent incidents in 2019, 507 in 2020 and 416 in the first half of this year, according to the latest statistics compiled by Peace Now.
Justifying their “price tag” attacks, far right-wing Jewish nationalist settlers claim they were launched in retaliation for Palestinian attacks or Israeli government policies regarded as hostile to the settler movement.
Since its conquest of the West Bank in 1967, Israel has sanctioned the construction of 138 settlements in Judea and Samaria. In addition, settlers have built about 150 unauthorized, or illegal, outposts in the West Bank, which is home to 2.5 million Palestinian Arabs and 450,000 Jewish settlers.
Settler violence has been a recurring phenomenon in the West Bank since the earliest days of Israel’s occupation, but of late it has been on the uptick.
Yesterday, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz ordered the Israeli army, police and Shin Bet internal intelligence agency to wage a systematic, aggressive and uncompromising campaign against violence committed by settlers.
He issued this order after a couple of recent incidents. Two Israeli soldiers were lightly injured after a settler attacked them outside the Adei Ad outpost. A Border Police officer was wounded in clashes with settlers near the Yitzhar outpost.
In a webinar sponsored by Americans for Peace Now on October 14, the co-director of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch, Hagit Ofran, said that one of the causes of the violence is the illegal seizure by settlers of about 200 square kilometres of state land in the West Bank.
They have established makeshift farms there, and this had led to friction and an upsurge of violence with Palestinians, she said. Ofran claimed that local Jewish authorities in the West Bank, which are financially supported by Israel, fund the farms.
Settlers have cut down olive trees and vandalized cars, destroyed solar panels and damaged water tanks in Palestinian communities, she added. Ofran charged that Israeli soldiers are complicit in their violence because they protect the settlers and fire tear gas at protesting Palestinians.
The objective of settler violence is purely political — to grab land from the Palestinians and intimidate them, said Lior Amihai, the executive director of Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization.
Their tactics align with Israeli government policy, whose objective is to consolidate Israel’s control of the West Bank, which is coveted by the Palestinians for a future state.
Ofran believes that the new Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, an outspoken champion of the settlement movement, has not altered Israel’s basic approach to preserving and expanding settlements.
“This government doesn’t want to deal with the occupation,” said Amihai, who was formerly co-director of Settlement Watch.
Palestinians trust neither the Israeli army nor the Border Police to protect them from the violent rampages of settlers, Ofran noted.
Investigations studying settler violence are usually drawn-out, inefficient and inconclusive, and cases are often closed, said Ofran. As well, Israeli courts tend to be “very soft” toward settlers accused of violence.
Amihai urged the Israeli government to rein in the settlers and stop the violence, which he described as shameful and likened to pogroms.