Authorities' handling of complaints regarding settler violence

1 Jan 2011
23 Jan 2013

A principal function of every government is enforcement of the law and protection of the lives, property, and rights of persons under its jurisdiction. Israel is obliged to carry out this function not only as regards Israeli citizens, in Israel or in the Occupied Territories, but also regarding Palestinians who live in the Occupied Territories.

When Palestinians harm Israeli citizens, the Israeli authorities use all means to arrest suspects and prosecute them, including measures that do not comport with international law and that flagrantly breach human rights. The military courts impose maximum sentences on those convicted. However, when Israelis harm Palestinians, the authorities implement an undeclared policy of forgiveness, compromise, and leniency in punishment.

This policy is evident from the start, in the actions of law enforcement authorities in the field – the IDF and the Israel Police – which fail to take the necessary actions to prevent harm to Palestinians and to their property, and to stop attacks by settlers in real time. The arms of government and of the law, jointly and separately, tend to belittle Israeli civilians' violence against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

Israeli security forces have done little to prevent settler violence or to arrest offenders. Many acts of violence have never been investigated; in other cases, investigations have been drawn out and resulted in no action being taken against anyone.From the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000 and through December 2011, B’Tselem contacted the Israel Police concerning 352 incidents of settler-perpetrated violence against Palestinians or their property, inquiring whether investigations had been opened in these incidents and what the current status is in investigations that had been opened. Insofar as is known to B’Tselem, in 71 percent of the cases, an investigation was opened; in about 23 percent, no investigation was opened; in 6 percent no response was received or the request could not be located. An indictment was filed in only 11 percent of all cases in which investigations were opened. In cases where settlers were tried and convicted, they were generally given extremely light sentences – in stark contrast to the policy of law enforcement and punishment where Palestinians harm Israelis.

Many Palestinians avoid filing a complaint with the police for injury at the hands of settlers, among other reasons, because they do not trust the Israeli legal system. The police usually refuse to investigate an incident unless a complaint is filed, even if they are informed of it by other sources.

Several obstacles are placed in the way of Palestinians who do wish to file a complaint. Some police stations are located inside settlements, so they are inaccessible to Palestinians without prior coordination with policemen at the particular station, and the policemen often do not cooperate with such requests. In principle, Palestinians can file complaints with policemen posted at the coordination and liaison offices. However, policemen are not always present in the offices, and Palestinians are redirected to the police stations. Palestinians who do manage to file a complaint are supposed to be given a form enabling them to be updated, by telephone or by Internet, on the handling of their complaint. Yet, not all complainants are given this form and, as many Palestinians are not even aware of their right to receive it, they do not demand it. As a result, they have no way of knowing the status of their complaint. If the file in their case is closed, they are liable to lose their right to appeal the decision if too much time has elapsed.