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Israeli settler violence

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Israeli settler violence refers to the phenomenon of violence committed by Israeli settlers against Israeli security forces and Palestinians who live in the Palestinian territories. The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and settler evictions in other areas have triggered settler rioting in protest. There is also continual conflict between settlers and Palestinians over land, resources and perceived grievances.

Israel's settlement policy


Settlements (darker pink) and areas of the West Bank (lighter pink) where access by Palestinians is closed or restricted. Source: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, January 2006.

The Israeli human rights centre B'Tselem and other sources have indicated that the road blocks scattered inside the West Bank between Palestinian cities and villages which are designed to protect the settlers from Arab snipers firing on Israeli drivers, as well as Arab ambushes of Israelis, have had a significant impact on freedom of movement. While the road blocks are also said to protect Israelis within Israel, according to B'Tselem, the (siege) "imprisons entire populations within their communities or in a small geographic area and limits their access to other parts of the West Bank."[1][2][3]

In Hebron, where 500-600 settlers live among 167,000 Palestinians, B'Tselem argues that there have been "grave violations" of Palestinian human rights because of the "presence of the settlers within the city." The organization cites regular incidents of "almost daily physical violence and property damage by settlers in the city", curfews and restrictions of movement that are "among the harshest in the Occupied Territories", and violence and by Israeli border policemen and the IDF against Palestinians who live in the city's H2 sector.[4][5][6]

Human Rights Watch reports on physical violence against Palestinians by settlers, including, "frequent[ly] stoning and shooting at Palestinian cars. In many cases, settlers abuse Palestinians in front of Israeli soldiers or police with little interference from the authorities."[7]

B'Tselem also says that settler actions include "blocking roadways, so as to impede Palestinian life and commerce. The settlers also shoot solar panels on roofs of buildings, torch automobiles, shatter windowpanes and windshields, destroy crops, uproot trees, abuse merchants and owners of stalls in the market. Some of these actions are intended to force Palestinians to leave their homes and farmland, and thereby enable the settlers to gain control of them."[8]

A series of modern roads have been established by Israel throughout the West Bank which bypass Palestinian areas, some of which are closed to vehicles with Palestinian license-plates in varying degrees, can fluctuate based on Israeli security concerns: some roads (mostly leading into Israel) are closed to all Palestinian traffic; many roads are closed to private traffic but allow public and commercial transportation; some roads are fully open to all Palestinian traffic and are shared completely with Israeli motorists. At the same time, Palestinian areas and roads are closed to vehicles with Israeli license-plates. Israel argues that such a system is needed for security reasons because of many incidents in which Israelis who entered Palestinians areas were endangered or killed, and that the restrictions generally reduce tension between the two populations. B'Tselem has described this system as nevertheless 'discriminatory': "Rather than use the main roads between the cities, most of the population is forced to use long and winding alternate routes. The regime has forced most Palestinians to leave their cars at home and travel by public transportation, in part because private cars are not allowed to cross some of the checkpoints." B'Tselem lists the effects of this separate roads regime, including wasted (additional) time to reach destinations, tardiness or inability to reach destinations, exhaustion, increased cost of travel, and increased wear and tear on vehicles resulting from travel on worn down or dirt roads.[9]

Causes of violence

Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian Authority official who deals with the settlements issue in the northern West Bank said, These groups of settlers are organised and support each other...If there’s an outpost evacuation, they call people from Hebron to Jenin to stop the Palestinians working on their lands. Michael Sfard, a lawyer with the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din stated that there are between a few dozen and a few hundred extremist settlers using a tactic called Price Tagging, if the Government sends police or soldiers to dismantle an outpost that is being built, the settlers make the Palestinian population pay the price. While people in the outpost are confronting the security forces, others start harassing Palestinians forcing commanders to divert men from the outpost and making them think twice about launching future operations. It’s such a big headache that many of the relevant authorities give up without trying and the outposts are quickly rebuilt once the army gives up and leaves.[10]

Many Israeli settlers believe that their religion entitles them to the land of biblical Israel. According to a 2003 survey, nearly 40% of settlers in the West Bank "live there out of a belief in a divinely ordained mission to inhabit the land"[11].

