Israel/Palestine: Spike in settler violence backed and encouraged by state
Settler violence has long since become routine in the West Bank. Yet since 16-year-old Israeli Ahuvia Sandak died during a police chase near the settlement of Kochav Hashachar on 21 December 2020, the number of violent settler attacks against Palestinians has sharply risen throughout the West Bank.
Over the course of five weeks, from 21 December 2020 to 24 January 2021, B’Tselem field researchers documented 49 incidents of this kind (not counting protest marches or roadblocks in which settlers did not throw stones). Twenty-eight involved physical assaults: 19 cases in which settlers threw stones at passing vehicles; three cases of shooting; and six attacks of other kinds. In the other incidents, settlers vandalized Palestinian property, damaged crops, and attacked homes.
In these incidents, 15 Palestinians were hit by stones, including four children. Mahmoud a-Tmeizi (13) was injured at the Beit Hanun intersection on 21 December 2020; Hala Mashur Qut (10) was injured in Madama on 17 January 2021; and Jad Suaftah (5) was injured at the Givat Assaf intersection on 21 January 2021. All three children required medical treatment. Sama Buziyah (11) was injured in Kifl Hares on 24 December 2020.
Two severe assaults occurred on 21 December 2020. In al-Qanub, in Hebron District, settlers set dogs on two Palestinian shepherds — Subhi Shalaldeh (32) and Walid Shalaldeh (35) – and attacked one of them. They drove the two men and their flock out and followed them on their way home, running Subhi Shalaldeh over with an ATV until he lost consciousness. In the settlement of Bat ‘Ayin, in Bethlehem District, a Palestinian-Israeli bus driver was attacked with stones and pepper-sprayed.
In at least 26 of the cases B’Tselem documented since Sandak’s death, Israeli security forces were present at the time of the attack. Instead of arresting the assailants, in five cases they attacked the Palestinians, firing rubber-coated metal bullets or tear gas canisters at them and injuring two. In the remaining 21 cases, the forces did not do enough to prevent the attacks. Below are several examples:
- On 11 January 2021, settlers were working land belonging to Palestinian residents of ‘Aqraba. Instead of arresting the settlers, soldiers and police officers arrested one of the owners, Ra’d Bani Fadel. He was held in custody for two weeks and was required to post bail.
- On 13 January 2021, settlers attacked a vehicle in the Turmusaya area and soldiers dispersed Palestinians who arrived at the scene by firing tear gas canisters. After the Palestinians fled, settlers set fire to two cars they had left behind, in the soldiers’ presence.
- Soldiers were also present at several stone-throwing incidents: near the DCO Checkpoint on 30 December 2020, in Rawabi on 4 January 2021, and near the settlement of Yitzhar on 7 January 2021. Israel Police forces were present in stone-throwing incidents along Route 60, in the area of Beit Hanun, on 21 December 2020, and by the Ariel junction on 22 December 2020. In not a single one of these cases did the forces attempt to stop the assailants or assist the victims.
In the last six months, from 1 July to 20 December 2020, B’Tselem documented 108 incidents of settler violence: 17 from 1 December to 20 December, 20 in November, 41 in October, 10 in September, 13 in August and 7 in July.
The South Hebron Hills saw a spike in settler violence against Palestinians even before Sandak’s death. From 1 December 2020 to 24 January 2021, B’Tselem documented 12 incidents in this area. In nine of them, settlers invaded Palestinian communities at night; in one case, they opened fire; and five cases included physical assault. In contrast, in the previous month, November 2020, no violent incidents were recorded in the area. One incident was documented in October and three in August.
In one of the gravest of these recent incidents, which took place on 18 December 2020 in Khirbet al-Markaz, settlers invaded a family home at 4:30 A.M. They punched the father, ‘Omar Hushiyeh (37), in the face and broke one of his teeth, dragged him outside, put him in their car and interrogated him for approximately an hour regarding stolen sheep.
Settler violence against Palestinians has long since been a routine part of the occupation in the West Bank. Addressing the death of Ahuvia Sandak as the cause of the settlers’ rage is detached from reality. For years, settlers have been committing acts of violence against Palestinians with full backing by the state, which does nothing to prevent the recurrence of these attacks. Israel sends security forces to protect the assailants and turn a blind eye to the crimes committed before their very eyes. It also takes care not to take retrospective action against the perpetrators. By doing so, it privatizes the oppression of the Palestinians and enjoys the fruits: the transfer of Palestinians’ means of subsistence and livelihood to Jews, who take over the land and treat it as their own.This is precisely what a Jewish supremacist regime looks like.