Israeli human rights group B’Tselem published a new report today showing how Israel has used settler violence against Palestinians to misappropriate more than 28,000 dunams of West Bank farmland and pastureland that served Palestinian communities for many decades.
In the new report, B’Tselem shows that settler violence is not a private initiative, but rather an unofficial branch of the state violence Israel uses to expel Palestinians from their land. Attributing the violence to young fundamentalists or to “rotten apples” while keeping up a pretense of law enforcement allows Israel the best of both worlds: maintain a comfortable space for “plausible deniability” and enjoy the outcome of the violence by taking over swaths of land in the West Bank.
The report illustrates how settler violence has complemented official methods by helping Israel take over farmland and pastureland that, for many decades, served Palestinian communities in five areas: shepherding communities in Masafer Yatta in the South Hebron Hills, in the southwestern Hebron Hills, and in the Jordan Valley, and established villages west of Ramallah and west of Nablus. According to the report, the state has dispossessed these communities of thousands of dunams by using settler violence.
In some areas, this has been carried out explicitly by the military closing off swaths of land or requiring Palestinians to request advance permission to access their own land. In others, farmers and shepherds stay away for fear of encountering settlers who will assault them.
In testimonies given to B’Tselem field researchers, residents described how the violence and fear threatening the continued existence of their communities, driving them – for lack of choice – to abandon or scale back types of work they relied on for decades, forcing them to stay away from pastureland and water sources that used to serve them, and limiting their cultivation of farmland.
“The apartheid regime is based on organized, systemic violence against Palestinians carried out by numerous agents: the government, the military, the Civil Administration, the Supreme Court, the Israel Police, the Israel Security Agency, the Israel Prison Service, the Israel Nature, and Parks Authority and others. Settlers are yet another function on this list,” said the Israeli rights group.
“Like the violence employed against Palestinians by the military and the bureaucracy, settler violence is organized, institutionalized, well-equipped and implemented in order to achieve a defined strategic goal.”