Human rights group B'Tselem says that the violence is "a means to harass and intimidate Palestinians" and that the evacuations are a necessary part of the peace process. According to B'Tselem that when a building is evacuated by the Israeli government, settlers lash out at Palestinians because they're "easy victims" and as a means to widen the area under settler control.[12]

Differing legal status and treatment of Israeli settlers and Palestinians

Unlike Palestinians, Israeli civilians living in the Palestinian Territories are not subject to military or local law, but are prosecuted according to Israeli penal law. This originates in the Emergency Regulations bill enacted in 1967 and extended since which gives extraterritorial rights to Israelis in the occupied territories. B'TSelem has said that the difference in legal status of Israelis and Palestinians in the territories has led to a double standard in which Israelis are given more legal rights and are punished more lightly than the Palestinians who are subject to military and local law. B'Tselem notes the system violates the principles of equality before the law and territoriality.[13]

Haaretz has stated "Israeli society has become accustomed to giving lawbreaking settlers special treatment", noting that no other group could similarly attack Israeli law enforcement agencies without being severely punished [14].

After the evacuation of settlers from Hebron in December 2008, a riot ensued and a Jewish settler, Ze'ev Braude, was recorded on video shooting two unarmed Palestinians. The victims were shot on their own property, which Braude had entered, and later needed surgery. The Israeli State Prosecutor's Office decided to abandon the prosecution of Braude after the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that the prosecution must give the defendant access to "sensitive information". The prosecutor's office had earlier said that some of the evidence against Braude was classified for security reasons, due to "the Shin Bet's sources and methods of operation, and identifying details about its units and people." Braude had petitioned the High Court for access.[15]

The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict reported on rioting and violence in the West Bank in the period preceding the Israeli military operations in Gaza. The report said "Little if any action is taken by the Israeli authorities to investigate, prosecute and punish violence against Palestinians, including killings, by settlers and members of the security forces, resulting in a situation of impunity. The Mission concludes that Israel has failed to fulfil its obligations to protect the Palestinians from violence by private individuals under both international human rights law and international humanitarian law.[16]

Law enforcement action against settlers

The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict reported on rioting and violence in the West Bank in the period preceding the Israeli military operations in Gaza. The report said "Little if any action is taken by the Israeli authorities to investigate, prosecute and punish violence against Palestinians, including killings, by settlers and members of the security forces, resulting in a situation of impunity. The Mission concludes that Israel has failed to fulfil its obligations to protect the Palestinians from violence by private individuals under both international human rights law and international humanitarian law.[17] The report also stated that the International Court of Justice advisory opinion and “a number of United Nations resolutions have all affirmed that Israel’s practice of constructing settlements – in effect, the transfer by an occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies – constitutes a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention”.[18]

Palestinian rights organization Yesh Din has produced a report, "A Semblance of Law", which found problems with law enforcement actions against Israelis in the West Bank. According to Yesh Din's study, which was conducted in 2005, more than 90% of complaints against Israelis were closed without indictments, 96% of trespassing cases (including sabotage of trees) against Israelis led to no indictment, 100% of property offenses against Israelis led to no indictment and 5% of complaints against Israelis were lost and never investigated.[19]

As well as collecting statistics, Yesh Din examined 42 closed investigation files and found a number of shortcomings, including the use of Hebrew rather than Arabic, a lack of investigating alibis, police rarely went to the scene of the crime. Many closed files had insufficient investigation and in several cases closed files appeared to have sufficient evidence for indictment,[19]

8% of complaints resulted in indictments. The Israeli Justice Ministry responded by stating that legal authorities were closely following specific cases, but said that it was not in its authority to deal with every case.[20]

Israeli security sources have said that it has become customary for some settlers to take the law into their own hands in the wake of terror attacks in the West Bank.[21]

Settler riots

Israeli withdrawals from Gaza (in 2005) and an eviction in Hebron (in 2008) triggered settler rioting in protest. There is also continual conflict between settlers and Palestinians over land, resources and perceived grievances. In August 2007, soldiers clashed with settlers during a raid in Hebron. Paint and eggs were thrown at the soldiers.[22]

