EU report notes huge increase in Jewish settler attacks

14.03.12 @ 09:30

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - EU countries' ambassadors in Ramallah have said Israeli authorities are not doing enough to stop a massive increase in attacks by Jewish extremists against Palestinians.

  • Armed settler and Israeli soldiers speak to Palestinian farmer in the West Bank (Photo: delayed gratification)

The heads of mission in an internal three-page report dated February 2012 - and seen by EUobserver - noted there were 411 assaults last year compared to 266 in 2010 and 132 in 2009.

The attacks varied from gunfire to throwing stones and garbage, including at Palestinian schoolchildren, as well as burning homes and mosques, killing livestock and uprooting olive trees. They caused three deaths and 183 injuries last year. Some 10,000 mostly olive trees were destroyed.

On the other side, Palestinians killed eight Jews - including one entire family - and injured 37. But the EU report said "there has been no widespread response from the Palestinian side."

The EU diplomats depicted settler attacks as part of a broader Israeli campaign to get rid of the Palestinians, saying they "effectively force a withdrawal of the Palestinian population away from the vicinity of settlements, thereby increasing the scope for settlement expansion."

Some settlers follow religious teachings which say a greater Israel should encompass all of Gaza and the West Bank, the Sinai peninsula in Egypt, Lebanon and parts of Syria and Turkey, and that their actions will speed up the coming of the Messiah.

Just 1,200 Jews lived in the West Bank before Israel occupied it in 1967. But 310,000 live there now in over 220 settlements, about half of which are said to be legal by Israel but all of which are illegal under the Geneva Conventions.

The EU report said over 90 percent of complaints filed by Palestinians ended with no indictment. The complaints are not easy to make because in most cases Palestinians have to go to police stations inside Jewish settlements and conduct formalities in Hebrew.

Meanwhile, Jews and Palestinians live under two different legal regimes in the occupied territory - if a Jew throws a stone at a Palestinian it is treated as a misdemeanour under civil law, but if a Palestinian throws one, it is treated as an act of terrorism under military law.

The report added that settler attacks are carried out by a small "hardcore" group. But despite its security apparatus "the Israeli state ... has so far failed to protect the Palestinian population."

An earlier eight-page EU report on the subject dated April 2011 - also seen by this website - said Israel has created an "atmosphere of impunity" for Jewish attackers, amounting to "tacit approval by the state" and proposed that the worst perpetrators should be denied EU visas.

For its part, the Netherlands declined to endorse the February 2012 paper, forcing the other 21 EU top diplomats in Ramallah to add the footnote: "the NL [Netherlands] places a general reserve on the document."

The Netherlands routinely scotches fellow EU countries' ideas on how to make Israel pay a higher price for what is going on. But the reports still have weight because they establish political facts which underlie behind-closed-doors discussions on the Middle East in Brussels and in EU capitals.

Settler violence is a sore point with Israeli diplomats because it harms one of their central messages - that Israel is a normal Western democracy surrounded by basket-case Arab dictatorships.

For his part, a senior Israeli official told EUobserver the leaked paper will damage the EU's image in the minds of the Israeli public because it does not devote equal space to Palestinian violence against Jews.

"It's unacceptable. We had numerous cases over the past year when Israeli citizens, including schoolchildren, were brutally murdered by Palestinians and I think for the Israeli public these reports would have more credibility if they were more neutral," he said.

He added that Israel has set up a police task force to curb settler attacks and that Israeli leaders have spoken out in "wall-to-wall condemnation" of their actions.

The EU report acknowledged that Israeli soldiers last year helped prevent assaults during the Palestinian olive harvest - a traditional flashpoint.