- Published on Monday, 20 August 2012 12:03
The US State Department has included violence by "extremist Israeli settlers" in its 2011 annual report on terrorism around the world.
The Country Reports on Terrorism 2011 lists several incidents including three arson attacks against mosques in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and the defacing of Muslim graves in Jerusalem's Mamilla Cemetry with Hebrew "price tag" graffiti.
The report also refers to an attack by Israeli settlers on IDF soldiers and an IDF military base in the West Bank, noting that it "sparked a public debate in Israel on the phenomena of settler violence". Such "price tag" incidents are violent acts committed by extremist Israeli settlers in retribution for Israeli government and army actions that they perceive to be anti-settler.
A total of ten mosques were "vandalized or set on fire in attacks that Israeli authorities believed were perpetrated by settlers" in the West Bank and Jerusalem in 2011, according to the report. This has increased from six in 2010 and one in 2009.
The inclusion of settler attacks in the report comes after a Palestinian taxi was attacked with a Molotov cocktail last Thursday, injuring six Palestinians, including two four-year-old children. At the time, the US State Department condemned the incident in the "strongest possible terms", and urged the Israeli government to take action to bring the perpetrators, who are widely thought to have been settlers, to justice.
The inclusion of such incidents also reflects growing concerns that the increasing violence by a small number of extremist settlers could lead to a new cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. While some incidents of settler violence included in previous year's reports, the 2011 report placed a higher emphasis than before on such attacks.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that violent settler attacks resulting in Palestinian casualties and property damage has increased by 144% from 2009 to 2011.
According to the report, three Palestinians were killed and 183 injured by Israeli settlers in 2011, while eight Israeli settlers were killed and 37 injured by Palestinians in the same year. 139 Palestinians were displaced due to settler attacks, and 10,000 Palestinian-owned trees, mainly olive trees were damaged or destroyed by settlers.
The report notes that over 90% of complaints about settler violence filed by Palestinians with the Israeli police in the last few years are closed with no action taken. Israeli human rights group Bt'selem has said that Israeli forces often fail to stop settler violence. In May settlers shot at Palestinian protestors while Israeli soldiers and police officers stood by doing nothing, an incident which was filmed by Bt'selem and posted on YouTube.
In Hebron, where several hundred settlers in the centre of the city are protected by around 1,000 Israeli soldiers, Palestinians who live in the Israeli part of the city centre have metal grilles over their window to prevent the windows being broken by settlers. Netting is hung over streets in Palestinian areas of the Old City which border the settlements, to catch rocks and bottles thrown by the settlers.
Offensive graffiti, such as 'Gas the Arabs' written in Hebrew, is also sprayed on Palestinian property and a girl's school in the area.