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B’Tselem accuses Israel of using settler violence as ‘tool’ to oust Palestinians

Charting alleged Israeli takeover of 11 square miles of West Bank land in 5 years, leftist rights group says IDF soldiers ignore, ‘even participate’ in attacks by Jewish extremists

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers stand by as masked Israeli settlers throw stones at Palestinian protesters (unseen) gathering during a demonstration against construction on an Israeli outpost near the Palestinian village of Turmusaya and the settlement of Shilo, north of Ramallah in the West Bank, on October 17, 2019. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)
Illustrative: Israeli soldiers stand by as masked Israeli settlers throw stones at Palestinian protesters (unseen) gathering during a demonstration against construction on an Israeli outpost near the Palestinian village of Turmusaya and the settlement of Shilo, north of Ramallah in the West Bank, on October 17, 2019. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

Israel has been using settler violence as a “major informal tool” to drive Palestinians from farming and pasture lands in the West Bank, an Israeli rights group said Sunday.

A report by B’Tselem detailed the takeover of nearly 30 square kilometers (11 square miles) of farm and pasture land in the West Bank by settlers over the past five years.

As an example — one of five test cases documented in the report — the group cited the Ma’on Farm, erected illegally in the southern West Bank but together with a sub-outpost now controls some 2.64 square kilometers, including roads and pasture used by the area’s Palestinian residents.

Shepherd Jummah Ribii, 48, of the Palestinian community Al-Tuwani, told B’Tselem that assaults by settlers were pushing him away from farming that had sustained his family. He said settlers attacked him severely in 2018.

“They broke my leg, and I had to spend two weeks in hospital and continue treatment at home,” B’Tselem quoted him as saying. “I had to sell most of our sheep to cover the cost of treatment.”

B’Tselem also challenged repeated claims by the government that violence against Palestinians is perpetrated by a small number of extremist settlers and security forces are doing their best to stop it.

Recent months have seen a steep increase in violence committed by settlers in the West Bank against Palestinians.

Settlers assault a Palestinian man in the West Bank in a video released on April 3, 2021. (Screenshot/Yesh Din)

B’Tselem said the military “does not prevent the attacks, and in some cases, soldiers even participate in them.” It said that law enforcement does little to take action against settlers who commit violent acts against Palestinians “and whitewashes the few cases it is called upon to address.”

“When the violence occurs with permission and assistance from the Israeli authorities and under its auspices, it is state violence. The settlers are not defying the state; they are doing its bidding,” the organization said in its report.

According to the report, 451 settler attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank have been documented since early last year, and in 170 of them, Israeli forces did not intervene to protect Palestinians.

As a result, B’Tselem said, five Palestinians were killed and 22 arrested.

B’Tselem spokeswoman Dror Sadot said the group did not contact security forces because “we understood they do nothing about our accusations.”

The Israel Defense Forces did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. In the decades since, it has built dozens of settlements there — now home to nearly 500,000 Israelis — that most of the international community considers illegal and an obstacle to peace. The Palestinians seek the West Bank, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, as the territory of their future state.

On Friday, a group of settlers from the hardline Yitzhar settlement in the northern West Bank attacked Palestinians harvesting olives who were 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 injuries to her head and arm. She said the entire area is video monitored by the army, and soldiers chose not to come to their aid.

Left-wing activist Rabbi Arik Ascherman after an alleged attack by Israeli settlers near the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin on November 12, 2021 (Shai Kendler)

The military said in a statement to Army Radio that troops “separated between the sides and dispersed the confrontation” and arrested three settlers.

Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel said in a statement Friday that “the state and its enforcement agencies are failing time after time to ensure the safety of farmers and activists in the harvest, and the blood spilled today is also on their hands.”

Last month, Defense Minister Benny Gantz called on the military to combat rising settler attacks against Palestinians and Israeli troops in the West Bank and respond “systematically, aggressively and uncompromisingly” to such behavior.

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