Israeli settlers continue to attack Palestinians with impunity, while the Israeli police or army either ignore incidents of violence or abet them, writes Saleh Al-Naami
Despite the cold in this mountainous region, a group of young men gathered on the outskirts of the town of Al-Moghayer east of Ramallah in the centre of the West Bank. These youth are intent on preventing Jewish settlers from burning the town mosque again after they set it ablaze for the first time three weeks ago. Threats by settlers that they will continue these attacks moved the group of youth to risk their lives and volunteer to foil the settler plots.
If conditions were normal, there would be no need for these young men to risk their lives. The arsonists belong to an organisation that is well known to Israeli security agencies, namely the "Boys from the Hills", which Israeli media calls the "thugs wing" of Jewish settlers in the West Bank. This is the seventh mosque that this group has torched in the West Bank, but neither the Israeli police nor the army has arrested any members of this known group.
Other indicators of blatant collusion by Israeli security agencies were uncovered by Israeli television recently, namely that the Israeli police have information that members of the group have burned down mosques and intend on setting more on fire based on a religious edict by Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, the director of Youssef Hai Religious School near Nablus. Nonetheless, the rabbi was not arrested or held accountable. Also it was revealed that the Israeli Ministry of Education grants the private schools headed by Shapira more than $200,000 annually, although the curricula being taught there is based on religious heritage as interpreted by Shapira, while all the students and graduates at these schools belong to the Boys from the Hills gang.
Israeli security agencies, especially the police, ignore complaints by Palestinians who are attacked by the Boys from the Hills and other Jewish groups. As well as torching mosques, the Boys from the Hills also attack Palestinian villages, and Palestinian villagers complain that gang members poison water wells in Palestinian villages and towns. In order to damage agricultural crops, they release herds of pigs to roam the fields and pollute water sources in rural areas.
Reports by Israeli human rights groups point a finger directly at Israeli security agencies for providing an environment conducive to violating the rights of Palestinian citizens in the occupied territories, and encouraging settlers to attack them. "Lately, the state of Israel has been aiding settlers who relentlessly attack Palestinians in the occupied territories," wrote Boaz Okon, an Israeli human rights activist, in Yediot Aharonot. Okon described the way law and judicial agencies handle attacks on Palestinian civilians as judicial "apartheid", stating that Israeli conduct towards the Palestinians reminds him of the actions of European settlers towards black slaves in bygone eras.
Meron Benvenisti, an Israeli thinker, accused the Israeli army of becoming mere "armed militia cronies to Jewish settlers". In an article published in Haaretz newspaper, Benvenisti -- who previously served as deputy mayor of occupied Jerusalem -- said that at a time when Jewish settlers enjoy all their rights, including being defended by the Israeli army, the Palestinians do not enjoy this privilege although international law obligates Israel to defend people who are under its occupation.
Criticism of the army and police and their role in encouraging settlers to attack Palestinians is spreading, including among prominent reserve army generals who have criticised the army and its complicity. General Shlomo Gazit, who previously headed the army's intelligence unit, stated in an article published in Maariv newspaper that the Israeli army deals with animals in a better manner than it does the Palestinians.
Israeli human rights groups have revealed that Israeli judicial and police agencies exercise blatant discrimination between Palestinians and Jewish settlers, in a way that promotes continued attacks on Palestinians. According to a report by the Israeli group "ï¿½There is Law", some 99.7 per cent of charges against Palestinians in Israeli military tribunals result in guilty verdicts. Meanwhile, only 10 per cent of complaints by Palestinian citizens in the West Bank filed with Israeli police about attacks by Jewish settlers result in charges against perpetrators. Some 90 per cent of these complaints conclude without any charges.
"The manner by which Israeli police and judicial agencies handle Palestinian complaints about acts of violence by settlers against them is essentially negligent, indifferent and unprofessional," according to the report. It added that during the first 11 months of last year, the police investigated 299 reports of violence by settlers against Palestinians, and a third of the complaints were about attacks against Palestinians, including beatings, shootings, use of non-firearm weapons, or stone throwing. The report stated that more than 80 per cent of these complaints were closed without charging any settlers.
The document added that altogether about 90 per cent of investigations were closed without filing charges. About 83 per cent were closed because the perpetrator was not found, while seven per cent of complaints were not even investigated because the police officers that were contacted could not find the forms for filing a complaint.
Meanwhile, 96 per cent of reports by Palestinians about settlers uprooting olive groves in the West Bank were closed without charges, and in most cases Palestinians are unable to file complaints against settlers with the Israeli police because there are no Israeli police stations in Palestinian residential areas since they are only located in settlements. The document continued that many times when Palestinians file reports against settlers, members of the police refuse to receive or handle them. Palestinian citizens are also sometimes asked to present documentation that they do not possess, and therefore the complaint is ignored.
The human rights report documented several forms of negligence in handling Palestinian complaints. Some 42 per cent of affidavits by Palestinians were written in Hebrew, which makes it impossible to verify if the police officer wrote down what they said accurately or not. Many times police officers refuse to go to the location where the attack took place, and when they do they do not speak to key eyewitnesses. The report added that in most cases the police do not exert any effort to investigate the identities of Jewish suspects or confront them with the Palestinians who filed the complaint against them.
The report comes on the heels of an admission by General Yuval Bazak, the director of the Combat Theory Development Division in the Israeli army, that the Israeli army assists settlers to commit "crimes" against unarmed Palestinian civilians. In an interview with Yediot Aharonot, Bazak said that the Israeli army has turned a blind eye to the activities of settlers during decades of occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which made settlers believe they are above the law. He stressed that the law being exercised in the West Bank is the law of the jungle, asserting that this belief was nurtured by the unusual relationship between settlers and the army. Bazak revealed that the army does not deal with settlers as if it were an authority responsible for implementing the law, but that the relationship between the two is based on a "close friendship".
He added that as a result of this "friendship", the Israeli army has not played its role in thwarting attacks by settlers against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, and that the army has covered up these crimes and has been lenient with the perpetrators.