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How Israel uses settler violence to displace Palestinians

How Israel uses settler violence to displace Palestinians
5 min read
26 September, 2023
In-depth: Empowered by Israel's far-right government, skyrocketing settler violence is driving Palestinians in the occupied West Bank from their homes in record numbers.

In their latest publication, human rights group B’Tselem says Israel is using settler pogroms to carry out the forcible transfer of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank - a war crime under international law.

According to B’Tselem’s report, six communities in Israeli-military-controlled Area C of the West Bank have been displaced in the last two years with three expelled just this past summer - Ras a-Tin, ‘Ein Samia, al-Baq’ah, al-Qabun, Khirbet Simri, and Widady a-Tahta.

Dozens of settler farming outposts were established around these communities in recent years. And despite being deemed illegal under Israeli law, these outposts have received significant aid from the state, including being connected to water, power, and road infrastructures, receiving immunity from demolition, and even being subsidised.

“This is Israeli policy and this is state violence. The things that settlers are doing are backed by the state, funded by the state, and the army protects and allows it,” Dror Sadot, B’Tselem’s spokesperson, told The New Arab.

“And this is because it's another arm [of the state] to reach the same goal of taking over land.”

With the creation of these outposts, violence against nearby Palestinian villages increased significantly, and has escalated under the current government, B’Tselem notes. Settlers have assaulted Palestinian residents, raided homes during the night, destroyed crops, blocked roads, and grazed their flocks on Palestinian pastures.

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Amid heightened violence that has devastated Palestinian shepherds’ livelihoods, communities have felt they had no other choice but to flee.

Along with B’Tselem’s analysis, the United Nations also released a report last week which said that violence from Israeli settlers has displaced over 1,100 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since 2022.

It documented an average of three settler-related violent incidents a day.

“This is the highest daily average of settler-related incidents affecting Palestinians since the UN started recording this data in 2006,” the UN said.

In June 2023, Israeli settlers launched an attack on the Palestinian town of Al-Laban al-Sharkiyeh near Nablus, burning farms, throwing stones at houses, and setting fire to dozens of cars and Palestinian property. [Getty]

Settlers in power

B’Tselem’s report attributes the stark uptick in settler violence to the current leadership - the most right-wing coalition in the state’s history.

“With no doubt, the rise in settler violence comes together with this racist and very externally dangerous government,” Sadot said. “Because those people who were the violent settlers are now sitting at the decision-making table.”

Other human rights defenders agree that the situation in the West Bank has become worse under the current government.

“All the techniques that we're seeing have been used for years and years, but not with this level of impunity, with so much wind in the sails for the settlers, for so much backing and support for them on so many levels,” Rabbi Arik Ascherman, director of Israeli human rights organisation, Torat Tzedek, told The New Arab.

Settlers like Ze’ev Hever, head of the Amana settler group, are working hand-in-hand with government leaders to authorise these agricultural farms.

In the last year, Israel has retroactively legalised dozens of farming outposts for being located on state land, a misleading term in which Israel designates Palestinian land that hasn’t been cultivated for several years as belonging to the state.

According to Ascherman, a particular focus is on uprooting Palestinians living between the Upper Allon Road to Route 90 in the Jordan Valley.

“[Settlers] are using their shepherding outposts to drive out all the Palestinian shepherding communities,” Ascherman said. “And they're succeeding in clearing this huge area of Palestinian presence.”

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A bleak future

Currently, the Palestinian communities of Ein al-Rashash in the Jordan Valley and Wadi-al-Seeq near Ramallah are in danger of expulsion due to settler harassment, with some families having already fled these areas.

In response, activists are now providing a 24/7 presence to protect these villages and prevent further displacement.

Ascherman said that while diplomats have toured some of the affected villages, he remains disappointed in the international community’s response.

B'Tselem's report attributes the stark uptick in settler violence to the current Israeli leadership. [Getty]

“Anything short of the kind of pressure which the international community has put to preserve Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya, anything less is almost a waste of time because it's not going to save these communities and it's not going to bring back communities,” Ascherman said.

Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya are Palestinian villages in the West Bank saved from destruction because of international pressure.

Rights groups conclude that international intervention is key to saving these at-risk Palestinian villages.

Without it, Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine director, predicts, “even more forcible transfer expulsions, home demolitions, land confiscation, bloody settler violence, killings of Palestinians, and continuation of detention without trial or charge”. 

B’Tselem’s report is meant to act as an alarm bell for the international community.

“Forcible transfer is not only putting people on trucks. Forcible transfer is also making a coercive environment and forcing people to leave allegedly of their own will,” B’Tselem’s Sadot said.

“Don't wait for the pictures of the army loading people on trucks. This is how forcible transfer looks like and it's happening now.”

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist covering Palestine and Israel. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The National, and Gulf News.

Follow her on Twitter: @jess_buxbaum