DATE: 8 JUNE 2011
As an organisation dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Al-Haq is gravely concerned about the surge in settler violence against Palestinians, the recent example being the burning of a mosque in the West Bank village of al-Mghayyer (Nablus governorate). The act of arson committed by local settlers on 7 June 2011 is part of the ongoing trend of settler violence, intensified by the ‘Price Tag’ policy and settler impunity.
At 3:40 am on that day, the first resident of the al-Mghayyer village to arrive at the mosque for dawn prayer noticed heavy smoke and put out what he found to be a waning fire with pitchers of water. A burning tire and gas caused damage to the carpet in the mosque. There was also graffiti in Hebrew on the walls of the mosque, which read, “Price Tag, Alei Ayin,” referring to the settler strategy of violence towards Palestinians in response to restrictions placed on settlement activity by the Israeli government. Alei Ayin, an outpost nearby Shilo settlement, was partially dismantled by Israeli forces last week. The residents of al-Mghayyer village have suffered recurrent ‘Price Tag’ attacks by settlers, which caused severe damage to their agricultural land.
This attack is the latest in a history of similar episodes of settler violence against Palestinians and their property. On 4 October 2010, settlers from the Gush Etzion settlement bloc burned a mosque and sprayed graffiti in the village of Beit Fajjar. On 27 January 2011, settlers from the Yitzhar settlement near Nablus burnt a car and sprayed graffiti on a private home reading “we will not forget Alei Ayin,” referring to the same outpost as the graffiti on the al-Mghayyer mosque.
In a report issued in September 2010, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) documented a total of 204 incidents of settler violence, which had taken place between January and August 2010 resulting in Palestinian injuries or property damage. This is double the number of incidents that occurred during the same period in 2009. Al-Haq’s field researchers have monitored many of these incidents and have recorded a notable escalation at the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011. The recent rise in attacks by settlers is a manifestation of the settlers’ ‘Price Tag’ policy, advocating for violence against Palestinians in response to those limited Israeli government decisions and measures intended to restrict settlement construction.
As an Occupying Power, Israel is under an obligation to protect the occupied Palestinian population. In addition to unlawfully facilitating the transfer of Israeli civilians to settlements, the Israeli authorities have failed to take the necessary measures to enforce the law against settlers in violation of its duty of due diligence to repress criminal acts by private actors and to protect persons under its jurisdiction. Israel is duty-bound to adopt preventative measures that ensure the complete cessation and non-repetition of such acts and the incitement thereto by public figures, including settlement public officials and Israeli political leaders.
Israel has consciously granted impunity for settler violence at the expense of the health, safety and livelihood of the Palestinian civilian population, especially those living nearby Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. A report by Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organisation, found that 91 per cent of cases against settlers were closed without filing an indictment, nearly all on grounds that suggest investigatory failures.1 Recently, the Israeli police closed the investigation into the killing of a Palestinian boy by a settler in May 2010 on the grounds of ‘unfound offender.2
Effectively, Israel’s practice is indicative of its acquiescence to the reality of persisting violence against Palestinians and the widespread dissemination of materials inciting hatred and violence against the Palestinian population. This practice is further corroborated not only by the inaction of the Israeli occupying forces present during these attacks, but also by their use of force against Palestinians in such cases.3
The United Nations and United States have condemned the recent attacks, the latter stating that “all sides must do all they can to prevent attacks and incitement of this kind.”‘4 Similarly, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton has stated that settlements in the OPT “are illegal under international law, undermine trust between the parties and constitute an obstacle to peace.” The continued campaign of attacks against the Palestinian population reveals that these condemnations amount to hollow gestures that are not followed by Israel’s compliance with international law.
Al-Haq calls on the Israeli authorities to take proper measures to effectively protect the Palestinian population and prevent attacks by settlers, including by holding perpetrators legally responsible for acts of violence and incitement in accordance with the provisions of international humanitarian and human rights law. In all cases, Israel is also under an obligation to adopt effective legal remedies to compensate the victims for the bodily and property damaged suffered.
Above all, the Israeli government is under an unequivocal obligation to bring to an end all settlement construction and dismantle all existing settlements in occupied territory in accordance with its obligations under international law. Al-Haq urges the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions to uphold their obligation to ensure respect for the Conventions as established under Common Article 1, by taking concrete measures to pressure Israel to halt its violations of international law.
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1 Yesh Din, ‘Law enforcement upon Israeli civilians in the OPT’ (Monitoring update) 16 February 2011 accessed on 16 May 2011.
2 C. Levinson, ‘Police closes case on shooting death of 15-year-old Palestinian’, Haaretz, 2 June 2011 accessed 8 June 2011.
3 Amnesty International, ‘Spike in West Bank violence condemned’ (Press release) 14 March 2011 accessed 8 June 2011. E. Levy, ‘Report: Palestinian stabbed near settlement’, Ynet, 21 March 2011 accessed 8 June 2011.
4 ‘Israeli settlers ‘desecrate’ West Bank mosque’, Al-Jazeera, 8 June 2011 accessed 8 June 2011.