The Humanitarian Impact of Settlers Violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory

The Humanitarian Impact of Settlers Violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
The persistent, and illegal, transfer of Israeli settlers to West Bank settlements serve political and economic objectives aimed at obtaining land and resources, and undermining a Palestinian state. The Israeli state is complicit in settlers’ violence, providing settlers with resources, protection and impunity under the law for criminal offences.
Systematic violence perpetrated by settlers against Palestinians is a daily reality of the settlement industry and has a severe humanitarian impact. Settlers are motivated by religious beliefs which they claim grant them property rights over Palestinian land, a belief which echoes in the Israeli political establishment.
Settlers’ violence economically damages Palestinian communities by destroying livelihoods. Settler violence physically and psychologically damages communities through shootings, beatings and verbal abuse, often aimed at children, women and the elderly. Settlers’ violence is permitted due to the discriminatory application of law by Israel and the actions of the Israeli military forces which protects settlers and ignores attacks on Palestinians. Although there is a high level of cooperation between settlers and the Israeli army, settlers are increasingly becoming an autonomous group, organizing violent attacks against both Palestinians and Israeli soldiers, and ignoring Israeli and international law
Dimensions of Settler Violence
Settlers’ violence is increasing, and in the first 10 months of 2008 more settlers related violence against persons and property was recorded than the total amount in 2006 and 2007. Hebron and Nablus Governorates are the areas most affected, accounting for 42% and 21%, respectively, of all incidences. Qalqilyah accounts for 11%, Ramallah for 9%, East Jerusalem 6%, and Bethlehem 2% of settlers’ violence. 
Hebron witnesses particularly frequent attacks and tensions due to presence of ideologically driven right wing settlers who advocate the expulsion of Arabs from ‘biblical’ lands. These settlers are supporters of the extremist Kach movement created by Rabbi Meir Kahane. 
Most incidents take place in the areas surrounding settlements and are organized attacks in groups, rather than individually.  Settlers’ violence takes many forms, Property damage, preventing access to land and homes, trespassing on Palestinian property, stone-throwing, discarding waste and sewage, damaging water tanks, murder with firearms and physical abuse are all common incidents.
Desecrating Mosques, graves and Palestinian homes with racist graffiti is also common. Verbal abuse is especially common, often taking an overtly racist form which contributes to psychological abuse. One such recent incidence saw a young Jewish settler throwing wine over an elderly Muslim lady, clearly demonstrating how these abuses are intended to cause humiliation.
Over 90% of investigations into settlers’ violence are closed without anyone being held accountable, despite the often substantial evidence against the accused. Indeed, there is substantial video and photographic evidence of Palestinians, including women, children and the elderly, being attacked by settlers in full view of Israeli soldiers who do nothing to help.
Consequences of Settler Violence
Impact of Settler Violence on livelihoods
Although settlers’ attacks take place throughout the year, particular peaks occur in October and November, at the time of the olive harvest. This results from the organized targeting of Palestinian olive trees, in addition to other agricultural produce such as citrus, dates or grapes. It is estimated that between September 2000 and September 2009 over 500,000 trees have been destroyed in the West Bank by settlers and the Israeli army (ARIJ Database 2009). One such recent example took place near Nablus in September 2009 when renowned violent settlers from the settlement of Yitzhar attacked olive groves in the village of Burin, damaging 150 trees with chainsaws.  Attacks on olive groves are widespread and part of a targeted campaign aimed at destroying the livelihood of many Palestinians thereby forcing them to leave the land so that it can be occupied by settlers. In the village of Burin, surrounded by settlements, the effect of settler violence on livelihoods and the local economy has been devastating. For example, prior to the construction of settlements, village land covered roughly 18,000 dunums. Currently, families only have access to 11,000 dunums, a substantial loss of land. Due to the loss of grazing land, families are also forced to sell their animals. In the 1980s Burin farmers owned around 6,000 animals, whereas now they own only 400. This has a large impact on the productive capacity of agriculture which many depend on for their livelihood.
Displacement of Families
Intimately connected to the destruction of livelihoods is the notion of displacement. The settlers’ policy of destroying agriculture, and thus a source of income, forces many families to seek other places to live. The physical abuse of Palestinians by settlers, reinforced by IOF polices, also contributes to severe displacement. The most notable example of this is in the Hebron governorate where it estimated that by 2006 over 40% of Palestinian apartments in the city centre of Hebron had been evacuated and over 75% of Palestinian businesses had closed down. It must be noted that thousands of Palestinians have been displaced in Hebron city centre solely so that 500-600 settlers can live there. The settlers are protected by over 1,500 soldiers, contributing to settler violence.  Displacement also occurs in other parts of the Palestinian Territory;
Extremist settlers in the West Bank are becoming increasingly autonomous. Although heavily subsidized and protected by the Israeli State, they have also attacked Israeli soldiers. Settlers have also changed their strategies concerning the disengagement of settlements in the so-called ‘price tag’ policy. As one settler states; ‘for every evacuation, for every demolition and destruction, for every stone moved, they will get war’. This refers to retribution against Palestinian communities and Israeli soldiers for the removal of illegal outposts and settlements. Settlers are also increasingly dictating the state of affairs to the Israeli army, often giving ultimatums and orders to Israeli soldiers.
The political, economic and social framework of settlements is one of apartheid. Extremist settlers operate within this framework which witnesses two peoples living in the same land but subject to different laws and policies.  Settler violence and settlers actions are often illogical, based on racist ideologies that support attacks on Palestinians.
Indeed, as Rabbi Israel Ariel has been quoted as saying; ‘a Jew who kills a non-Jew is exempt from human judgment and has not violated the prohibition of murder’. Rabbis of the notorious Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) settlement movement have also reiterated that Jews who kill Arabs should be free from all punishment. Settler violence is a consequence of these racist ideologies. Despite the illogic of this thinking, the support and impunity given to settler violence by the Israeli state follows a specific logic that sees the further appropriation of Palestinian land and the construction of outposts.

[1] OCHA OPT ‘Unprotected: Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians and their property ‘,
[2][2] A Ritual Act on every Olive Harvest Season
‘ 150 Olive Trees Destroyed by Israeli Settlers in Burin Village south of Nablus Governorate ‘
Categories: Settlers Attacks