RAMALLAH: Militant Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank have stepped up attacks on Palestinians in recent years, human rights groups and U.N. agencies said Wednesday, claiming a lack of Israeli law enforcement has created a climate of impunity.
The Israeli government has not shown the political will to protect Palestinian civilians and has failed to commit sufficient resources to the job, said Jessica Montell of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
Montell and others told a news conference that settler violence against Palestinians is not random. They said settler vigilantes hope to drive Palestinians from areas they want to take over, or carry out attacks to deter the Israeli military from taking any action against settlements.
Extremist settlers embarked on a campaign called “price tag” in 2008, retaliating for any army action against settlers or rogue outposts by attacking Palestinians and their property.
Militant settlers have been emboldened by the lack of punishment, Montell said. “You have increased motivation by settlers to be attacking Palestinians,” she said. “There is no priority given to protecting Palestinians from militant settlers.”
“What we are seeing is a lack of action on the ground” by Israeli law enforcement agencies, said Matthias Behnke, of the U.N’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev denied that Israel was failing its obligation, as occupier of the West Bank, to protect the more than 2 million Palestinians living there.
“We will pursue all complaints very seriously,” he said, adding that the prime minister has instructed police to deal “aggressively” with vigilantes.
In the most recent incident, settlers attacked a group of shepherds grazing their herd near the Palestinian village of Yanoun Saturday, said villager Adwan Bani Jaber. Settlers beat the shepherds with fists and sticks to drive them from the area, he said. Reinforcements from the village threw stones at settlers, and troops arrived, Bani Jaber said.
Soldiers fired in the air, handcuffed one of the villagers and placed him near a jeep, the witness said. There, the handcuffed man was severely beaten by settlers, and soldiers did not come to his aid, said Bani Jaber, who was struck in the head and required three stitches.
The army denied that a handcuffed Palestinian had been beaten.
In all, five Palestinians had bene hurt, hospital officials said. The military said its medics had treated two Palestinians and an Israeli at the scene.
The international community views all settlements as illegal. The bulk of the settlers live within commuting distance to Israel’s biggest cities. In contrast, much of the violence is perpetrated by extremists in tiny settlements and outposts deep inside the West Bank.
Settler attacks on Palestinians causing injury or damage rose from 168 in 2009 to 411 in 2011, according to U.N. figures. In the first half of 2012, 154 attacks were reported. The figures are based on reports from Palestinian villagers that are verified by U.N. investigators in interviews and field visits.
Attacks linked to the price tag tactic tripled from seven or eight annually between 2008 and 2010 to 24 in 2011, the groups reported. In 2012, there have been 11 price tag attacks so far.
Over the past decade, B’Tselem submitted 352 complaints to the Israeli police on behalf of Palestinians, Montell said. Cases included physical assault by settlers, shootings, property damage, the torching of fields, theft of crops and forcing people off their land. Investigations opened for 250 cases, but only 29 have resulted in indictments, according to B’Tselem figures.