‘Sharp increase’ in settler violence amid West Bank tensions

Palestinian officials said there has been a 48 percent increase in incidents of settler violence

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The deadly violence Jerusalem has witnessed in the past days comes after weeks of tension between Israeli settlers, Jewish extremists, and Palestinians throughout the occupied West Bank.

In addition to clashes in and around the controversial and revered Haram Al Sharif, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, Palestinian officials say settler-related violence has increased sharply in the past year.

“Since Thursday, 133 incidents of settler violence have been reported in the West Bank,” Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official who monitors settler-related activity in the territory, told Al Arabiya News.

“There has been a sharp increase in assaults, the settlers in the thousands have taken to the streets... 400 cars have been vandalized; they tried to break into homes but failed [because of] the youths who stopped them,” he added. “All of these are assaults led by the settlers in recent days.”

Heightened tensions have seen a rush of violent acts by both Israeli settlers and Palestinians in recent weeks.

Daghlas said there has been a 48 percent increase in incidents of settler violence compared to this time last year.

“This is due to an increase of settlements and their area, and the housing units increased by 52 percent since last year,” he said.

In the past year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has expanded its funding of settlements, leading to a surge in units in the occupied territories.

Olivia Sohns, a postdoctoral fellow at the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin, linked this with the increased violence.

“There will likely be more violence and tension in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as long as Israeli settlers move there without the Palestinians being accorded either full sovereignty in a state of their own or full citizenship in the Israeli state,” she said.

While settlement-expansion is not exclusive to Netanyahu’s government, the increase is diminishing prospects for Palestinians of full statehood, said Hugh Lovatt, Israel/Palestine Project coordinator at the European Council of Foreign Relations.

“The increase in settlements is increasing the realization that the prospects of achieving… at least a really independent, sovereign Palestinian state, are slipping away,” he told Al Arabiya News.

There have also been many incidents of violence perpetrated by Palestinians in the occupied territory.

A Palestinian man last Wednesday stabbed and wounded a soldier on a bus in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Gat, grabbed his gun and ran into a residential building, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. He was shot dead by police special forces.

Hours earlier, police said an 18-year-old Palestinian woman stabbed an Israeli near a contested shrine in Jerusalem, and was then shot and wounded by the injured man, the third knife attack in the city in less than a week.

Four Israelis were also killed in a stabbing and drive-by shooting blamed on Palestinians. Following the deaths, Israeli settlers reportedly launched a series of reprisal attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank.

As to what may have sparked the deadly attacks carried out by Palestinians, Daghlas said: “what the Al-Aqsa mosque goes through from desecration and storming... exasperated anger and tension among the Palestinian people.”

He also said the July arson attack on the home of the Dawabsheh family in the village of Duma, in which a toddler was killed, was another catalyst. The child’s parents died in the weeks after the attack, while his older brother remains in critical condition.

The Duma arson attack made headlines in both Israeli and Arab news. The Israeli army branded it as “Jewish terrorism,” but the state is yet to formally charge any suspected perpetrators.

“While Israeli politicians were quick to condemn the killing of the family a few months back, we haven’t seen any accountability for that, we haven’t seen Israeli authorities actually bring perpetrators to justice... if it’s an instance of Palestinians throwing a rock then those Palestinians are quite quickly apprehended,” Lovatt said.

“We don’t see that when it comes to prosecuting settlers,” he added.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in September that Israeli authorities knew who is responsible for the deadly attack, but has so far failed to start legal proceedings to protect the identity of their sources, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon reportedly told a closed meeting of activists.

Israeli rights group B’Tselem said it was only a matter of time before such an attack took place.

“The authorities’ policy to avoid enforcing the law on Israelis who harm Palestinians and their property… creates impunity for hate crimes, and encourages assailants to continue, leading to this morning’s horrific result,” the rights group said in July.

“If you look at the number of indictments filed by Israeli authorities against these settlers for such crimes they remain extremely small, and those indictments rarely result in any prosecution,” Lovatt said.

“This goes back to impunity for Israeli settler actions and a lack of accountability by the Israeli state.”

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