High Court petition demands IDF, police protect Palestinians from settler violence

Over 1,000 Palestinians from 15 rural communities in West Bank have abandoned their villages since October 7 amid alleged attacks by settlers and IDF reservists

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Illustrative - An Israeli settler attacks and shoots an unarmed Palestinian man at point blank range during an incident in the Palestinian village of A-Tuwani village in the South Hebron Hills, October 13, 2023. (Screenshot courtesy of B'tselem, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Illustrative - An Israeli settler attacks and shoots an unarmed Palestinian man at point blank range during an incident in the Palestinian village of A-Tuwani village in the South Hebron Hills, October 13, 2023. (Screenshot courtesy of B'tselem, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A petition to the High Court of Justice on behalf of five Palestinian villages in Area C of the West Bank is demanding that the Israel Defense Forces, the Israel Police, and other state agencies protect their residents from harassment and displacement as a result of violence perpetrated by extremist settlers and renegade reserve soldiers.

The petition, filed last week by the Haqel: In Defense of Human Rights organization, comes against the backdrop of a massive spike in allegations of settler violence against Palestinian civilians and the reported displacement of over 1,000 Palestinians from 15 communities in the West Bank since October 7, amid Hamas’s atrocities and the resulting war in Gaza, according to figures from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The petition was filed on behalf of 26 residents of the Palestinian villages of Susya, Wadi Jheish, Zanuta, Shi’b al Butum, Tha’la, and Qawawis in the South Hebron Hills region.

“Residents of all these communities are gripped by fear and severe trepidation during these times, out of a fear that at any given moment, settlers and soldiers are likely to break into their homes, attack them violently, as has happened to all the communities that have been expelled, and order them to leave their homes,” the petition stated.

Numerous Palestinian civilians living in rural villages in Area C of the West Bank, particularly the South Hebron Hills and Jordan Valley regions, have reported violent attacks by extremist settlers and IDF reservists against property, including village infrastructure such as water storage facilities and solar panels, agricultural equipment, livestock, and produce, as well as physical assault and threats that they will be killed unless they leave.

The formation of new IDF reserve “regional defensive battalions,” which include among their ranks residents of West Bank settlements, has been highlighted by several groups as one of the causes of increased violence toward Palestinian civilians.

The abandoned Palestinian village of Zanutah in the South Hebron Hills in the West Bank. Zanuta was abandoned in late October by its residents following a series of alleged attacks and incidents of harassment by extremist setters from the region. (Jeremy Sharon / Times of Israel)

“The expulsion of the communities is carried out for the most part through a repeated pattern of operations, during which settlers and armed soldiers arrive almost daily at the residents’ houses, sow destruction and devastation, and in particular destroy essential infrastructure, block the access roads to and from the village, attack the residents, sometimes with gunfire, forbid them to take pictures and even take their phones and destroy them to prevent documentation [of the incidents], and finally give the residents an ultimatum according to which, if they do not vacate their homes within the allotted time period, the attackers will return and severely harm them,” Haqel stated in the petition.

The organization requested that the High Court issue an interim order against the commander of the IDF forces in the West Bank, the Israel Police, and the head of the Civil Administration in the West Bank to use their power to bring an end to such attacks and protect the petitioners and their property by deploying the security services.

The petition included testimony of numerous residents of the five villages of repeated attacks against them. This testimony was in some cases supported by pictures of the damage to property, pictures of those who allegedly carried out the attacks, and medical reports of some of the petitioners who required treatment after being assaulted by reservists or settlers.

Haqel stated in the petition that, according to the testimonies it collected, both the police and the IDF routinely failed to send security services to the site of an attack, even when contacted during the incident.

The police respond by either telling the callers that the IDF is responsible for dealing with the attack, or by instructing them to submit a complaint in person in the police station of the Kiryat Arba settlement, even as the attack was underway.

Officials of the District Coordination Offices of the Coordinator of Government Officials in the Territories, a department of the Defense Ministry responsible for civilian affairs in the West Bank, frequently fail to answer the phone when contacted by Palestinians during an attack, and rarely send IDF forces to had the incident, the petition alleged.

Haqel argued that the IDF and police are obligated both by Israeli law and precedent set by court rulings, as well as international humanitarian law, to provide protection for Palestinian residents of the West Bank’s Area C, which is under full Israeli civilian and security control.

“Based on their conduct, the respondents are derelict in fulfilling their obligations under international law and [Israeli] administrative law… and put the petitioners in immediate danger of being expelled and even [in a situation in which] their lives are endangered,” argued Haqel.

After the petition was filed last week, the state was initially requested by the court to respond by last Thursday, but the deadline has now been extended to this coming Thursday.

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