ISRAEL / PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

Video: Israeli soldiers accused of 'collusion' in settler violence

 Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank are being accused of complicity in an attack by settlers on a Palestinian village. In a video posted online, soldiers appear to stand idly by while masked settlers throw stones at the homes below.

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Image taken at 1:44 from video posted online by B'Tselem.To the left of the image, an Israeli soldier aims his weapon in the air while to the right a masked settler throws stones. Both appear to aim in the same direction.

 

Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank are being accused of complicity in an attack by settlers on a Palestinian village. In a video posted online, soldiers appear to stand idly by while masked settlers throw stones at the homes below.

 

According to B’Tselem – an Israeli human rights movement that posted the video – the incident took place on January 6 in the village of Urif near Nablus, and lasted about 50 minutes. The video shows masked settlers throwing stones at Palestinian homes, before they walk up a hill past a group of parked Israeli army jeeps. They appear to be accompanied by Israeli soldiers, who make no effort to intervene.

 

Video taken by Osama Safadi and posted online by B'Tselem.

 

In a statement, a spokesperson for the IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] admitted to FRANCE 24 that the army’s initial investigation showed that “forces on the scene did not respond to the situation appropriately.” The statement added that IDF standing orders require forces “to prevent activities carried out by masked activists, document these actions and immediately notify the police.” It said that rules and regulations would be “refreshed in order to prevent such incidents from reoccurring.”

“They defended the settlers by firing tear gas at the villagers”

Osama Safadi is from the village of Urif and filmed the incident, with a camera given to him by B’Tselem as part of the group’s ‘camera project’.

 

The attackers came from the neighbouring settlement of Yizhar. When they arrived at the edge of our village, they were accompanied by soldiers [editor's note: the video doesn't show whether the settlers were accompanied by soldiers the moment they arrived]. The soldiers are based at the bottom of a hill that separates Urif from the settlement.

 

There was no particular reason for this attack which in any case wasn’t the first. Urif, like the surrounding villages, is regularly the target of settler violence. They started by throwing stones on houses and a school. But they didn’t come into the village. As always, the Israeli army did nothing to stop them harming us. They watched what was happening until the Palestinians started responding. Then they defended the settlers by firing tear gas at the villagers.

 

We called the COGAT [Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories: a unit belonging to the Israeli Ministry of Defence, tasked with, among other things, liaising between the Israeli army and the Palestinian population] who came to restore calm, but they didn’t punish the settlers. We’ve filmed this kind of attack several times and gave videos which showed the army doing nothing to COGAT. They promise every time to open an investigation but nothing ever goes further than that.

 

Both Palestinians and settlers regularly end up confronting each other in the occupied territories. One week ago, Palestinian villagers detained and beat up a group of settlers for allegedly attacking local farmers. The IDF has itself been the target of settler reprisals: last Friday, unknown assailants slashed the tyres of a senior army officer who was visiting Yizhar settlement. The UN Security Council, the European Union and other world bodies say Israeli settlements in the occupied territories breach international law.

“You can’t escape the conclusion that the army acted as a security entourage for the settlers”

Sarit Michaeli is an Israeli human rights activist and spokesperson for B’Tselem. She claims that a ‘duel system of enforcement’ often lets Israeli lawbreakers off the hook in the occupied territories. Her claim is backed up by a report issued by the UN Human Rights Council. It says Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank are treated "differently by the same laws," with Israelis getting "preferential legal status".

 

Settlers who carry out these attacks deliberately create a climate of fear and violence to expand the settlements’ sphere of influence. The Israeli authorities often encourage this kind of behaviour, by excluding Palestinians from areas around settlements and by setting up special security areas.

 

[Editor's note: the aforementioned UN report claims that seized Palestinian lands can be used as 'buffer zones' that surround settlements and are even placed under their jurisdiction].

 

We’re familiar with many incidents like this where soldiers protect the settlers, but it’s rare to have a video as strong and convincing as Osama’s. You can’t escape the conclusion that the army acted as a security entourage for the settlers. You see masked settlers walking past military jeeps and security cars: certainly no attempt is made to asses their identity or arrest them. The army’s obligation is to protect both settlers and Palestinians from these types of attacks in the West Bank, but the army shirks its responsibility. The burden of security rests on the shoulders of the Israeli security forces [as defined under the Oslo accords, Urif is in ‘Area B’, which gives the Israeli military overall responsibility for security]. But here it seems that they’re colluding with violent elements within the settler population.

 

Image taken at 4:28 from video posted online by B'Tselem. It appears to show a masked settler walking past two Israeli army jeeps.

 

In general, soldiers in the West Bank operate on the basis of commands received from their superiors. I can’t speak for this particular case, but there may have been a decision made to send soldiers to accompany the settlers for a range of reasons. Some Israeli soldiers are themselves settlers, or are at least sympathetic to their cause [more than 540,000 Israelis live in settlements, roughly 4% of the electorate. Military service is obligatory for everyone, with exceptions granted under special circumstances]. That in itself makes them biased. There are military stations located in the settlements in order to protect them, so they’re interacting with settlers. Settlers also have a strong political lobby. Any officer who’d like to continue to serve in the military will think twice before they confront the settlers and their political lobby. The Palestinians have no such influence.

 

This article was written by FRANCE 24 journalist Andrew Hilliar (@andyhilliar)