United Nations experts on human rights have warned that attacks on Palestinians by extremist Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem have increased in the first three months of 2021. The group of three experts also expressed grave concern at the heightened rate of settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories by the state of Israel. This leads to the forced displacement of thousands of Palestinians and the demolitions of their homes.
In a statement published on Wednesday, April 14, on the website of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the experts said, “Already, during the first three months of 2021, more than 210 settler violent incidents were recorded, with one Palestinian fatality. We call upon the Israeli military and police to investigate and prosecute these violent acts with vigor and resolve.” In 2020, “the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) documented 771 incidents of settler violence causing injury to 133 Palestinians and damaging 9,646 trees and 184 vehicles mostly in the areas of Hebron, Jerusalem, Nablus and Ramallah.”
According to the statement, the attacks are especially alarming because of the sense of impunity that the settlers reportedly enjoy from the Israeli military, which the experts say “deeply worries them.” They added that “in many cases, the Israeli military has been present, or nearby, and has not taken sufficient steps to protect the Palestinians from this violence. This amounts to a discriminatory two-tier approach to military protection and policing in the West Bank.” The experts cite one particular example this year of an attack on March 13 in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron in which 10 Israeli settlers, some armed, attacked the Palestinian family of Saeed Awad, his wife and their eight children which resulted in injuries to the skull, jaws, legs to the couple and caused extreme mental and emotional trauma to the children. The family was on its way to some property it owned to ensure it had not been encroached upon by settlers.
As per article 27 of the fourth Geneva convention, an occupying power, under all circumstances, must protect the population under its occupation as well as ensure that the protected population “shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats…” Human rights groups such as the Israeli NGO Yesh Din have revealed that even in cases in which Palestinians file cases against such settler crimes, there is rarely an justice. Between 2005 and 2019, 92% of the investigations were closed by the Israeli military without issuing any indictments against any of the culprits, noting that “this number is abysmal when compared to the number and nature of crimes committed by Israeli settlers and it testifies more than anything to the institutional and systematic impunity that prevails in the occupied Palestinian territory,” the OHCHR statement said.
The statement, detailing the settler attacks, went on to say that “they primarily target the livelihoods of rural Palestinians, vandalizing livestock, agricultural lands, trees and homes. Besides the presence and expansion of Israeli settlements, which are intended to establish illegal claims for Israeli sovereignty, settler violence is meant to make the daily lives of Palestinians untenable,” adding that the vast majority of these attacks are ideologically motivated and particularly violent, with the attackers not even sparing “pregnant women, young children and older persons.”
On the urgent issue of sustained and accelerated, illegal settlement expansion, the three experts called upon the international community to “impose meaningful costs on Israel’s protracted occupation, and to demand that the occupying power halt its settlement enterprise immediately.” Currently, close to half a million Israelis live in the 250-odd illegal settlements in the West Bank.
The experts cited the example of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, where close to 70 families are under threat of eviction. The experts denounced the orders issued to several families by the Israeli military to vacate their homes by May 2 as being egregious violations of international law which prohibits forced population transfers of the occupied population by the occupying power. The Israeli judiciary has also been guilty of complicity in these kinds of violations of international law. For example, the Israeli magistrate court of Jerusalem ordered the forced eviction of 12 Palestinian families, and gave away ownership of their homes to Israeli settlers, while at the same time imposing a 70,000 shekels ($20,000) fine on the Palestinians to cover the legal expenses of the settlers. Human rights and settlement-tracking groups have regularly highlighted the massive settlement expansion projects being announced by the state of Israel. The Israeli NGO Peace Now stated that the construction of 2433 new housing units in the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank began in 2020, with an additional 12,159 housing units in 55 settlements advancing through the various stages of the approval/review process for construction in the future.