A three-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohammed Bakr Hussein, was hit in the head with a rock while sleeping at his home in the South Hebron Hills on September 28, 2021. This escalation started when Israeli settlers attacked a shepherd in the Palestinian village of al-Mufakara. Other Palestinians joined to retaliate against the settlers, prompting over 100 settlers from nearby illegal Israeli outposts of Avigail and Havat Maon to join, according to eye-witnesses. Hussein, who was taken to the hospital in moderate condition, is among a dozen injured Palestinians. Villagers threw rocks in retaliation, injuring three Israelis.
According to reports and video documentation, Israeli settlers damaged 10 cars at Mufakara, destroyed water tanks, and threw stones at Palestinians homes. A Palestinian and two Israeli settlers were arrested by Israeli Police. The settlers were released after one night in detention. Recent events demonstrate the sharp increase in both the numbers and the severity of settler violence.
These are not isolated occurrences: settler violence has been prevalent since the first West Bank settlements were built. Although official annexation is not currently on the table, Israel continues to create and invest in more settlements in efforts to solidify Israeli presence throughout the occupied territories.
The West Bank has 138 settlements sanctioned by the Israeli government, as well as more than 150 unapproved outposts, as of 2020. Notably, all of these settlements are illegal under International Humanitarian Law.
Widespread settler violence increased after the Israeli government withdrew from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements in 2005. In response to the forced removal of thousands of settlers, young extremist settlers known as the Hilltop Youth launched the “Price Tag” campaign in 2006.
The Price Tag campaign’s primary goal was to deter demolition of unapproved outposts, illegal under Israeli law. Settlers aimed to “exact a price” through acts of terror against Palestinians. These Israeli extremists commit physical violence, arson, and destruction of property to terrorize the Palestinians and to send a message to the Israeli government that attempting to weaken their territorial hold on the West Bank will exact a political and security price.
Settlers utilize organized terror to sway the Israeli government in their favor, and Price Tag tactics continue today to influence Israeli government policy. For example, Israeli settlers were evicted from the highly contentious illegal outpost of Evyatar in July 2021. However, the government did not demolish this outpost, signaling to settlers that they may be able to return. Illegal outposts remain today, sometimes even with government support. In fact, Israel’s Agriculture Ministry recently allocated $1.17 million for farm work in these areas.
A report by the Israeli Ministry of Justice claimed that increased security funds, investigations, and prosecution rates have helped reduce ideologically-based attacks. Nonetheless, settler violence has only increased. In 2020, Israelis committed 89 offenses against Palestinians or their property in the West Bank, including 36 violent attacks. Beyond deterring outpost demolitions, settlers want Palestinians out of their land in efforts to expand settlements and solidify Israel’s control over the West Bank.
Israel occupies the West Bank. Its government, therefore, has an inherent responsibility to protect all West Bank residents, according to international law. Yet Israeli soldiers are often seen protecting violent settlers as they attack Palestinians. The numbers tell the story. According to the United Nations Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in the first nine months of 2021 alone, 383 attacks against Palestinians were reported, of them 290 against property and 93 against individuals, resulting in injury or death. In all of 2020, the total number of attacks was reported to be 352 and in 2019 it was 335.
In addition to implicitly green lighting violence in the West Bank, Israeli officials have only approved five out of over 100 Palestinians’ requests for building permits from 2011 to 2021 in Area C, which is under Israeli military and civil control, according to the OCHA. These intimidation tactics and pending permit requests hinder the personal and collective security of West Bank Palestinians, and can be interpreted as an effort to dispossess them of their property and their homeland.
The Israeli government should doggedly and efficiently fight terrorism directed at its citizens. But it seems to forget -- or, worse, intentionally ignore -- that it also bears responsibility to protect the Palestinians that it rules from ongoing terrorist attacks by Israeli citizens. There is growing evidence that this practice is not just a matter of negligence. Increasingly, there is reason to believe that Israeli authorities tolerate or even endorse this violence because they believe it solidifies Israel’s control in the West Bank.
By: Kate Sosland, Americans for Peace Now's 2021 Summer Intern