Relations between settlers and Palestinians often echo Israel’s system of control over the Palestinians, with its hallmark hostility and sense of superiority. Attacks by Israeli civilians against Palestinians and their property are commonplace throughout the West Bank. These acts of violence and vandalism, also referred to as “ideologically motivated crime,” are strategically motivated. The objective is to instill fear in the heart of Palestinians and create a real threat in order to dispossess Palestinians of their land and confine them to increasingly smaller areas of the West Bank.
In order to achieve this objective, settlers employ various forms of violence in Palestinian spaces – village streets, schools, public buildings and even homes – has proliferated. Secluded homes and structures, and those located near settlements, unauthorized outposts or access roads, have become standing, preferred, targets. Attacks on Palestinians and their property take a physical, financial, social and psychological toll on Palestinians, especially when they are widespread.
Ideologically motivated offenses committed by Israeli settlers inside Palestinian towns and villages in recent years are not divorced from Israel’s policy in the West Bank, which includes countless violations of Palestinians’ rights in an attempt to establish Israeli control over the area. Israeli law enforcement’s softness in responding to these offenses shows that, at the very least, Israel does not consider stopping this crime important enough, and perhaps even that these acts are welcomed by the state, albeit not openly or explicitly.
This report looks at offenses Israeli civilians commit inside the built-up, inhabited areas of Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank (Area B). It relies on the analysis of 63 incidents documented by Yesh Din between 2017 and 2020, during which offenses involving violence, property damage and desecration of mosques were committed against Palestinians. These are only the incidents documented by Yesh Din researchers in the time period and do not cover all offenses committed by Israelis against Palestinians in that time. Other incidents took place then and continue to take place now – some are documented by other organizations and agencies, while others go undocumented and hidden from the public.
Police complaints were filed in 60 of the 63 incidents of offenses by Israeli civilians inside Palestinian villages documented by Yesh Din. The police has concluded the investigation in 38. Not a single indictment has been filed. Israel’s failure to deter and respond to crime leaves Palestinian streets, homes and workplaces vulnerable to the explosive violence settlers use as an ideological tool.
These failures effectively award immunity to ideologically motivated crime by settlers. The message sent by the conduct of the Israeli authorities is plain to all. It is deeply internalized, both by the assailants, the settlers, who see it as license to carry on, and by their Palestinian victims who know they are left to fend for themselves with no one to protect them from violent attacks.