A violent settler protest at the Palestinian village of Funduk occurred in November 2007, in which hundreds of extremist settlers converged at the entrance of the village and rampaged. The protest occurred five days after a settler was killed by Palestinians. The settlers smashed the windows of houses and cars. According to Funduk villagers, Israeli soldiers and police accompanied the protesters but mostly stood aside while the settlers rampaged.[23]

In December 2008 Hebron settlers angry at the eviction of settlers from a disputed house rioted, shooting three Palestinians and burning Palestinian homes and olive groves. Video footage of the attacks were recorded, leading to widespread condemnation in Israel. The attacks were characterized as "a pogrom" by then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who said he was ashamed "as a Jew"[24][25].

Local Palestinians claimed that once the disputed house was evicted, the IDF and the police were "indifferent" to the violence against the Palestinians, and have made no real attempt to stop the settlers from rioting.[26]

Some settlers have publicly adopted what they refer to as a "price tag" policy whereby settlers attack Palestinian villages in retaliation after settler outposts are removed by the Israeli government.[27]

In April 2009, dozens of settlers from Bat Ayin rampaged through the West Bank village of Safa, smashing car windows, damaging homes and wounding 12 Palestinians. [28]

The United Nations has warned that up to 250,000 Palestinians in 83 villages are "highly or moderately" vulnerable to settler retaliation if the unauthorized outposts in the West Bank are removed by the Israeli government. 75,900 Palestinians in 22 villages are "highly vulnerable". The report also warns that a number of roads around Palestinian villages may become dangerous for the Palestinians to travel on. The settlements Havat Gilad, Kedumim, Itamar, Yitzhar, Ma'aleh Levona, Shilo, Adei Ad, Nokdim, Bat Ayin, Neguhot, Kiryat Arba, Beit Haggai, Karmel and Sussia are considered as possible threats to nearby Palestinians. The report criticizes "the inadequate level of law enforcement by the Israeli authorities" and "the ambiguous message delivered by the Government of Israel and the IDF top officials to the security forces in the field regarding their authority and responsibility to enforce the law on Israeli settlers". [29]

Involvement of youths

Some settler who attacked or harassed Palestinians are disaffected youths, referred to in the Israeli media as "hilltop youths". Welfare minister Isaac Herzog has labeled them a "security threat" as well as a "societal and educational danger".[30]

Attacks on Palestinian agriculture and property

Olive farming is a major industry and employer in the Palestinian West Bank and olive trees are a common target of settler violence. B'Tselem alleges that "olive pickers in areas near certain settlements and outposts in the West Bank have been a target of attacks by settlers, who have cut down and burned olive trees and stolen the crops" and that "security forces have not taken suitable action to prevent the violence." The IDF barred olive picking in extensive areas of land, claiming that the closures were to protect the olive pickers. The case went to the Israeli High Court in 2006 which found that, as a rule, lands are not to be closed because of settler violence, and that the IDF must enforce the law. According to B'Tselem the IDF has worked around this by saying the lands are closed to protect the settlers. [31]

Amnesty International has said that scores of Palestinian owned sheep as well as gazelles and other animals were poisoned with 2-fluoracetamide near Tuwani on 22 March 2005, depriving Palestinian farmers of their livelihood [32].

In July 2009, a group of Israeli settlers riding horses and carrying torches raided Palestinian areas, burning 1,500-2,000 olive trees and stoning cars. [33]

Well poisoning

Palestinian reports of settlers poisoning wells are often dismissed as anti-Semitism, however there have been several documented cases of settlers intentionally contaminating Palestinian water supplies.

