Israel has been using settler violence as an “important informal tool” to expel Palestinians from agricultural and grazing lands in the West Bank, an Israeli rights group said on Sunday.
A report by the B’Tselem group detailed the takeover of nearly 11 square miles (30 square kilometers) of agricultural and grazing land in the territory by settlers over the past five years. That’s an area about half the size of the island of Manhattan.
B’Tselem also questioned the government’s repeated claims that violence against Palestinians is carried out by a violent swath among settlers and the security forces are doing everything they can to stop it.
In recent months there has been a sharp increase in violence committed by Jewish settlers in the West Bank against Palestinians. Last week, a group of Israeli settlers vandalized dozens of cars in a city near Ramallah, and in September, dozens of Israeli settlers attacked a Bedouin village in the southern West Bank, injuring several, including a Palestinian child.
B’Tselem said that the army “does not prevent attacks and, in some cases, soldiers even participate in them.” It says law enforcement does little to crack down on settlers committing violence against Palestinians “and will cover up the few cases it has to deal with.”
“When violence occurs with the permission and assistance of the Israeli authorities and under their auspices, it is state violence. The settlers are not defying the state; they are following his orders, ”the organization said in its report.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War. In the decades since then, it has built dozens of settlements, now home to nearly 500,000 Israelis, which are considered illegal and an obstacle to peace by most of the international community. The Palestinians seek the West Bank, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, as part of their future state.
On Friday, a group of Jewish settlers attacked Palestinians harvesting olives accompanied by Israeli activists. Two Israelis, including a prominent rabbi and peace activist, were injured in the incident.
Neta Ben Porat, one of the injured activists, said she suffered head and arm injuries. She said the entire area is monitored by video by the army, and the soldiers chose not to come to her aid. The military said in a statement to Army Radio that the troops “separated between the sides and dispersed the confrontation” and detained three settlers.
Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel said in a statement on Friday that “the state and its enforcement agencies are failing time and again to ensure the safety of farmers and activists in the harvest, and the blood shed today is also on their hands”.
Last month, Defense Minister Benny Gantz called on the armed forces to combat increasing settler attacks on Palestinians and Israeli troops in the West Bank to react “in a systematic, aggressive and uncompromising manner” to such behavior.