Settlements are permanent civilian communities established in the occupied Palestinian territory in contravention of international law, where only Israelis are allowed to reside. It is estimated that around 500,000 settlers live in over 200 illegal settlements, which comprise approximately 42% of land in the West Bank. Settlements have a strong antagonistic presence in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. They fragment the Palestinian territory, and many of them have been built on confiscated privately owned land. Settlements and their related infrastructure entail for Palestinians restrictions on movement and access to their land. Some settlers subscribe to ultra-nationalistic ideals and believe this land should be handed back to the Jewish people, therefore, they are violent toward the Palestinian population, including children.
Throughout the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Israeli authorities have consistently failed to prevent settler attacks against Palestinians and to take adequate enforcement measures against settlers and settler guards who commit these crimes. Over 90 per cent of settler violence incidents that are investigated by Israeli authorities are closed without any charges being filed.
Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel is prohibited from transferring its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. This is also a rule of customary law. This rule is designed to prevent the illegal colonisation of territory acquired by force. In addition, the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court states that the transfer of civilian population by the occupying power into the territory it occupies constitutes a war crime. In its 2004 Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of a Wall , the International Court of Justice declared that ‘ Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (including East Jerusalem) have been established in breach of international law .'
Article 4 of the Fourth Geneva Convention confers the status of ‘protected persons' upon the citizens of an occupied territory. Under this provision, Israel has the obligation to protect the Palestinian population.
There is a dual system of law operating in the West Bank. The settlers are subject to Israeli civil law, with all the rights of a democratic state guaranteed to them. Palestinians, on the other hand are governed by a series of military orders within a military system, which deprives them of the rights guaranteed to their Israeli settler neighbours. This dual system of law discriminates against Palestinians.
Reality on the ground
Since January 2008, DCI-Palestine has documented 129 cases of children affected by settler violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including four fatalities. Each of the cases occurred near Palestinian neighbourhoods, villages or roads located close to Israeli settlements. The nature of the violence reported by the children includes being shot at, beaten, pelted with stones and sprayed with gas.
According to the Israeli organisation, Yesh Din, “acts of violence are being committed by Israeli civilians in the West Bank on a daily basis, manifesting in many forms of attacks against people and destruction of their property. These acts of violence are not isolated incidents, nor are they simply acts of hate or anger. Rather this brand of violence is part of a sophisticated, wider strategy designed to assert territorial domination over Palestinians in the West Bank.”
The UN attributes increasing settler violence to lax law enforcement measures. This view is supported by the Israeli organisation, Yesh Din, which found that over 90 percent of police investigations arising out of complaints filed on behalf of Palestinians in the West Bank, end in failure.
Number of Children Affected by settler violence by month:
The Israeli forces stationed in the occupied territory should protect the Palestinian population from settler violence, as stipulated in Article 4 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Adequate investigations into attacks on Palestinians by Israeli civilians should be conducted, and perpetrators should be held accountable for their actions.