Israel’s policy of establishing and expanding settlements, military zones and other Israeli-controlled areas across the Occupied Palestinian Territory has been in place since the military occupation began in 1967.
Settlements are permanent civilian communities established in the Occupied Palestinian Territory open only to Jewish residents. They are illegal according to international law. It is estimated that around 200 settlements now cover approximately 42 percent of land in the West Bank.
In 2013, estimates put the number of Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, between 500,000 and 550,000.
Settlements have a destabilizing effect in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with many built close to Palestinian communities on confiscated privately-owned land. Settlements and their related infrastructure fragment the Palestinian territory, restricting Palestinians’ movements and access to land.
Some settlers subscribe to ultra-nationalistic ideals, believing that land incorporated in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is a religious inheritance for the Jewish people, and that it should form part of a national Jewish homeland. This belief frequently manifests itself in violence toward the Palestinian population.
Settler attacks usually entail groups of Israeli men throwing stones at Palestinians, often including children, or vandalizing property, such as homes, cars, churches, mosques and schools. More serious attacks including physical beatings are also common.
Throughout 2013, DCI-Palestine documented at least 31 settler attacks that targeted Palestinian children.
The presence of settlers, and the Israeli military that protects them, has created a dangerous environment for all Palestinians. Settler violence particularly impacts vulnerable demographics within Palestinian communities, such as children.
Complicity of the Israeli Military
Despite an ongoing increase in settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities have consistently failed to adequately investigate complaints filed against settlers.
Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group, found in a report in July 2013 that over 90 percent of investigations between 2005 and 2013 looking into settler violence were eventually dropped without indictments.
Under Article 4 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel has an obligation to protect the Palestinian population.
Israeli soldiers frequently fail to intervene in confrontations to ensure that civilians are not harmed. DCI-Palestine has also documented cases where soldiers have actively participated in settler attacks against civilians.
In 2013, five Palestinian children were killed by Israeli soldiers.