US State Department report says Israel failing to prevent settler attacks

US envoy for Palestinians visits town attacked by settlers day after release of 2021 Country Reports on Terrorism, which notes conviction of 1 assailant in 496 attacks

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr, left, speaks to residents as he inspects damaged Palestinian property during a visit to Huwara, on February 28, 2023. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)
US Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr, left, speaks to residents as he inspects damaged Palestinian property during a visit to Huwara, on February 28, 2023. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

WASHINGTON — The US released a report Monday that accused Israel of failing to prevent attacks by settlers in the West Bank.

The conclusion drawn in the Israel, West Bank and Gaza chapter of the State Department’s 2021 Country Reports on Terrorism was the latest expression of US frustration with Israel’s failure to crack down on settler violence following the deadly rampage that took place in Huwara on Sunday.

The report’s release was planned well before the Huwara settler riot though, and covers every country around the world.

“Israeli security personnel often did not prevent settler attacks and rarely detained or charged perpetrators of settler violence,” the report stated.

It cited UN figures showing a total of 496 incidents of settler violence against Palestinians in 2021, including 370 attacks that resulted in property damage and 126 attacks that resulted in injuries — three of which were fatal.

Nonetheless, only one settler was convicted in all of 2021, receiving a 20-month sentence for hurling a stun grenade into a Palestinian home.

Settlers pray the evening service, as cars and homes they torched burn in the West Bank town of Huwara on February 26, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The US report also highlighted alarm by rights groups and Palestinians who said settler attacks in 2021 “expanded in severity and scale,” with larger groups participating together in an indication that the “attacks were likely preplanned.”

The report did note that the previous Israeli government condemned such attacks and presented reforms for the police to implement in order to crack down on the issue, but it lamented the lack of success in doing so.

A report on 2022 will not be released until next February, but last year saw an even larger jump, with at least 840 incidents of Israeli violence against Palestinians documented by the IDF.

Despite the 2021 State Department report’s criticism of Israel’s handling of settler violence, it referred to Israel as a “committed counterterrorism partner.”

It highlighted the threats Israel faces from the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon; Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza; the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and lone-wolf assailants.

While 2021 saw the lowest number of deaths from terror attacks in a decade, Israel still endured thousands of rocket and mortar attacks, as well as car rammings, shootings and stabbings.

Cars burned by Jewish settlers during riots in Hawara, in the West Bank, near Nablus, February 27, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Over 4,400 rockets were fired from the West Bank — largely during the 11-day round of violence between Israel and Hamas in May of that year.

Hamas rockets killed 13 Israeli civilians though the US-funded Iron Dome missile defense system shot down the majority of the projectiles. Israeli retaliatory airstrikes and errant Hamas rockets killed 256 Palestinians, of whom 128 were civilians, according to UN figures cited in the report.

The West Bank saw 39 terror attacks in 2021 in which two Israelis were killed, according to National Security Ministry figures cited in the report.

The State Department also highlighted the stipends the Palestinian Authority pays to terrorists and the families of slain attackers.

The report noted the PA’s defense that these stipends are social payments for families who have lost their primary breadwinner, while noting the US and Israeli stance that they “incentivize and reward terrorism, particularly given the higher monthly payments the longer an individual remains imprisoned, which corresponds to more severe crimes.”

Hours after the report was published, US Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr paid a visit to Huwara, where a 37-year-old Palestinian was killed, four seriously wounded, and dozens of vehicles and buildings were torched in the Sunday night settler rampage that came hours after a terror shooting that took the lives of two Israelis brothers traveling through Huwara.

Amr “expressed his deepest condolences and condemned the unacceptable wide-scale, indiscriminate violence by settlers,” and is “extremely concerned by recent escalating violence in the West Bank,” his office said after the visit.

“We want to see full accountability and legal prosecution of those responsible for these heinous attacks and compensation for those who lost property or were otherwise affected,” the US Office of Palestinian Affairs added, reiterating the position expressed a day earlier by State Department Spokesman Ned Price, who condemned both the terror shooting and the subsequent settler violence.

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