Extremists among Israeli settlers in the West Bank have stepped up attacks on Palestinians in recent years, human rights groups and UN agencies said Wednesday, claiming a lack of Israeli law enforcement has created a climate of impunity.
"The Israeli government has not shown the political will to protect Palestinian civilians and has failed to commit sufficient resources to the job," said Jessica Montell of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.
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Montell and others told a news conference that settler violence against Palestinians is not random. They said "settler vigilantes" hope to drive Palestinians from areas they want to take over, or carry out attacks to deter the Israeli military from taking any action against settlements.
The report cited the settlers' "price tag" campaign as an example.
No fear of punishment? (Illustration: AFP)
"You have increased motivation by settlers to be attacking Palestinians," Montell said, adding that settlers have been emboldened by the lack of punishment.
Turning a blind eye?
"What we are seeing is a lack of action on the ground" by Israeli law enforcement agencies, said Matthias Behnke, of the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev denied that Israel is failing in its obligation to protect the more than two million Palestinians living in the West Bank.
"We will pursue all complaints very seriously," he said, adding that the prime minister has instructed police to deal "aggressively" with vigilantes.
Some 500,000 Israelis live in more than 120 settlements and about 100 unauthorized outposts in the West Bank.
The international community views all settlements as illegal. The bulk of the settlers live in communities in commuting distance to Israel's biggest cities. In contrast, much of the violence is perpetrated by extremists in tiny settlements and outposts deep inside the West Bank.
Settler attacks on Palestinians causing injury or damage rose from 168 in 2009 to 411 in 2011, according to UN figures. In the first half of 2012, 154 attacks were reported.
The figures are based on reports from Palestinian villagers that are verified by UN investigators in interviews and field visits.
Attacks linked to the price tag tactic tripled from seven or eight annually between 2008 and 2010 to 24 in 2011, the groups reported.
Over the past decade, B'Tselem submitted 352 complaints to the Israeli police on behalf of Palestinians, she said. In 250 cases, an investigation was opened, but only 29 resulted in indictments, according to B'Tselem figures.
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