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Free Rein - Vigilante Settlers and Israel's Non-Enforcement of the Law

B'Tselem Publishes a New Report: "Free Rein -
Vigilante Settlers and Israel's Non-Enforcement of the Law"

"When we arrived with the police, a group of ten to fifteen settlers of various ages were there. They torched my workshop. More than fifty soldiers as well as policemen were present but they did nothing. We asked them to stop the settlers, but they claimed that it was better not to interfere so as to prevent the situation from getting worse. ('Alyan 'Ali, 60, resident of Hebron)

Today B'Tselem issues a 25-page report on "acts of revenge" by Israeli settlers. These acts include mass rioting in which settlers harm Palestinian passersby and property in retaliation for Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians.

B'Tselem's investigation indicates that although the settlers' acts were expected, and in many cases involved large numbers of settlers acting in broad daylight, the police and army do not take any measuers to prevent the violence. When the violence does occur, they do not take sufficient action to stop it. In some cases, security forces were present but did nothing to prevent the settlers from burning fields and buildings and from attacking Palestinians.

For many years, B'Tselem has warned that the Israeli authorities ignore settler violence against Palestinians. The 1994 report of the Shamgar Governmental Commission of Inquiry on the Massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs also addressed this problem. Recently, the frequency and severity of such violence has increased, and the authorities' disregard for the violence has been particularly obvious. This year's report of the State Comptroller also addresses the deterioration in law enforcement against settlers.

The policy of (lack of) law enforcement on settlers who enforce their own version of the law causes widespread and on-going harm to the lives and property of innocent people. The failure to enforce the law on settlers is notably conspicuous in light Israel's vigorous law enforcement towards Palestinians.

B'Tselem has stated on several occasions in the past that Palestinian attacks on settlers and other Israeli civilians are absolutely prohibited by international humanitarian law, even though the settlements are illegal and generate human rights violations. However, this in no way legitimizes the groups of settlers who engage in vigilante violence and attack innocent people.

B'Tselem again urges the Israeli authorities to take measures to prevent these acts of violence and to thoroughly prosecute the perpetrators.