Israel has exercised control over the West Bank and its millions of Palestinian residents for over 55 years as part of a regime of military occupation. According to international law, these residents are “protected persons,” and Israel has a duty to protect them. Offenses committed by Israelis against Palestinians in the West Bank have a particular significance as they are carried out amid a regime in which one national group controls another. The offenders are citizens of the State of Israel who have chosen to live in the occupied territory. They enjoy the protection of the military and other state authorities, and if they commit an offense, they are investigated and tried under Israeli criminal law. Their victims are Palestinians who live under a repressive military rule that is forced upon them and have no access to the electoral process that determines the regime governing them and its policies.
Acts of violence by Israelis against Palestinians are carried out all over the West Bank – in agricultural lands, on roads, in the streets of villages, towns and cities, and even inside homes. Settlers use violence to take over more Palestinian lands while sowing fear and terror among Palestinians and disrupting their daily lives. In this way, separate offenses committed by individuals combine to form a system of ideological crime that is designed to dispossess Palestinians of their lands and expand Israeli control in the West Bank.
An analysis of Yesh Din data proves that the Israeli law enforcement system fails in fulfilling its duty to protect Palestinians from Israeli violence. The failings of Israel’s law enforcement system can be observed in every aspect of its response to ideologically motivated crime by Israelis against Palestinians in the West Bank: ineffective prevention, failed police investigations, low indictment rate, and lenient sentences for convicted offenders. The fact that this is a longstanding systemic failure proves the State of Israel normalizes and supports ideologically motivated violence perpetrated by Israelis against Palestinians in the West Bank as a matter of policy and benefits from its effects.
93% of all investigations into ideologically motivated crime in the West Bank are closed without an indictment.
Since 2005, Yesh Din has monitored 1,597 investigation files into cases of violence by Israeli civilians against Palestinians in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem). In addition to these, over the years, Yesh Din has documented hundreds of additional incidents of settler violence in which the Palestinian crime victims chose not to file a complaint with the police. In most, if not all, of these cases, the offenses go uninvestigated by the police.
Of the 1,531 concluded investigations: Indictments were filed in just 107 cases (7%). Analyzing the circumstances under which investigation files were closed reveals that the police had failed in the investigation of 81.5% of files opened since 2005. The high rate of failure points to a longstanding systemic failure in law enforcement responses to ideologically motivated crime against Palestinians in the West Bank.
Only 3% of investigation files led to a conviction
As of December 2022, in 91 cases of offenses committed by Israeli civilians against Palestinians in the West Bank and monitored by Yesh Din, police investigations concluded in indictments with known outcomes. Only 50% (46 cases) of the indictments resulted in convictions (partial or full) of the guilty parties. 42% of the proceedings (38 cases) ended in nothing, either after the court found the defendants guilty but still decided not to convict them for their actions or after the indictment was vacated or withdrawn.
In total, since 2005, only 3% of investigation files opened following ideologically motivated offenses Israelis committed against Palestinians in the West Bank led to convictions. The low conviction rate sends the message that the law enforcement system does not consider this type of crime to be a serious issue, and contributes to the perpetrators’ sense of immunity and the recurrence of these acts.
Police figures for 2021: Discrimination in the work of Israeli law enforcement agencies in the OPT
The information Yesh Din collects and analyzes does not include all of the incidents in which Israelis, settlers and others, harm Palestinians or Palestinian property in the West Bank. To get a broader perspective, Yesh Din obtains figures from the agency directly responsible for law enforcement in the West Bank, the Israel Police, through annual requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
Figures the Israel Police provided to Yesh Din indicate that in 2021, the SJ District Police opened 282 investigation files into Israeli disorderly conduct and Jewish nationalistic crime. In 113 cases, the crime victims were Palestinians, and in 169, the crime victims were non-Palestinians (Israeli security forces as well as Israeli and international activists).
Only three indictments were filed in cases in which the victims were Palestinians, accounting for 2.6% of the total number of investigations. However, in cases in which the victims were not Palestinian, 16 indictments were filed, accounting for 9.5% of the total number of investigations. In other words, Israeli law enforcement agencies are 2.5 times more likely to indict Israelis who harm non-Palestinians in the West Bank (Israeli security personnel and others) than Israelis who harm Palestinians.
These figures are indicative of discrimination in Israeli law enforcement in the OPT. Crimes committed by Israelis against non-Palestinians, meaning against members of the security forces and others, are properly investigated by the police and lead to indictments. On the other hand, in cases of violence against Palestinians, the performance of law enforcement agencies is, at best, negligent, and offenders are not brought to justice.