Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Since the start of the novel coronavirus crisis, Israeli settlers have multiplied their attacks against Palestinians in various parts of the West Bank, in many cases with the complicity of Israeli political and military authorities.
The acts of violence have increased despite closures, social distancing and travel restrictions imposed to contain the pandemic. During the first three weeks of April), B’Tselem documented 23 settler attacks against Palestinians. In all of March, 23 incidents were recorded, 11 after strict travel and social gathering restrictions were imposed in mid-month.
During the incidents, settlers have physically assaulted Palestinians with clubs, axes, electroshock weapons, stones and assault dogs, in some cases causing severe injury. Settlers have also targeted homes, torched cars, vandalised and uprooted olive trees and other crops, as well as stolen livestock.
The violence has occurred across the West Bank, from the Havat Ma’on outpost in the hills south of Hebron to the area around the Shilo settlement, including the villages of al-Mughayir, Turmusaya, Qaryut and Qusrah. Palestinian shepherds have also targeted in the Jordan valley, near the settlements of Rimonim and Kochav Hashahar.
“The tragedy is that the Israeli state, represented by the army, endorses such actions,” said Prof Bernard Sabella, Fatah’s representative for Jerusalem and executive secretary of the Palestinian Refugee Service of the Middle East Council of Churches. At best, “the military does nothing” to stem the violence, but, in some cases, they even connive with the settlers.
During the coronavirus outbreak, Palestinians and Israelis hoped for a “better political response;” in reality, “what we see is settlers increasing their attacks against property, individuals, assets and activities.”
Olive groves, both old and new, have been targeted. “Settlers have uprooted them. The aim is to dispossess Palestinian farmers and steal their land. B-Tselem’s report is true. It paints a terrible picture but there are more by other NGOs.”
One incident stands out. On 16 April, a group of settlers attacked two brothers, Issa and Musa Qatash, from the al-Jalazun refugee camp, and beat them so badly that they required medical attention with one brother suffering a fractured leg, all this under the watchful eyes of Israeli soldiers who did nothing to stop the assault.
For Prof Bernard Sabella, “We are faced with a political agenda in which settlers want to seize land through attacks, intimidation, and violence, with the backing of one Israeli political faction (the radical right) in view of future annexation.”
Israel’s current political situation underscores this picture as it moves towards a government of national emergency that favours annexation. Settlers’ systematic attacks against the Palestinians are part of a shared strategy whose goal is to seize Palestinian assets.
In some cases, Israel’s military provides cover for the attacks. The fact that such incidents have increased during a world pandemic adds another layer of brutality to Israel’s policy.
“Yesterday,” Sabella explained, “the Israeli government decided not to transfer hundreds of million dollars of taxes (collected in the West Bank) to the Palestinian Authority under the pretext of terrorism”. It wants to use the funds “to compensate the victims of violence”.
The situation is complicated. “It is not clear how it will be possible to find a way out because we cannot see any wise leaders in Israel. Other players, including Europe, do nothing concrete other than repeat the same thing.”