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Why is Israel still blind to settler violence against Palestinians?

Despite resolutions by Israeli administrations to adopt the 2003 Road map for Peace and the Sason report on illegal West Bank outposts, settler violence against Palestinians continues unabated.
A Palestinian man gestures near a damaged car in the West Bank village of Burka, near Ramallah October 10, 2013. An Israeli police spokesperson said on Thursday three cars were damaged overnight and the words "Geulat Tzion loves Tomer Hazan" were scrawled in Hebrew on a wall of the mosque. Geulat Tzion is an illegal Jewish settler-outpost in the West Bank where structures were demolished by Israeli forces a day earlier and Tomer Hazan is an Israeli soldier who was killed by a Palestinian on September 21. RE

When the prime minister of Israel announces that there will be "no withdrawals" and "no concessions," and when the Likud announces that the 2009 speech in which Benjamin Netanyahu expressed support for the two-state solution is "no longer relevant," they are discarding out of hand a clear decision by the Israeli government.

In May of 2003, the government of then-Likud Chairman Ariel Sharon (in which Netanyahu served as one of the top ministers) decided to adopt the so-called Road Map — a document issued by the office of US President George W. Bush. The document, which Bush subsequently turned into a UN Security Council resolution, states emphatically, “A settlement, negotiated between the parties, will result in the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors.”

When Netanyahu and other Likud leaders pledge to expand construction in the settlements of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, they are in contempt of a Cabinet decision that adopted the principles of the 2005 “Unauthorized Outposts Report” commissioned by Sharon from the former senior state prosecutor, attorney Talya Sason.

The report states, “As approved by the government’s decision of May 2003, the first stage of the Road Map determines that Israel must dismantle the ‘unauthorized outposts’ erected since March 2001. The Israeli government will adhere to this commitment.” The outposts in question were less than two dozen settlements out of the more than 105 outposts dispersed throughout the occupied territories. Most of them were erected on private Palestinian lands. There was no mention of the fact that the decision to adopt the Road Map had also included a commitment to freeze construction in the settlements, with no reservations.

This week marks 10 years since this important decision. According to figures provided this week to Al-Monitor by Hagit Efran of Peace Now, aside from the Migron outpost, which was moved to an adjacent site, and several caravans, most of them uninhabited, all the other outposts are still in place. Several of them have since undergone a process of “whitewashing,” courtesy of successive defense ministers. In addition, the population of the outposts has grown by 9,000 new residents over the past decade — more than three times their number at the time the Sason report was published.

Even the committee headed by former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy that determined the settlement enterprise does not violate international law echoed the criticism about the planning and construction in the territories. The committee report, presented to Netanyahu in June 2012, quoted testimony by the Defense Ministry’s legal counsel, attorney Ahaz Ben-Ari, who said, “There are some ministers, who were [ideologically] close to the settlements, who did not follow the rules. Things were done without permission, and that places the government in an embarrassing situation.” He added, “This is a sore point and it indicates anarchy.”

The issue does not end with planning and construction laws. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) documented some 300 attacks by settlers against Palestinians or their property in 2014. Many, if not the majority, of the assailants live in unauthorized outposts. There were on average six attacks a week. A UN report of events during one week in February read like so: A group of Hebron settlers beat up a 10-year-old Palestinian boy with an iron bar. The following day, Israeli security forces detained the boy for several hours, allegedly for throwing stones at an Israeli soldier; settlers from Sussya hit a Palestinian shepherd tending his sheep near the settlement; Sussya settlers uprooted more than 40 olive trees owned by farmers from the village of Yatta; settlers uprooted 550 olive saplings that were given to residents as part of a donor-funded project in the village of Saeer; “price tag” graffiti was sprayed on a water tanker placed, courtesy of donor funds, in the village of Assira al-Kibilya and an electrical pole was partly damaged; in the village of Jalloud, a group of settlers attacked a Palestinian with a metal bar near the outpost of Esh Kodesh.

That same week, OCHA representatives logged six attacks by Palestinians on Israelis, including the stabbing of an Israeli in Jerusalem’s Old City, the throwing of a firebomb into a settler compound in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah and stone-throwing at an Israeli car near the Arroub refugee camp. In three additional incidents, Palestinians threw paint bottles and stones at a light rail station in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat.

Naturally, the UN reports don’t document events that do not gain the attention of the organization, Israeli law enforcement authorities or the media. The Palestinians have come to realize that their complaints collect dust in police or court files and no longer bother coming to the police stations. A report issued in November by the human rights organization Yesh Din details the results of an investigation into 1,045 cases opened by the Samaria and Judea police district following complaints lodged by Palestinians with the organization’s help. It shows that between 2005 and 2014, only 7.4% of the investigations ended in an indictment against Israelis suspected of hurting Palestinians or damaging their property. Of the files in which a final decision was made, 85.2% were closed due to failures in the police investigation — the vast majority (788) due to investigators’ failure to locate the offenders or to collect sufficient evidence to try them.

As long as there has been a peace process underway, Israel has enjoyed a forgiving attitude on the part of the international community when it ignores settler abuse of Palestinians. But Israeli officials and foreign diplomats predict that the continued freeze of the diplomatic process will restore the issue of the settlement freeze and outpost evacuation to the top of the international agenda. The experience of recent years shows that the vision of coexistence between settlers and their Palestinian neighbors, a coexistence between a horse and its rider, is nothing but an illusion. The horse kicks, the rider whips it with his crop and eventually both collapse.

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