By EA Andy, Northern West Bank
Muhammad looks at me, exasperated: “Imagine how you would feel if 70 hooligans turned up out of nowhere and started throwing rocks at you and your house?”
Six weeks ago, Muhammad was with two of his daughters at his home in the West Bank, in a small town near Nablus, when he realised rocks were being thrown at his house. His first thought was for Badi’a, his 68-year old mother-in-law, who was with her sheep in the nearby olive grove. The attack was coming from that direction, so he knew she was in most danger. He immediately went to her aid, and helped her towards the house. Shortly afterwards he heard the cries of his teenage daughters, calling from the garden. They had rushed outside as stones crashed through the windows only to find themselves being stoned in the small garden. Muhammad faced a terrible dilemma – who to protect first? In the end, with her encouragement, he left Badi’a while he ran to get his daughters inside. Without his protection, however, she was unable to stop the gang from reaching her and was knocked unconscious, putting her in hospital for five days.
Muhammad’s eldest daughter called the town municipality for help. It eventually arrived in the form of a detachment of Israeli soldiers. They stood between the gang of settlers and Muhammad’s house. The soldiers spoke to the gang leaders, trying to move them back. Muhammad says the soldiers seemed reluctant to deal with the situation, and although the settlers did start to move away, they continued to throw stones, over the heads of the soldiers. When some Palestinian neighbours showed up to help Muhammad and his family, the soldiers redirected their attention away from the settlers and towards them, weapons at the ready. It was clear that the military considered that their role was solely to protect the settlers.
The attackers were youths from a nearby Israeli settlement, established in 2002. Muhammad’s town has been part of Palestine for centuries. In common with all Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank, this one is illegal under international law, because the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits countries from moving their own population into territories under military occupation. Attacks from settlers upon nearby Palestinian communities are commonplace, and range from setting fire to agricultural fields to violent attacks on the local population, including murder.
The Fourth Geneva Convention also imposes a requirement for states to protect citizens under the control of its occupying forces. The international community would consider that Israel’s duty is to ensure Palestinians are not subjected to attacks from its own forces, or in this case, its citizens. In reality, the military in the occupied territories protects Israeli citizens, not Palestinians. Israel’s position is that these are ‘disputed’, not ‘occupied’ territories and the military is there to protect its own citizens, as Palestinians have in the past attacked and sometimes killed Israelis living in the West Bank.
The Israeli authorities regularly fail to follow up on complaints made by Palestinians about settler attacks. One UN Factsheet identified that “Over 90% of monitored complaints regarding settler violence filed by Palestinians with the Israeli police have been closed without indictment” and “discriminatory protections and privileges for settlers compound these abuses and create an environment in which settlers can act with apparent impunity.”
As Muhammad tells his story I can sense the frustration and anger at his situation. “I don’t dare make a complaint. I have to have a permit to work in Israel; if I take this any further they will almost certainly not renew it”. Since the attack he has received some help from a French NGO, to help build higher walls and fencing around his house: “We feel a little safer now, but the threat hasn’t gone away”.
Find out about how Israeli peace group Yesh Din helps Palestinians who have experienced settler attack.
Read the policy briefing on settler violence from the EU parliament’s Directorate-General for External Policies, December