(Participant in “Preparing Public Policies and Strategic Thinking” Training programme - MASARAT)
Settler attacks in the West Bank (including Jerusalem) have increased in 2017, varying between physical assault, sometimes leading to death, and destruction of property. The attacks were either carried out individually or within groups in the framework of Zionist movements and formations who have become responsible for such attacks or support and protect them.
Such attacks have coincided with increased financial support from Israeli institutions (including the government). Not to mention the support of Zionist parties to settlers and their attacks, even participating in them, calling for the annexation of the West Bank, or parts of, to Israel.
Settler attacks in the West Bank are increasing in numbers and types, in light of what seems to be planned by the Israeli government and parties. The Palestinian response to such attacks remains weak compared to their volumes and levels.
The Development of Settler Attacks
Development in Numbers
The number of settlers in the West Bank exceeds 824 thousand living in 198 settlements and 220 outposts.
Settlement activity in itself is deemed a constant assault against civilians and their properties in a continued systematic and planned process to take possession of land, vandalize agricultural properties and establish new outposts, road networks or Israeli military camps for allegedly protecting settlers.
Attacks range between physical assault, destruction of property and breaking into archeological sites citing biblical sanctity. Palestinians of different age groups, schools and places of worship, such as Aqraba Mosque south of Nablus in April 2018, have suffered from such attacks. That is not to mention that racist and provocative graffiti, as well as vandalism of agricultural land and uprooting, burning and steeling of trees.
Settlers burning Al-Dawabsheh residence in Duma, Nablus, resulting in three fatalities in the household members in July 2015, and burning the child Mohammad Abu Khdeir alive in July 2014 could be the bloodiest attacks in recent years.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has monitored the increase of settler attacks in the West Bank in the first half of 2017. During this period, OCHA documented 89 incidents, 33 of which resulted in Palestinian casualties, and properties were damaged in 56. This constitutes an increase of 88% compared to 2016.
Jerusalem Center for Studies on Israeli and Palestinian Affairs’ statistics confirm that 2133 settlers broke into Al-Aqsa Mosque in March 2018, while 30 thousand settlers broke into Al-Aqsa in 2017, with a 100% increase compared to 2016 where 15 thousand settlers broke into the mosque.
The center warned that if there is no actual action on the popular and official levels, the numbers will increase in 2018, as this practice has become a systematic Israeli colonial policy.
Settlers are now even more brazen in raiding villages and carrying out their attacks. This is only because of the existence of organizations and a comprehensive system of security and judicial institutions that support, encourage and organize such attacks, and turn a blind eye when they are carried out.
Development in Types of Attacks
Despite their atrocity, attacks in the past were individual, such as Denis Michael Rohan, the Australian Jew who burned Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969, and Baruch Goldstein, a settler raised on the racist ideology of “Kach” movement, who committed the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in 1994.
This, however, does not mean that there weren’t any organized attacks, such as Zionist terror groups attempt to assassinate three mayors in the West Bank on 2/6/1980, which was attributed to what was known at the time the Jewish Underground. This attack was the first indicator of the existence of an organized movement amongst settlers aiming to carry out attacks against Palestinians.
Such attacks have become more organized and increased in numbers, which was evident through the establishment and revitalization of organizations and movements that carry out attacks against Palestinians. The most important and most violent of such groups is “Hilltop Youth” movement established in 2008, which uses “price tag” graffiti that describes a justifying motive for the attacks carried out by these activists. The activities of this organization are focused in the north and center of the West Bank. “Temple Mount and Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) Faithful Movement” that was established in Jerusalem in 1967 was revived and focuses its activities against Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Zionist societies that carry out attacks against Palestinians include, Ir David Foundation “City of David” (commonly known as El’ad) established in 1986, which aims at taking possession of Palestinian-owned property by forging documents and transferring privately-owned property in Jerusalem; “Ateret Cohanim” organization established in 1978, which focuses its activity in East Jerusalem aiming at settling settlers in the old city; “Haroe Haivri” (The Hebrew Shepherd) established in 2013, which works on legitimizing outposts and adopts members of “Hilltop Youth” who drop out of school; in addition to a number of feminist organizations, such as “Women in Green”, which targets agricultural land in Bethlehem, particularly the lands of Al-Khader town.
