Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Israeli Settler Violence at Unprecedented Levels

Israeli Settler Violence has intensified following the Gaza war leading to concerns about the viability of a two-state solution.

Israeli Settler Violence
Mazen with one of Hilltop’s outposts in the background. Credit: Nino Orto

Nino Orto*

In the shadow of the international focus on the Gaza Strip, Israeli settlers in the West Bank have launched their own campaign against Palestinians, involving daily harassment and violence to coerce communities into abandoning their land.

“We were living peacefully until 2019, then the settlers arrived and started their intimidation. Since the war began, all the roads around our place, including the one leading to the water spring – our only source of drinking water – were shut down. It became frightening for our children, and we had to leave after the fourth day of the war.” Ahmed is a forty-year-old Palestinian Bedouin farmer who moved from his land due to a surge in settler violence. “We hoped that we could come back, but now that we are witnessing the opening of the new roads and the increasing presence of settlers in the area, we have lost hope of returning to our houses,” he told Fanack.

After being forced out of their place in Rashash, near the settlement of Malachei, Ahmed’s entire family now lives with two other families in Marajim, on the outskirts of the village of Duma.

“The settlers shoot at us, and, sometimes, they come with military forces to detain all the men. My father, uncle and brother were arrested just yesterday, and although they were released later, it is an ongoing effort to scare and force us to leave our land.” Muna, Ahmed’s fourteen-year-old daughter, explains.

While global attention remains fixed on the Gaza conflict, Israeli settlers in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley continue their offensive through the expansion of infrastructure and illegal outposts. Despite international outcry and warnings from Israel’s major allies, daily harassment and violence persist to drive Palestinian communities off their land.

Israeli Settler Violence
Ahmed talking to journalists. Credit: Nino Orto

Illegal Settlements: An Obstacle for Negotiations

Illegal settlements pose a significant obstacle to a two-state solution or any potential political agreement in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, especially with the increased support for such endeavours of Netanyahu’s last government.

Mauricio Lapchik, the director of external relations of Shalom Now, an Israeli organisation monitoring illegal settlements, expressed concern about the systematic annexation of lands by government-backed settlers and the legalisation of outposts.

“From the very beginning, this government has established a clear policy that pursues the idea that the Jewish people have an exclusive right to all the land of Israel, including the West Bank and the Palestinian territories,” Lapchik stated.

Since 2022, the last Netanyahu government has allocated substantial funds to settlements, facilitating road and infrastructure expansion and aiding settlers’ movements. The situation escalated after the 7 October attack, leading to increased settler influence in the region.

“What we have seen is a methodic annexation of lands by the settlers and the legalisation of outposts, as well as the implementation of the establishment of 12,000 housing units in territories that should be under the Palestinian Authority. This is the highest number since the Oslo agreement 30 years ago,” Lapchik said.

The Oslo Accords delineated the Palestinian West Bank into three administrative zones: Area A (18 per cent), where the Palestinian Authority (PA) oversees civil and security matters; Area B (22 per cent), where the PA manages civil affairs; and Area C (60 per cent), which falls under complete Israeli control.

Approximately 300,000 Palestinians inhabit 532 residential areas within or partially within Area C. Concurrently, around 400,000 Israeli settlers reside in 146 settlements and 144 outposts.

Since 2022, the last Netanyahu government has allocated substantial funds, amounting to billions of shekels, to settlements. This investment aims to expand roads and infrastructure, facilitating the movement of settlers in the West Bank and across Israel and the occupied territories. Following the 7 October attack, Israel assumed control and blocked Areas A and B, responding to settler demands to maintain this closure and instructing the IDF to comply with these directions.

Despite the Oslo agreement prohibiting settlements or outposts, Israel, while not officially recognising settlements, provides support for so-called “outposts” through infrastructure development and economic assistance. Under the last government, these outposts evolved into “farm outposts,” seizing lands and restricting the freedom of movement for Palestinians.

The War in Gaza

Rabbi Arek Asherman, director of the Israeli human rights organisation Torat Tzedek or Torah of Justice, pointed out the blurred lines between settlers and soldiers, with settlers often taking charge of security due to military engagements in Gaza.

“Very often, settlers are the ones protecting the settlements because most of the active-duty soldiers are engaged in Gaza, and this has worsened the situation. Now the head of the settlements is in charge of security; it’s a game changer,” he said.

The collaboration between Israeli soldiers, police and settlers has resulted in a paradoxical situation where victims are compelled to report crimes to those responsible for their victimisation. The escalating violence encompasses raids, break-ins, the poisoning and theft of animals and assaults on Bedouin communities.

Adel Darrajneh’s experience exemplifies this injustice. With his two brothers and family, he has lived on Umm al’Obor his entire life, only to have his cows frightened and forcibly moved overnight to a natural reserve within a protected area by settlers.

An inspector eventually confiscated the animals. Eylaul recounted the ordeal, stating, “They demanded 7,000 shekels (around $1,940) to return the cows, but I don’t have that kind of money, and they are aware of it. It’s an injustice, and the daily hardships imposed upon us are inhumane.”

Israeli Settler Violence
Police confiscated 40 of Adel’s cows after settlers forced them into a prohibited area next to Hemdat. Credit: Nino Orto

Mohammed is a farmer in the al-Farisiya Nab’a al-Ghazal community, a few kilometres to the north, adjacent to the Rotem settlement. “I was born here, and I’ve spent my entire life in this place. I tend to over 300 sheep with my family. Last night, the settlers arrived with guns and assaulted us. My 15-year-old son, Mazen, was beaten while trying to protect the sheep. Since the war, the Israeli police have also become increasingly aggressive towards us. The settlers are determined to acquire the land for their cattle, and they are resorting to any means necessary,” he recounted.

“Before the war, we didn’t experience such high levels of violence, but it appears that now everything is escalating to force us out.”

Under pressure from the US and EU, Netanyahu has issued banning orders and administrative detentions for the most violent settlers in the West Bank. This, however, is far from sufficient, as a large pool of individuals and organisations is ready to step in and replace them.

One such group is the Hilltop Youth, known for its violence and aggression in supporting the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. Since the onset of the war, they have been actively connecting hilltop outposts with roads and infrastructure, creating a network of rugged pathways between settlements.

Jamal and his family reside next to one of these outposts in the area around Um Daleen and have been subjected to nighttime terrorising incursions ever since the war began. Jamal lamented, “The settlers come and steal our sheep while the army and police protect them. When I approach the police seeking justice, they respond that there is no law here.”

Following the Gaza war, the situation has drastically worsened, with Bedouin communities facing almost daily assaults, including nightly raids, house break-ins, the poisoning of animals and beatings. Despite a set of EU and US measures, such as travel bans, and urging the Israeli government to reduce its support for settlers and the implementation of new outposts, it seems unlikely that settler presence and the associated violence will decrease in the foreseeable future.

“A few days ago, the army and settlers came during the night, targeting even the kids and my baby, who is only a few months old, leaving them outside in the cold during a search of the house. It is inhumane, and I don’t know how to protect my kids anymore,” Jamal said.

Israeli Settler Violence
Jamal and two of his kids live in Umm Daleen surrounded by illegal outposts. Credit: Nino Orto

* A freelance journalist specialising in the analysis of Iraq, Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and wars in the Middle East. He is the editor-in-chief of Osservatorio Mashrek, which provides insight and analysis on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter: @OsservatMashrek

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