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7 August '08: Increase in settler violence

B'Tselem is investigating twelve cases of settler attacks on Palestinian between 29 July and 4 August. These cases reflect a sharp increase in reports of such violence, and represent a peak to an escalation that has been underway over the past few weeks. The recent cases took place across the West Bank, with a majority in South Mount Hebron and the settlements around Nablus.

Five of the cases involved stone throwing; in two livestock were stolen; one included gunfire, five physical assaults, and three involved property damage (some of the cases included more than one kind of abuse). In some of the cases, law-enforcement authorities failed to apprehend suspects. In the two thefts of livestock, police apparently did not return the livestock to their owners.  At least four of the cases involve minors.

In one case of assault, a woman in her sixth month of pregnancy and her two daughters were hurt when a large rock struck the windshield of their car as they drove on the road near the Yizhar settlement. According to testimonies given to B'Tselem, the assailant was one of three people standing next to a parked car with Israeli license plates. The mother, Falastin Ma'ali suffered intra-cranial bleeding, and the daughter, Hadil, who is six and a half years old, was struck in the eye and suffered a fractured skill. There is fear she may lose her sight. The mother and daughter, who are hospitalized at Ichilov Hospital, in Tel Aviv, are in moderate condition. The other daughter, who is two years old, was lightly injured from glass shards, treated at a Nablus hospital and released.

Following the assault, which was reported in the Israeli media, the police arrested a sixteen-year-old youth, a resident of Yizhar, on suspicion of involvement in the incident. The youth was released two days later. A security official, who was quoted anonymously in the press, admitted that "throwing a brick at the Palestinian family's car is ostensibly only one of a chain of events in which rightwing activists direct attacks against the Palestinian population.” On August 3, B'Tselem wrote to the authorities demanding they increase the police presence in this area, given the violent assaults. The following day the media reported that the army and the police decided to increase security forces' presence on roads near the Yizhar settlement and elsewhere in the West Bank, primarily on weekends.

Since the beginning of 2008, B'Tselem has received many reports of settler violence near the Yizhar settlement. These included five cases in which Palestinians suffered head and face injuries requiring medical treatment as a result of stone-throwing at their cars while driving along the main road near the settlement. The arrest in the recent case was the first announced by the police with respect to these cases.

As noted, the problem is not a sudden outbreak of settler violence but rather a peak in the steady escalation of recent weeks. Statistics of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs demonstrate a forty-six percent increase in reports of settler violence in July compared with the previous month. In the last week of July, B'Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Yesh Din sent a letter to military authorities warning about this trend, and calling on the army to take the actions necessary to protect Palestinians. The policy of law enforcement bodies to date has been characterized by non-intervention in violence by settlers against Palestinians and their property. />

Following media coverage of the attack on the Ma'ali family, various Israeli officials voiced their intention to prosecute the attackers and to prevent such attacks in the future. If these intentions are indeed genuine, they are certainly welcome. Unfortunately, past experience indicates that such statements are not always backed up with concrete action. At the beginning of 2007, following media attention to an incident where a settler woman attacked Palestinian women in Hebron, the Israeli government with much fanfare established a ministerial team on law enforcement in the West Bank. However, as far as is known, this team's activity was halted after a single meeting. There is therefore a fear that in this case as well, media statements about determined law-enforcement and protection measures will not lead to eradication of the problem of lax law enforcement towards violent settlers.