There has been development in the types of attacks, where there is an increase in the number of Israeli officials who participate in them. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister (2001-2006), had broken into Al-Aqsa Mosque in 2000, and a number of Knesset members organize and participate in the daily break ins into Al-Aqsa.
The right wing Zionist parties also constitute a part of these attacks. Knesset members and party officials participate in the attacks against Palestinians and Al-Aqsa Mosque, such as Yehuda Glick, Moshe Figlin, Shuli Muallem and others. This went on until the Israeli police issued a decision in 2015 preventing Knesset members from storming the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque. In August 2017 this decision was reversed.
The attacks are increasing in terms of geographic distribution and organization taking new forms. Reports issued by several specialized organizations mapping settler attacks confirm that the governorate of Jerusalem suffer the most settler terror, followed by Hebron, because settlers reside within both cities.
This increase coincides with the Israeli right wing assuming power, which has relied on religious, historic and ideological justifications. Right wing governments have always followed the slogan “settlement is the right of Jewish people.”
The Israeli Knesset passed a number of laws that serve settlement expansion. All these laws are leaning towards legitimizing settlement and giving it a legal framework (at least in the Israeli context), despite contradiction with international laws. This constitutes another development on the legal aspect, which has started in the early stages of the occupation when the Absentees’ Property Law was passed in 1950. The Settlement Regulation Law passed on 6/2/2017, which aims at legitimizing outposts constructed on private Palestinian land without decisions from the government, will not be the last.
Israeli political parties are calling for the annexation of the West Bank to Israel. Naftali Bennett, the Israeli Minister of Education and head of “Jewish Home” party, has called for legitimizing settlement in the West Bank through legal procedures and Knesset legislations, most notably the settlements Regulation law, where the procedures and approvals required for settlement are mitigated. In its fourth annual conference held on 30/12/2017, the Likud (ruling) party called on the government to annex the West Bank under complete Israeli sovereignty.
Key settlements in the West Bank, such as “Ariel” in Salfit, “Yitsahar” in Nablus, and “Gosh Atsyoun” and “Kiryat Arba” in Hebron, are some of the settlements that have religious schools that teach their children religious extremism and racism against Arabs. They also have centers for provocative Zionist societies and organizations that are established in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
This also coincides with publishing religious and ideological books that incite attacks and provides religious justifications for them, most notably the ideology in the book “The King’s Torah” published in 2009.
Directed Targeting and Official Support
The Israeli government provides settlers with support and protection, and does not take any measures to prevent such assaults. On the contrary, many organizations, led by the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories “B’Tselem”, confirm through the statements and reports they prepare that Israeli forces allow settlers to carry out attacks, and sometimes even participate in them.
For example, “B’Tselem” reports confirm in their documentation of settler attacks that Israeli soldiers have stood by while settlers attacked the residents of Urif village, and later killed a Palestinian child.
Moreover, the Israeli judiciary is lenient with the perpetrators of such attacks and crimes, who are not subject to a fair trial; they do not even pay for the financial and psychological damages incurred by Palestinians. In many cases, the investigation files are closed without reaching any conclusions.
Statistics published by “B’Tselem” and “Yesh Din” confirm that around 85% of cases initiated before the judiciary involving attacks or assaults are closed without any notable measures taken. Only 1.9% of complaints submitted by Palestinians have ended with the conviction of settlers, therefore, and due to these policies, Palestinians often relinquish such complaints.
The Israeli policy towards perpetrators of such attacks has only changed after the crime that targeted Dawabshe residence, where the Israeli Shabak (internal security agency) started prosecuting a few perpetrators, particularly those belonging to “Hilltop Youth”, as a result of media pressure and Palestinian public opinion on the crime committed by settlers. These organizations have soon turned to their old ways by carrying out further attacks against Palestinians. A group of settlers entered Beit Iksa village west of Jerusalem where they damaged a number of vehicles and wrote racist slogans on walls on 22/4/2018.
