US Fails to Curb Israeli Settler Violence Against Palestinians

US Fails to Curb Israeli Settler Violence Against Palestinians
US Fails to Curb Israeli Settler Violence Against Palestinians

US Repercussions Fail to Halt Israeli Settler Assaults on Palestinians The Biden administration has concentrated its punitive measures on Israeli settlers, yet Palestinians on the ground have observed minimal alteration.

Haitham Kaabna and his family were gripped by terror when scores of Israeli settlers descended upon their village of Tajamaa al-Murajaat in the occupied West Bank on October 13.

The settlers, he recounts, were shielded by the army and brandished M16 assault rifles as they accosted farmers.

For a fortnight, settlers ravaged olive trees, vandalized automobiles, and pilfered cattle. The eruption of violence culminated in the forcible displacement of approximately 200 Palestinian families from Tajamaa al-Murajaat, situated in the Jordan Valley.

Kaabna remained until settlers infiltrated his dwelling on October 26, compelling him to seek refuge with his family.

“Perhaps 40 settlers barged into our home and commenced assaulting women and children. They also struck my brother and my son, a mere two years old,” Kaabna disclosed to Al Jazeera.

Since October 7, Israeli settlers have targeted and evicted 20 Palestinian communities in the West Bank, as per Human Rights Watch (HRW).

These coerced expulsions have escaped widespread attention due to Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza, ostensibly a reprisal for a Hamas-orchestrated surprise attack on southern Israel, which has tragically claimed over 34,000 lives and elicited accusations of genocide.

Attacks have surged in recent weeks, notwithstanding measures by the United States government to impose sanctions on certain settlers and curtail military aid to an Israeli army unit implicated in egregious human rights transgressions.

Neither action suffices to halt a state-endorsed endeavor to “ethnically cleanse” Palestinians from their villages, as experts and activists conveyed to Al Jazeera.

“We are not merely discussing assaults by fanatical settlers,” asserted Jamal Juma, a Palestinian activist in the occupied West Bank who monitors settler aggression.

“We are confronting organized schemes that have been vigorously and systematically implemented on the ground by the Israeli government.”

Legitimizing Illicit Settlements Israel has persisted in expanding illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank despite its commitment to the 1993 Oslo Accords, which initiated a peace process obligating Israel to freeze settlements to facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian state.

However, the US effectively condoned Israel’s settlement expansion when President Donald Trump’s administration declared them legitimate, contravening international law. Trump’s decision emboldened the Israeli government – and settlers – to escalate the confiscation of Palestinian villages, according to Juma.

“The settler-colonial project has always existed, but it craved legitimization, and Trump legitimized Israel’s entire colonization of historic Palestine,” he elaborated to Al Jazeera.

Under President Joe Biden, the US reinstated its prior stance by labeling Israeli settlements illegitimate in February, but only after Israel approved plans in the same month to construct 3,300 new homes in illegal settlements.

The US is also anticipated to apply the Leahy Law, which prohibits US military aid from flowing to any foreign battalion implicated in human rights violations, to an Israeli army unit named Netzah Yehuda.

This unit comprises ultra-Orthodox Israeli men and has perpetrated grave crimes against Palestinians, as reported by human rights groups and monitors.

Sarah Elaine Harrison, a former official in the US Department of Defense and an expert with the International Crisis Group, clarified to Al Jazeera that the Leahy Law is not synonymous with sanctions and that Israel retains the ability to procure weapons for Netzah Yehuda.

She added that no tracking system exists to ascertain whether Netzah Yehuda will still be able to acquire US weaponry through the annual military aid the US provides to Israel.

“It’s intricate because Netzah Yehuda could still be wielding US firearms, and we will lack knowledge of whether they are part of the foreign military financing – the $3.3bn Israel receives from the US annually – or procured with Israel’s funds,” she explained to Al Jazeera.

Scant Accountability Netzah Yehuda could potentially regain eligibility for US military aid if Israel holds soldiers within the unit accountable for human rights violations.

However, Israeli officials have defended Netzah Yehuda and condemned the US for its action, raising doubts about Israel’s willingness to discipline its soldiers and commanders.

Benny Gantz, a minister in Israel’s war cabinet, tweeted that the brigade was “an inseparable part” of the Israeli army and that Israel possesses a “strong, independent judicial system” capable of addressing alleged violations.

Yet, according to the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, a mere 2 percent of complaints lodged by Palestinians harmed by Israeli soldiers in 2019-2020 resulted in the prosecution of suspects.

“The pushback from Israel is that criticizing one soldier undermines the entire apparatus and even the country itself,” Harrison remarked to Al Jazeera.

The US has also imposed sanctions on four settlers for their involvement in assaulting and intimidating Palestinians and Israeli activists. Rights groups lauded this move but have advocated for additional sanctions on Israeli officials who authorize illegal settlements. The US has ruled out that step, for now.

“There are no plans to target Israeli government officials with sanctions at this time,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby informed reporters in February.

Karim Ali*, a 26-year-old Palestinian activist, revealed to Al Jazeera that two of the sanctioned settlers reside in his area, near Hebron.

While they have ceased attacking Palestinians, Ali noted that other armed settlers continue to vandalize his village by puncturing water reservoirs or stealing livestock feed.

The settlers, Ali explained, are pressuring the approximately 100 Palestinian villagers to abandon their land by disrupting their livelihoods.

“Around 90 percent of our fields – situated near settler outposts – remained uncultivated this year, leaving us struggling to provide sustenance for our sheep. This is a community of shepherds with no alternative means of survival. They lack any other economic infrastructure,” he conveyed to Al Jazeera.

Concealment While the Leahy Law and sanctions have failed to mitigate human rights violations in the West Bank, Palestinians report that settlers are concealing their identities to evade potential consequences for their abuses.

Ali recounted his uncle’s assault for photographing a vehicle carrying armed settlers. The settlers beat his uncle, bound his hands with zip ties, and forced him into their truck. They then transported him to their settlement and demanded he erase the photos from his phone.

“The settler even took a knife and stabbed the camera lens on [my uncle’s] phone, declaring: ‘This is what will befall anyone who raises a phone in front of us again,’” Ali disclosed to Al Jazeera.

“[The settler] added: ‘This time I’ll permit your return home. But not next time.’”

Kaabna, now residing on a desolate strip of land with his family, stated that settlers confiscated everyone’s phones during the raid on his house.

“They seek to prevent us from photographing or recording their violence. They forbid us from taking any pictures,” he shared with Al Jazeera.

Kaabna and Ali emphasized that US sanctions will not deter settlers from assaulting Palestinian villages unless pressure is also applied to terminate Israel’s occupation.

“Any actions [taken] that demonstrate to settlers that their crimes are under scrutiny are [beneficial] … but the sanctions merely serve as a bandage for the problem rather than confronting it directly,” Ali concluded.

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