Human rights center B'Tselem said that Israeli settlers have stepped up their attacks against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank during April despite the coronavirus crisis.
B’Tselem said in an official report that since the start of the corona crisis, Israeli settlers have ramped up attacks against Palestinians throughout the West Bank, with full state backing. The attacks have increased despite the movement restrictions, lockdowns and social distancing measures introduced to battle the pandemic.
During the first three weeks of April, B’Tselem documented 23 settler attacks against Palestinians. In all of March, 23 incidents were documented, 11 of them after the severe restrictions on movement and social gatherings were imposed (mid-March).
In comparison, 11 attacks were recorded in January and 12 in February. In these violent incidents, settlers, some of them carrying firearms, physically assaulted Palestinians with the aid of clubs, axes, electroshock weapons, stones and assault dogs, in some cases causing severe injury. Settlers also attacked homes, torched cars, vandalized and uprooted olive trees and other crops, and stole livestock.
According to B’Tselem, these incidents took place throughout the West Bank, with several epicenters: the area around the recently expanded outpost of Havat Ma'on in the southern hills of al-Khalil, the area around the settlement of Shilo and its adjoining bloc of outposts, with the villages of al-Mughayir, Turmusaya, Qaryut and Qusrah within target range, and the area around the settlement of Halamish, where another new outpost was recently erected.
Settlers harass Palestinian shepherds almost daily in the Jordan Valley near the settlements of Rimonim and Kochav Hashahar, and in the southern hills of al-Khalil. They also graze their cattle and sheep in Palestinians' cultivated fields, mostly in the Jordan Valley, on a daily basis. These routine acts of harassment and vandalism are not included in the above data.
B’Tselem pointed out that the state’s full support for this violence is evident in the actions of Israeli forces on the ground.
The human rights center explained, “Five of eight attacks on Palestinian homes in March occurred in the presence of soldiers, who not only allowed the settlers to do as they pleased but took action against Palestinians trying to protect their families and homes. In some cases, soldiers arrested residents, and in at least three incidents fired tear gas canisters at residents.”
“In three incidents, the soldiers arrived with the marauding settlers or joined them early on in the assault. Similar incidents occurred in April, with soldiers firing rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas canisters at residents, as has happened in the villages of Qusrah and a-Shuyukh on 6 April.”
For years, Israel has allowed settlers to attack Palestinians and damage their property virtually unimpeded, as a matter of policy. This includes provision of military protection for the attackers, and in some cases soldiers’ active participation in the assault, B’Tselem said.