Rights group: Israeli settler violence tool to seize land

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has been using settler violence as a “major informal tool” to drive Palestinians from farming and pasture lands in the occupied West Bank, an Israeli rights group said Sunday.

A report by the group B’Tselem detailed the takeover of nearly 11 square miles (30 square kilometers) of farm and pasture land in the territory by settlers over the past five years. That’s an area around half the size of the island of Manhattan.

B’Tselem also challenged repeated claims by the government that violence against Palestinians is carried out by a violent fringe among the settlers and security forces are doing their best to stop it.

Recent months have seen a steep increase in violence committed by Jewish settlers in the West Bank against Palestinians. Last week, a group of Israeli settlers vandalized dozens of cars in a town near Ramallah, and in September, dozens of Israeli settlers attacked a Bedouin village in the southern West Bank, leaving several injured, including a Palestinian toddler.

B’Tselem said the military “does not prevent the attacks, and in some cases, soldiers even participate in them.” It says 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.”

“When the violence occurs with permission and assistance from the Israeli authorities and under its auspices, it is state violence. The settlers are not defying the state; they are doing its bidding,” the organization said in its report.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war. In the decades since, it has built dozens of settlements — now home to nearly 500,000 Israelis — that most of the international community considers illegal and an obstacle to peace. The Palestinians seek the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, as part of their future state.

On Friday, a group of Jewish settlers attacked Palestinians harvesting olives who were accompanied by Israeli activists. Two Israelis, including a prominent rabbi and peace activist, were injured in the incident.

Neta Ben Porat, one of the injured activists, said she suffered injuries to her head and arm. She said the entire area is video monitored by the army, and soldiers chose not to come to their aid. The military said in a statement to Army Radio that troops “separated between the sides and dispersed the confrontation” and arrested three settlers.

Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel said in a statement Friday that “the state and its enforcement agencies are failing time after time to ensure the safety of farmers and activists in the harvest, and the blood spilled today is also on their hands.”

Last month, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz called on the military to combat rising settler attacks against Palestinians and Israeli troops in the West Bank to react “systematically, aggressively and uncompromisingly” to such behavior.

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