On 13 July 2004, residents of Hirbat Atwana near Hebron found rotting chicken carcases in their well after four Jewish settlers were seen in the village. Israeli police said they suspected militant Jews from a nearby settlement outpost called Havat Maon. Settlers blamed the action on "internal tribal fight between the Palestinians;" Israeli police spokesman Doron Ben-Amo said it was "unlikely" that the Palestinians would contaminate their own well.[34][35] On 9 December 2007, members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, an American NGO, reported to have observed a group of Israelis stop next to a cistern in Humra Valley, open the lid, and raise the bucket. The water was later found to be contaminated.[36] Oxfam, a British NGO, has reported that settlers deliberately poisoned the only well in Madama, a village near Nablus, by dumping used diapers into it; and that they shot aid workers who came to clean the well.[37][38]

Attacks on mosques

On December 11, 2009, suspected settler extremists attacked a mosque in the northern West Bank village of Yasuf near Nablus according to Palestinian officials and Israeli police. The people forced their way into the mosque and burned Korans, Hadiths and prayer carpets. They spray painted anti-Palestinian slogans on the floor, some of which referred to the settlers' "price tag" policy. About 100 holy books were burned to ashes.[39]

In January 2010, Israeli security officers raided the settlement of Yitzhar, forcibly entered the settlement's synagogue and seminary buildings and arrested 10 settlers of which 5 were arrested for allegedly burning down the Yasuf mosque. [40]

Settler extremism

There are a number of extremist groups associated with the settler movement. Gush Emunim Underground was a terrorist organization linked to the settler activist group Gush Emunim. They carried out attacks against Jewish students and Palestinian officials, attempted to bomb a bus and planned an attack on the Dome on the Rock.

The New York Times has noted that the religious, ideological wing of the settler movement is growing more radical. It is widely suspected that a pipe-bomb attack on settler critic Zeev Sternhell was perpetrated by settler radicals, who left fliers at the scene offering 1 million shekels to anyone who kills a member of anti-settlement group Peace Now.[41][42] Public Security Minister Avi Dichter condemned the attack, calling it a "nationalistic terror attack".[20]

Shin Bet security chief Yuval Diskin warned that he has "found a very high willingness among this public to use violence -- not just stones, but live weapons -- in order to prevent or halt a diplomatic process." He also called settlers' mindset "messianic" and "Satanic"[43].

IDF Major-General Gadi Shamni has warned that there has been an increase in the number of violent settlers from a few dozen to hundreds and that the increase is impairing the IDF's ability to deal with other threat. A UN report recorded 222 acts of violence by settlers in the first half of 2008 compared with 291 in all of 2007.[44]

Haaretz has characterized settler violence at the "Federman Farm" near Kiryat Arba as "terrorism" [14].

Funding of illegal settlements ostensibly halted

In response to settler violence directed towards Israeli security forces, Israel declared it would no longer fund illegal outposts from November, 2008. Settlers claim the violence was sparked by the beating of a settler child, while border police spokesman Moshe Pinchi said he had no knowledge of the alleged beating and accused the settlers of "cynically" sending minors to attack the police.[45] However there is evidence that support continues unabated for illegal outposts. At one illegal settlement, Hayovel there has been work on a new road that cuts through Palestinian territory.[46]

International reactions

The European Union has condemned "acts of violence and brutality committed against Palestinian civilians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank" calling on the Israeli government to put an end to it.[47] The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC) is South Africa's statutory research agency. It released an exhaustive study indicating that Israel practices both colonialism and apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The study was conducted by an international team of scholars and practitioners of international public law from South Africa, the United Kingdom, Israel and the West Bank. The study reviewed Israel's practices in the territories according to definitions of colonialism and apartheid provided by international law. The project was suggested by the January 2007 report by South African jurist John Dugard, in his capacity as Special Rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights Council. He said that the practices of Israel had assumed characteristics of colonialism and apartheid and that an advisory opinion on the legal consequences should be sought from the International Court of Justice.[48]


According to B'Tselem 45 Palestinians were killed by Israeli civilians between 2000 and 2008 [49], of which the vast majority would be settler-related. B'Tselem also keeps a record of incidences of settler violence of which there have been 2 so far in 2009 [50].


