Is the US Serious about Punishing Extremist Settlers in the West Bank?

Jewish settlers go on a rampage in occupied West Bank. (Photo: via WAFA)

By Fareed Taamallah

As a Palestinian residing in the West Bank and suffering from attacks by settlers and the Israeli occupation forces, I consider the US’ move a minor step.

The US State Department announced it would implement a new visa policy banning Israeli settlers who attacked Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

The US Secretary of State Antony  Blinken justified the new policy by saying “We will continue to seek accountability for all acts of violence against civilians in the West Bank, regardless of the perpetrator or the victim (..) We have underscored to the Israeli government the need to do more to hold accountable extremist settlers who have committed violent attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank.”

Palestinians in the West Bank have been following the American empty statements against illegal settlement construction and settlers for years, especially from the Biden Administration during the current aggression. And yet, they do not see any action to confirm this demand.

At the same time, all have seen a strong and effective American position that translates into action when it comes to the so-called “Israel’s right to defend itself”, offering unconditional military, financial, and political support for the occupying state.

As a Palestinian residing in the West Bank and suffering from attacks by settlers and the Israeli occupation forces, I consider the US’ move a minor step compared to the scale of the crimes committed by the illegal Jewish settlers.

I doubt the desire and ability of the Biden administration to implement this tiny act. I see it as an act aimed at deceiving the Palestinians and the world into believing that the US cares about the Palestinians of the West Bank while providing weapons to kill those of Gaza.

It falls within an old approach by American and Israeli governments to classify and separate the Palestinians in the West Bank from those in the Gaza Strip.

All settlers, who number more than 700,000 in the West Bank and Jerusalem, are illegal, regardless of whether they commit acts of physical violence or not. The mere presence of a settler on a stolen land is illegal according to international law. This colonial settlement aims to expel the indigenous population and replace it with foreign settlers.

I live in a small village in the West Bank, surrounded by six illegal settlements. These settlements were all built on stolen land of neighboring villagers at the end of the 1970s, following the signing of the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.

I see, on a daily basis, the expansion of settlements on privately owned Palestinian land and the increase in settler violence on the main streets and crossroads, narrowing the space for the Palestinians to use.

The settlers and the Israeli army prevent many farmers from harvesting their fields, especially during the olive harvest season in October-November.

According to a UN report, around 800,000 dunums of Palestinian olive land have not been harvested due to Israeli settler violence and access restrictions imposed by the Israeli army, causing many families who rely on the olive harvest to lose the income of an entire year.

It is not clear at all how the United States will obtain the names of these settlers who commit their daily crimes with impunity.

The Israeli security services – which are supposed to be responsible for enforcing the law in the occupied territories – avoid arresting the settlers, or submitting indictments against them.

On the contrary, they protect them, hide their names, and spare them accountability and trial.

This was the case with the killer of the young man Bilal Saleh from the village of Al-Sawiya, adjacent to my village, who was released without any charges being brought against him.

The Yesh Din Foundation says that, out of a thousand cases brought to justice regarding acts of violence committed by settlers and reviewed by the Israeli human rights NGO between 2005 and 2021, 93% of them were closed without an indictment.

According to Yesh Din, the Israeli police figures point to discrimination in Israeli law enforcement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, leading to the failure in the investigation of 81.5 percent of the files opened between 2005 and 2022 concerning Israelis who harmed Palestinians and their property.

Since 2005, only 3 percent of investigation files opened into ideologically motivated offenses by Israelis against Palestinians in the West Bank have led to a conviction.

Impunity, lack of accountability, and complicity is a policy followed by all Israeli governments towards the settlers who violate the rights of Palestinians.

The settlers in the West Bank are nothing but Israeli army soldiers in civilian dress. They are also part of the militia that the Israeli government recently formed and armed with weapons under the pretext of self-defense, weapons which they use to kill Palestinians.

Israel has also passed law to ease access to weapons, promising to arm Israeli civilians in at least 1,000 localities, including settlements.

Last week Ahmad Assi, a 38-year-old farmer and a father of six, was shot dead by the settlers who – escorted by the occupation army – attacked the nearby town of Qarawa Bani Hassan, west of Salfit. No settler was arrested.

If the United States is serious, they should first and foremost halt settlement construction. If Washington has a real desire to stop settler attacks, it can do more than “underscore” the need to do more to the Israeli government.

And if it wants to punish the settlers, it should take legal measures such as issuing arrest warrants against them, or preventing American citizens from residing in illegal settlements.

The US administration can also prevent the collection of donations from American associations and individuals for the benefit of the illegal settlements.

Why does it not exert real pressure, when it is capable of doing so, to force Israel to stop settler violence, which is carried out under the supervision and protection of the Israeli army?

The US did not show any serious desire to carry out its responsibility to stop all this terrorism by settlers.

The US has the responsibility to stop this because it provides political, militar, and economic support to Israel.

Moreover, it is involved in the current aggression against the Palestinians in the occupied territories who are being killed by American weapons.

– Fareed Taamallah is a Palestinian journalist, a farmer, and a political activist based in Ramallah. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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