Report to UN on rise in settler violence and illegal building
UN report on settlements: 6-months on, submitted to UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women.
By Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC)
Media release, September 2013 (full report, less diagrams and footnotes, below)
In January 2013, the UN published a report (UN Report) on the impact of Israeli settlements on the rights of Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The UN Report concluded, inter alia, that:
The establishment of the settlements in the West Bank including East Jerusalem is a mesh of construction and infrastructure leading to a creeping annexation that prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian State and undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination … The existence of the settlements has had a heavy toll on the rights of the Palestinians. Their rights to freedom of self-determination, non-discrimination, freedom of movement, equality, due process, fair trial, not to be arbitrarily detained, liberty and security of person, freedom of expression, freedom to access places of worship, education, water, housing, adequate standard of living, property, access to natural resources and effective remedy are being violated consistently and on a daily basis.
Six months on, WCLAC has submitted a report to the UN providing an update on the situation on the ground which includes specific evidence on the impact of settler violence on women.
The report notes that:
● Housing construction in the settlements is up 176 percent on 2012;
● Settler violence resulting in injury is up 5.5 percent on 2012;
● Settler violence resulting in property damage is up 41 percent on 2012; and
● Injuries during protests against the settlements are up 75 percent on 2012.
WCLAC’s report also contains 13 testimonies from women affected by settler violence during the past six months, including evidence from women who have been attacked in their homes, children attacked on the way to school, women beaten as they harvest their produce, and women sprayed with urine whilst walking home. The evidence also indicates that the Israeli authorities are either turning a blind eye to, or are complicit in, settler attacks on Palestinian civilians.
WCLAC’s report concludes that:
The situation on the ground relating to the impact of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on the Palestinian population has deteriorated in the six months following the publication of the UN Report. Further, there is no likelihood that the situation will improve due to an absence of international and domestic accountability.
A settler attacked Layali Emran Al-Sayyad 23, from Al-Tur; she had two fractures in the nose and a swelling in the eye along with other bruises and wounds, and Anwar Abu Rammouz 21, from Wadi Qaddoum; she had a broken nose and swelling in the eye and face. June 2013.
Israeli settler violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem
Report by WCLAC
Submitted to:UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women.
Copied to: The UN independent international fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.
September 16, 2013
1.1 On 31 January 2013, a report (the UN Report) investigating the impact of Israeli settlements on the rights of Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was released by an independent fact finding mission (the Mission) appointed by the UN.
In preparing the UN Report, the Mission consulted widely with all interested parties and made five requests for cooperation to the Israeli Government. The Government of Israel did not respond to these requests.
1.2 The purpose of this submission is to provide a six-monthly update on the situation on the ground following the publication of the UN Report. The submission also provides a sample of evidence collected since January that highlights the impact of settler violence and property destruction on women. The submission concludes with a general assessment as to whether conditions on the ground have improved or deteriorated since the publication of the UN Report.
2.1 The UN Report identified the applicable legal principles which can be briefly summarised as follows:
(i) The West Bank and East Jerusalem are under Israeli military occupation;
(ii) Occupying powers are not permitted to allow their citizens to live in occupied territory;
(iii) All Israeli settlements, settlement blocks and outposts in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law; and
(iv) All legal obligations undertaken by the Government of Israel apply equally, and without discrimination, to all persons under its control, including Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
2.2 After reviewing the relevant legal framework, the UN Report provided a brief history of Israel’s settlement project since 1967. The UN Report found that at the time of publication there were around 250 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem with a population of 520,000. The Report makes it clear that this mass illegal influx of Israeli citizens into occupied territory has been sanctioned by the Israeli State, through planning, construction, encouragement and financial incentives. This was confirmed by a US Congressional report that estimated that in 2005, the Israeli Government invested $795 million in the settlements.
2.3 The UN Report found that the establishment of the settlements has fragmented the West Bank placing at risk the possibility of a Palestinian State, and by implication, a viable two state solution. Whilst the fenced areas of the settlements cover three percent of the West Bank, in total 43 percent of the territory is allocated to settlement local and regional councils.
2.4 The UN Report noted that distinct legal systems exist in the West Bank and are applied separately to Israeli settlers and Palestinians. Broadly, Israeli settlers are subject to Israeli civilian law, with all the rights and protections this entails, whereas Palestinians are frequently prosecuted in military courts, which fail to comply with international fair trial standards.
2.5 The UN Report highlighted violence between settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank and expressed the view that the intention behind settler attacks is to pressure Palestinians to leave the land. Numerous testimonies received by the Mission referred to the presence of the Israeli police and army during attacks suggesting an element of coordination and complicity by the State. Complaints by Palestinians against settlers have a 91 percent chance of being dismissed without effective action, whereas in cases involving settler complaints against Palestinians, up to 95 percent of cases proceed to court. The UN Report concluded that women alone in their homes are easy targets for settler violence, creating a sense of insecurity amongst the wider Palestinian society.
