B’Tselem: Israel Exploiting Settler Violence to Steal Palestinian Lands

Israel systematically uses settler violence as a “major informal tool” to intimidate and drive Palestinians from farming and pasture lands in the West Bank, the Israeli rights group B’Tselem contended on Sunday, November 14. B’Tselem also challenged repeated claims by the government that violence against Palestinians is perpetrated by a small number of extremist settlers and security forces are doing their best to stop it.

Masked settlers escorted by Israeli occupation troops assault a Palestinian man in the West Bank in a video released on April 3, 2021. (Screenshot: Yesh Din)

In a new report issued by B’Tselem, the organization writes that the Israeli military “does not prevent the attacks, and in some cases, soldiers even participate in them.” It said that law enforcement does little to take action against settlers who commit violent acts against Palestinians “and whitewashes the few cases it is called upon to address.”

The report by B’Tselem detailed the takeover of nearly 30 square kilometers (11 square miles) of farm and pasture land in the West Bank by settlers over the past five years. 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: hinterland shepherding communities in Masafer Yatta in the South Hebron Hills; in the southwestern Hebron Hills; and in the Jordan Valley; plus in established villages west of Ramallah and west of Nablus. According to the report, the state has succeeded in dispossessing these communities of thousands of dunams by means of settler violence.

As an example — one of five test cases documented in the report — the group cited the Ma’on Farm, erected illegally in the southern West Bank and which, together with a sub-outpost, now controls some 2.64 square kilometers, including roads and pastures formerly used by the area’s Palestinian residents.

Jummah Ribi’i, 48, of the Palestinian community Al-Tuwani, told B’Tselem that assaults by settlers were pushing him away from the farming activity that had sustained his family. He said settlers attacked him severely in 2018. “They broke my leg, and I had to spend two weeks in hospital and continue treatment at home,” B’Tselem quoted him as saying. “I had to sell most of our sheep to cover the cost of my medical treatment.”

Over the past five years, four settler farms in the occupied West Bank have taken over Palestinian territory equivalent in size to the Israeli city of Holon south of Tel Aviv (some 19,000 dunams, or 4,700 acres), or combined area of the cities of Bnei Brak (7,300 dunams) east of Tel Aviv and Lod southeast of the major metropolis (around 12,000 dunams). The most egregious case represented by “Uri’s Farm” located in the Umm Zuqa preserve in the northern Jordan Valley, which was established in 2016 and has subsequently denied Palestinian communities from accessing over 14,000 dunams of land. Second place is taken by the outpost of Zvi Bar Yosef from the settlement of Halamish, erected three years ago. This illegal outpost prevents the farmers of Jibiya, Kobar and Umm Safa from accessing 2,500 dunams of their lands. A shepherd’s farm southwest of Samu, established this year, has so far expropriated 1,850 dunams belonging to the village of Zanuta. In 2020, Mann Farm was built east of the town of Yatta, absconding with 1,537 dunams from nearby villages.

The data cited above relates only to these four individual farms out of some 50 similar outposts created over the past decade, and 150 outposts dating back to the 1990s. According to the B’Tselem report, 451 settler attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank have been documented since early last year, and in 170 of them, Israeli forces did not intervene to protect Palestinians. As a result, B’Tselem said, five Palestinians were killed and were 22 arrested.

“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.”

Download new report by B’Tselem (43 pages PDF file in English):
State Business: Israel’s misappropriation of land in the West Bank through settler violence