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Nablus: Surrounded by Israeli settlements

Palestinians complain that Israeli settlers act with impunity as number of attacks rise.

Last updated: 18 Dec 2013 08:43
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Settler attacks on Palestinians have risen by 315 percent from 2007-11, according to one estimate [AFP]

On December 6, Israeli settlers destroyed a Palestinian car and vandalised a house in Jalud, a village in the West Bank's Nablus governorate. Across the property, the settlers had reportedly scrawled the words "price tag".

The term "price tag" refers to attacks carried out by settlers against Palestinians as revenge for Israeli government actions against settlers, such as demolitions or forced evacuations of illegal outposts.

Just 11 days earlier, the Omran family home - also in the Nablus area - was targeted by settlers armed with Molotov cocktails. On November 25, Ghassan Omran said he was teaching his son English when the improvised bombs were hurled at the house in the village of Burin. He said the incident was the third such attack on his home in the past month.

During the same week, Israeli settlers uprooted 26 olive trees in the village of Qusra, near the southern border of the Nablus governorate. Eight Palestinians were injured by rubber-coated steel bullets fired by Israeli soldiers who had come after clashes broke out when villagers protested against the trees' destruction.

A sea of settlements

Palestinians in the Nablus governorate are effectively living in a sea of settlements. The district is home to 12 Israeli settlements and 37 outposts - the latter of which are illegal under Israel's own laws.

Israeli settler violence caught on tape

Nablus is also the scene of half of the settler attacks carried out against Palestinians in the West Bank. According to Ghassan Daglas, the Palestinian Authority's settler violence monitoring official, 267 out of the 492 attacks that took place in the West Bank from the start of 2013 to October occurred in Nablus.

Settler attacks against Palestinians have risen by 315 percent from 2007 to 2011, according to the Palestine Centre. This may be due partly to retaliation for Palestinian attacks on settlers. In 2011, two Palestinian men were convicted of murdering five family members in their home in the Itamar settlement. And in April 2012, Israeli settler Evyatar Borowsky was stabbed to death by a Palestinian at a junction in Nablus.

"The settlers went crazy in the streets of Nablus after the death [of Borowsky]," said Daglas. "They attacked a bus carrying school children and tried to set fire to it. This was just one of 100 revenge incidents. After the settler was killed, the level of settler violence got worse. But then again, every year it gets worse." 

When the Oslo Accords carved up the West Bank, the city of Nablus was the only part of the governorate that was designated as being part of "Area A", falling under the control of the Palestinian Authority. The other towns and villages in the Nablus governorate fall under some degree of Israeli control.

In the event of a settler attack, Palestinians in these latter areas rely on Israeli protection, which is often not forthcoming. Unprotected and unarmed Palestinian residents regularly face attacks by armed settlers, who are often guarded by Israeli soldiers.

The settlements fall under complete Israeli jurisdiction.

Inside the settlements

Itamar, a Nablus settlement whose residents have a reputation for attacking Palestinians living nearby, is under heavy protection. Men patrol the streets armed with machine guns, a right afforded to settlers for self-defence under Israeli law.

There is no law to punish settlers: They attack our homes, our cattle, burn our trees and there is no law to punish them.

- Ghassan Daglas, Palestinian Authority's settler violence monitor

"We have to be careful of the Arabs outside here," said one man who declined to give his name, pushing a pram with a machine gun strapped to his back, as he pointed to the land beyond the security fence surrounding the settlement.

"The community here carry the guns because of the problem with terrorists in this part of Israel," said the soldier guarding the entrance. "This is little Israel," he said, referring to the settlement.

Asked whether he knew of incidents in which settlement residents attacked nearby Palestinian villages, the soldier replied, "No, there's none of that. Very few times, maybe before, but now they realise blood leads to blood."

Chief Inspector Micky Rosenfeld, the foreign press spokesperson for the Israeli police, told Al Jazeera that security forces in the West Bank "have stepped up operations in order to prevent and deal with incidents involving Israelis and Palestinians. These incidents we see as criminal incidents with nationalistic motives that are carried out by individuals and sporadically. There is also more coordination with the IDF on this matter as we see that these incidents also take place in areas that the police have to enter and are dangerous."

The lives behind the statistics

Palestinians living in the region see things differently. "There is no law to punish settlers: They attack our homes, our cattle, burn our trees and there is no law to punish them," said Daglas. "The law, on the other hand, punishes the 10-year-old Palestinian child if he tries to defend his land."

Palestinians struggle to access their land

In January 2011, 15-year-old Odai Qadous and his cousin were farming in the Nablus village of Iraq Burin when a settler approached them. Sitting in her front room on the second anniversary of his death, his mother, Amneh Qadous, recounted the day her son was killed.

"I could see from my house the settler was harassing them. I was scared and screaming at Odai to keep away, but that day the wind was blowing hard and he couldn't hear me. Then they went out of my sight and I heard a shot. I saw from a distance that Odai's cousin was carrying something over his shoulder. I was worried but my daughter was trying to calm me down telling me he was just carrying a sack," she said. "But then as he got closer I saw it was my son."

Despite Odai's killing being captured on film by a nearby Israeli army security camera, the case was closed on October 1, 2013 because no culprit was found.

"They [Israeli authorities] asked us to come to give details three times. On the third time, I told them I wanted a legal case brought against the settler, but after I said that they never called us again," said Omar Qadous, the cousin who was with Odai at the time of the shooting.

When asked for details regarding the closing of the case, the police department did not respond.

Same land, different laws

Odai's case is by no means isolated. Out of the hundreds of attacks on Palestinians and their property, only 8.5 percent of the complaints raised have led to an indictment.

The killer was believed to have come from the nearby settlement of Yitzhar, whose residents in 2011 carried out more attacks against Palestinians than those of any other settlement, according to statistics from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

While settlers face near impunity, the story is different for Palestinians living in the same territory, because Israel operates under a dual system of law. Settlers living in the West Bank are subject to Israeli civil law, while Palestinians in the West Bank can be tried by judges in military courts, where conviction rates exceed 99 percent.

This dual system also applies to children: If, for example, a 12-year-old child from Nablus and a 12-year-old child from the nearby settlement of Yitzhar were to have a fight, both would be arrested by the Israeli police. 

The Palestinian child, however, could be detained for four days before seeing a military judge, whereas the Israeli child would only have to wait for 12 hours before seeing a civilian judge. The Palestinian child could be held for up to 90 days before seeing a lawyer and would have only a 13 percent chance of being freed on bail, whereas the Israeli child would be able to see legal counsel within just two days and would have a 80 percent likelihood of being released on bail.

Follow Jessica Purkiss on Twitter: @JessicaPurkiss

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Al Jazeera
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