Israel has been using settler violence as a “strategy” to take over the occupied West Bank and expel Palestinians from their own land, an Israeli advocacy group says.
In a 43-page report released on Sunday, the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem revealed that settler violence is not a private initiative, but rather works as a “major informal tool” and a “strategy” employed by Tel Aviv to drive Palestinians from farming and pasture lands in the occupied West Bank.
“Settler attacks against Palestinians are a strategy employed by the Israeli apartheid regime, which seeks to advance and complete its misappropriation of more and more Palestinian land.”
B'tselem said it had documented a total of 451 settler attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank since early last year, adding that in 183 cases of these attacks, Israeli military forces stood by or assisted the attackers.
Five Palestinians were killed and 22 others arrested in the attacks, it added.
According to the detailed report, in five test cases across the West Bank, Israeli settlers took over more than 2,800 hectares of Palestinians’’ lands.
“The combination of” directly-inflicted “violence” by the regime “and nominally unofficial violence allows Israel to have it both ways: maintain plausible deniability and blame the violence on settlers rather than on the military, the courts or the Civil Administration while advancing Palestinian dispossession,” B'tselem said.
“The facts, however, blow plausible deniability out of the water: When the violence occurs with permission and assistance from the Israeli authorities and under its auspices,” it is “violence” inflicted by the regime itself, the advocacy group stated, adding that the settlers “are not defying” Tel Aviv, “they are doing its bidding.”
Israel occupied the West Bank and East al-Quds during the Six-Day War in 1967. It later annexed East al-Quds in a move not recognized by the international community.
According to the report, the Israeli regime has so far built more than 280 settlements in the West Bank, which are home to more than 440,000 settlers.
Of these settlements, 138 were officially established and recognized by Tel Aviv and some 150 are outposts not officially recognized by the regime.
Around a third of the outposts have been established during the past decade, most of them referred to as “farms.”
These settlements, which are all illegal under international law, dominate hundreds of thousands of dunams to which Palestinians have limited access or none at all.
B'tselem further said in its report that Israel has taken over some of these areas through various means, such as issuing military orders, declaring the area Israeli land, a firing zone or a nature reserve, “and expropriating land.”
“Other areas have been effectively taken over by settlers through daily acts of violence, including attacks on Palestinians and their property,” it added.
Palestinians, in their testimonies given to the advocacy group, described how the violence and fear are threatening their communities and are forcing them to abandon or scale back the types of work they relied on for decades.
They added that settler violence is also forcing them to stay away from pastureland and water sources that used to serve them, and limiting their cultivation of farmland.
“The apartheid regime is based on organized, systemic violence against Palestinians carried out by numerous agents:” Tel Aviv, “the military, the Civil Administration, the Supreme Court, the Israel Police, the Israel Security Agency, the Israel Prison Service, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and others. Settlers are yet another function on this list,” said the Israeli rights group.
According to B'tselem, Israel has for years clearly allowed its settlers to assault Palestinians and inflict damage on their property as one of its policies. This has included provision of military protection for the attackers, and in some cases troopers' active participation in the assault.
“Like the violence employed against Palestinians by the military and the bureaucracy, settler violence is organized, institutionalized, well-equipped and implemented in order to achieve a defined strategic goal,” the rights group concluded.
Palestinians want the West Bank as part of a future independent Palestinian state with East al-Quds as its capital.