In the West Bank, settler violence has for decades been part and parcel of Palestinian life. This materialises in regular threats, vandalism of private property, arson, land takeover, theft of animal flock, damage of crops and life-threatening physical attacks.
The COVID-19 outbreak has led to an increase of restrictions on freedom of movement, with curfews and stringent conditions for Palestinians to access their lands in the West Bank. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA), since the severe lockdown restrictions were imposed in mid-March, there has also been an upsurge in the number of attacks carried out by Israeli settlers. Whilst in January and February, 15 and 13 incidents were reported respectively, 28 were reported only in the month of March, and 33 in April. The conclusions from EuroMed Rights member B’Tselem on the matter are pointy: “This is part of Israel’s strategy to encourage the dispossession of Palestinians from growing areas throughout the West Bank, which paves the state’s way to take over more land and resources. The fact that this violence has exacerbated during a global pandemic adds another layer of brutality to Israel’s policy.”
Since 2005, rights group Yesh Din has documented more than 2,000 incidents perpetrated by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, cementing a climate of fear which Israeli authorities take advantage of.
This violence typically takes place around Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in Palestinian private land. As a result, settler violence intimidates and deters Palestinians from accessing their own lands. As B’Tselem puts it: “This dynamic has created invisible walls throughout the West Bank, beyond which Palestinians know they face violence to the point of risking their lives.” In turn, Israeli settlers take over land beyond the militarily protected settlements, expanding their size and creating new ground for the Israeli expansionist enterprise in the West Bank. Among other elements, the impunity enjoyed by the Israeli settlers for their violent actions contributes to the settlement expansion. Yesh Din revealed that for the period 2005-2019, impunity for settler violence was widespread, as 91% of the files were closed at the end of investigation… with no indictment.