  1. "Siege". 
  2. "Report" (PDF). 
  3. "Israeli Army Checkpoints". 
  4. "Hebron, Area H-2: Settlements Cause Mass Departure of Palestinians". 
  5. "Mounting Human Rights Crisis in Hebron". 
  6. "Israeli human rights group slams Hebron settlers". 
  7. "Israel: Palestinian Drivers Routinely Abused". 
  8. "The Nature of Settler Violence". Retrieved 2008-02-15. 
  9. "Forbidden Roads" (PDF). B'Tselem. 
  10. Hider, James (October 15, 2009). "West Bank settlers use ‘price tag’ tactic to punish Palestinians". The Times. Retrieved October 16, 2009. 
  11. Berg, Raffi (2003-08-18). "Israel's religious settlers". 
  12. Gee, Robert W. (2008-08-25). "Settlers Increase Attacks On Palestinians In West Bank". 
  13. "Settler violence: The dual system of law in the Occupied Territories". B'Tselem. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Defeat settler terror". Haaretz. 2008-10-27. 
  15. Nevo, Yair (2009-07-23). "When security trumps justice". Haaretz. 
  16. See Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, A/HRC/12/48, 25 September 2009, para 85
  17. See Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, A/HRC/12/48, 25 September 2009, para 85
  18. See Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, A/HRC/12/48, 25 September 2009, para 198
  19. 19.0 19.1 "A Semblance of Law - Law Enforcement upon Israeli Civilians in the West Bank". Yesh Din. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 "Yesh Din report: Only 8% of Palestinian complaints against settlers result in indictment". Haaretz. 2008-11-03. 
  21. "Israel fears Jewish extremists will avenge settlement murder". Haaretz. 2009-04-04. 
  22. Hider, James (2007-08-08). "Mutinous soldiers are jailed as Israeli army evicts 200 religious settlers after court order". The Times. 
  23. "Young Israelis Resist Challenges to Settlements". New York Times. 2007-12-07. 
  24. "Olmert condemns settler 'pogrom'". BBC. 
  25. Issacharoff, Avi (2008-12-07). "Hebron settler riots were out and out pogroms". 
  26. Waked, Ali (2008-12-04). "Hebron burning: Settler fire injures Palestinians".,7340,L-3633603,00.html. 
  27. "Israeli settlers burn olive groves in ‘price tag’ retaliation attack". The Times. 2009-05-21. 
  28. "Jewish settlers rampage through West Bank village". Reuters. 2009-04-08. 
  29. Template:Cite new
  30. Sinai, Ruth (2008-12-01). "Ministry to launch program to return alienated settler youths to mainstream fold". 
  31. "29 Oct. 06: B'Tselem Urges the Security Forces to Prepare for the Olive Harvest". B'Tselem. 2006-10-29. 
  32. Amnesty International (2005-04-05). "Israeli authorities must put an immediate end to settler violence". Press release. 
  33. "Israelis torch 1,500 olive trees - report". Irish Times. 2009-07-20. 
  34. Template:Cite news url= east/3891531.stm
  35. Settlers suspected of polluting wells, Maariv, 13 July 2004, retrieved from Wayback Machine on 18 August 2008.
  36. "Cistern contaminated in Humra Valley". Christian Peacemaker Teams. 2008-01-19. 
  37. {{cite web url= |title=Water Wars |publisher=Channel 4, |accessdate=[[2008-08-18}}
  38. Pearce, Fred (2006-03-01). "Running on empty". The Guardian. 
  39. "Settlers attack West Bank mosque and burn holy Muslim books". The Times. 2009-12-11. 
  40. "Police arrest 10 in raid on West Bank settlement". Haaretz. 2010-01-18. 
  41. Kershner, Isabel (2008-09-25). "Radical Settlers Take On Israel". New York Times. 
  42. "Radical settlers using violence against Jews". 2008-10-08. 
  43. "Shin Bet chief warns of settler violence". UPI. 2008-11-03. 
  44. "'Hundreds join' settler violence". BBC. 2008-10-02. 
  45. "Israel cuts aid to outposts over settler violence". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2009-10-03. 
  46. Franks, Tim (2009-03-26). "New support for West Bank outpost movement". BBC. 
  47. "EU condemns settler violence". Israel News. 2008-10-31.,7340,L-3615844,00.html. 
  48. see Academic study finds that Israel is practicing apartheid and colonialism in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
  49. "Statistics". B'Tselem. 
  50. "Settler Violence". B'Tselem. 

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