The measures taken by the Israeli government and army did not prevent the attacks; many settlers have organized demonstrations against the Israeli government, and continued to carryout violent attacks in Palestinian villages, which have become more widespread and brazen. This indicates that the prosecution was more of a formality and did not aim at preventing such crimes and attacks.
Settler attacks are not the exception; they are part of a strategic activity that Israel allows, participates in and benefits from. They are also part of a comprehensive project led by an extreme right wing government continuously seeking to annex additional Palestinian land.
Palestinians Facing Settler Crimes
Palestinians have resisted settler attacks. In the seventies, they came up with “Guardians of the Land” idea, and are now calling for returning to this practice after the increase in the attacks and assaults carried out by settlers. Palestinians continue to organize the weekly protests against settlement expansion and requisition of land, the protests in Bil’in, Ni’lin and Kafr Qaddoum might be the most persistent on facing such attacks.
Palestinians also have international activities to face settler attacks, such as the BDS Movement since 2005. In 2015, the EU Commission decided to label settlement products in European markets. The international community has also condemned settlement in Palestinian territories, the latest of which was the Security Council Resolution issued in December 2016.
Despite Palestinian attempts to face these attacks, they continue to increase, become more organized, take numerous forms, and include different locations. Palestinians face such attacks in an unorganized and unsustainable manner, which rather takes the form of attempts at self-defense despite the limited resources and the lack of any effective initiative by the PA or political parties to face such attacks.
The perpetrators of such crimes act in complete secrecy and adopt that attacks or attribute them to any organization or group they belong to. Furthermore, the majority of areas subject to settler attacks are located in “C” areas, where the Palestinian security forces have no jurisdiction, which enables settlers to carry out any attack and inflict severe damage.
At the official level, the responses are not at the level of the atrocity of the attacks. Often the responses are limited to condemnation and denouncement, or calling for the provision of international protection to Palestinians.
Settler attacks and projects covered by the extreme right wing government come at a time where the Palestinian conditions are declining on all levels. Palestinian citizens are on their own facing the Zionist project, in which settlement groups and movements are integral part through their crimes against civilians and their properties in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Should such attacks not be challenged with clear steps and with the support of all parties including the PA and political parties, popular resistance not be activated to face settler terror and attacks, and the resilience of civilians on their land not be promoted, such attacks will continue and take other forms, possibly even expand geographically.
 Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (Areej), 2018.
 An outpost is a settlement not recognized by the Israeli government, but receives support and infrastructure through government funding.
 2016 Annual Report, Arab Studies Society, Jerusalem, May 2017, 58.
 Temple Mount and Eretz Yisrael Faithful Movement Objectives, Palestinian Studies Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 48, 2001, 210.
 2014 Annual Report, Arab Studies Society, Jerusalem, March 2015, 25.
 2016 Annual Report, Arab Studies Society, Jerusalem, May 2017, 31.
 Ibid., 49.
 Al-Aqsa Break Ins… When Extremism Becomes a Methodology, Al-Jazeera Website, 11/11/2014. oo.gl/jrEjTa
 The “Jewish Home” party escalates and calls for the annexation of the West Bank, Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, 7/10/2016. https://goo.gl/AetFpG
 2014 Annual Report, 68.
 Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur, The King’s Torah, the Torah Institute in Yeshivat is Still Alive, 2009.
 Attacks by Yitsahar Settlers on the Residents of Urif Village, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’Tselem), 16/4/2018. https://goo.gl/UYromr
 Fact Sheet, Yesh Din Website, December 2017. https://goo.gl/SYtTVG
 The Israeli Government Legitimizes Settler Attacks, Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, 17/2/2014. https://goo.gl/5smuQB
 Guardians of the Land: Youth from Palestinian Villages Stay Up All Night to Protect Their Villages from Settler Attacks, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, London, 39/3/2014. https://goo.gl/jKkXhc
 Security Council Resolution No. 2334/2016, Session No. 7853, 23/12/2016.