2.6 On 14 August 2013, US-sponsored peace talks resumed between Israel and Palestine with the stated purpose of implementing a two state solution.
3. Six-monthly update
3.1 Settlement construction:- In late May, the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics released data that indicates that housing unit construction starts in the settlements for the first quarter of 2013 have reached a seven year high. Work began on 865 new housing units in the West Bank, a 355 percent increase over the previous quarter. This figure also represents a 176 percent increase over the same period last year.
3.2 Settler violence:- According to figures compiled by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in the first half of 2013, there were 212 settler-related incidents causing personal injury or property damage to Palestinians. These incidents include both direct attacks by settlers, and situations where the Israeli army has intervened resulting in injury to Palestinians.
3.3 Settler-related incidents resulting in injury to Palestinians are up 5.5 percent over the same period in 2012, whilst incidents involving property damage have risen by 41 percent over the same period. Many of these property damage incidents involve the destruction of olive trees, which are an important source of income and sustenance for many Palestinian communities. According to UN sources, as of 22 July, 7,130 olive trees have been damaged by settlers in 2013, or an average of 1,019 trees per month. This represents a 42 percent increase compared with 2012.8 When reviewing these figures it is important to note that it can take more than five years for damaged trees to produce fruit again, devastating families who rely on this harvest as a source of income.
As has been pointed out on many occasions in the past, the general lack of accountability for settler attacks is a major factor in their continuance. Despite Israel’s obligations under international law to protect the civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, settler violence persists largely due to the lack of adequate law enforcement by the Israeli authorities. Many soldiers appear to see their protective role as only applying to settlers, and not Palestinians.
In many cases, the authorities do not intervene against settlers despite attacks being committed in plain sight. They effectively endorse the activity through their inaction. Occasionally, authorities even go a step further and join in the aggression themselves. Since 2005, statistics have consistently shown that only about 8.5 percent of complaints filed by Palestinians against Israeli citizens in the West Bank result in an indictment.
3.5 Although many settler attacks originate from settlement outposts, which are illegal under both international and Israeli domestic law, the authorities continue to show a marked reluctance to remove these structures.
Further, in many cases there is tacit complicity by the authorities evidenced by the fact that these outposts are provided with infrastructure, including roads, water and electricity.
3.6 The presence of settlements close to Palestinian population centres raises tensions. In recent years the number of weekly protests across the West Bank against the settlements has increased, resulting in an aggressive response by Israeli forces.
The result has been eight fatalities (compared with nine for the whole of 2012) and a 75 percent increase in injuries in 2013.18 So far in 2013, 2,640 Palestinian civilians have been injured, bringing the monthly average to 440, the highest level since OCHA began collecting data in 2005.
4.1 As part of WCLAC‟s ongoing programme to monitor human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, fieldworkers for the organization systematically document cases involving attacks by settlers on Palestinians and their property, with a particular focus on women. The following table provides a brief summary of these cases documented by WCLAC since January 2013. It should be noted that this information does not constitute an exhaustive list of all settler attacks during this time frame.
5. Concluding remarks
5.1 During the period immediately following the release of the UN Report, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of housing starts in the settlements. In the first quarter of 2013, housing starts increased by 355 percent over the previous quarter, and 176 percent over the same period in 2012. This increase coincides with concerted attempts by US and European officials to encourage the parties to return to the negotiating table in what is seen by many as a last ditch attempt to save a viable two-state solution. The objective evidence suggests that the Israeli Government is actively seeking to sabotage these efforts.
Palestinians’ olive trees set on fire in Nahhalin village Bethlehem and the Beitar Illit settlement, 2011. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/ AP
5.2 According to UN figures, during the first half of 2013, there were 212 reported attacks by settlers against Palestinians and their property. Attacks leading to personal injury increased by 5.5 percent, whilst attacks involving property damage rose by 41 percent compared with 2012. As of 22 July, 7,130 Palestinian olive trees have been destroyed, or 1,019 trees per month. The objective evidence suggests that the scale of attacks by settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank is occurring with the tacit support of the Israeli authorities.
5.3 The continued existence of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are a source of friction giving rise to local Palestinian protests which are aggressively suppressed by the Israeli military. The first half of 2013 has seen a dramatic rise in the number of Palestinian protesters killed and injured as a result of taking part in the protest movement. So far this year, eight Palestinians have been killed (compared with nine for the whole of 2012) and there has been a 75 percent increase in those injured during protests. According to UN figures, 2,640 Palestinians have been injured taking part in protests in 2013, or 440 per month. During the same period, there has been a 12.2 percent increase in the number of Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military.
5.4 The evidence collected by WCLAC during the first half of 2013, corroborates the information contained in the preceding paragraphs. The evidence also indicates that settlers continue to attack Palestinians with impunity, and in some cases, with the active support of the Israeli military.
5.5 The conclusion of this submission is that the situation on the ground relating to the impact of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on the Palestinian population has deteriorated in the six months following the publication of the UN Report. Further, there is no likelihood that the situation will improve due to an absence of international and domestic accountability.