Murder contracts on former prisoners fit settler pattern
Ibitsam Jaber owns a small supermarket on the corner of Haret Jaber Street in Hebron's Old Town. A little more than a week ago, she was confronted in her store by a group of Israeli settlers. Led by Baruch Marzel, a prominent right-wing extremist in the settler community, the group demanded to know the whereabouts of Hani Rosmi Jaber, her brother-in-law. Before leaving, the settlers left a flyer in Arabic addressed to the residents of Hebron which promised a "big price" in return for any information on Mr Jaber.
Mr Jaber was one of 450 Palestinian political prisoners recently released by Israel as part of the prisoner exchange. Now he is being hunted on the streets of Hebron, not only by settlers, but by public figures and prominent Israeli politicians. The Israeli Knesset member Michael Ben-Ari as well as members of the municipal council of Kiryat Arba settlement subsequently joined the group, posting and distributing flyers written in Hebrew, addressed to settlers and explicitly calling for Mr Jaber's murder. As they nailed these posters to the walls of Hebron's Old Town in broad daylight, Israeli soldiers and police stood idly by, watching.
Adding fuel to the fire, Benzi Gufstein, another member of the municipal council of Kiryat Arba, declared: "The safest place for the terrorist is prison. We will make sure he will not be able to roam freely and call upon all who see him to act in accordance with the scripture 'kill or be killed'."
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated call for the murder of released Palestinian political prisoners accused by Israel of involvement in the killing of settlers. A family from Yitzhar settlement has offered a $200,000 (Dh735,000) reward for the murders of Khuweiled and Nizar Ramadan. And a reward of $100,000 was promised by a family from Kiryat Arba in exchange for the murder of Mostafa Moslimani.
These contracts for murder are part of a larger pattern of settler violence in the Palestinian Territories. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there has been a significant increase in incidents of settler violence in recent years. This has been corroborated by documentation gathered by local human rights organisations in recent months that details an escalation in both the frequency of attacks and the levels of violence used. Palestinian villagers now regularly face arson and petrol bomb attacks, physical assault and vandalism of property, which affect both their safety and livelihoods. Much of this violence is carried out under the banner of the "Price Tag" policy, which has organised settler violence in response to the limited measures taken by the Israeli authorities against settlement activity.
Incitement to murder in Hebron is further representative of a development in recent months which has seen Israeli settlers embark on an extremist ideological campaign of violence against Palestinians. Organised attacks are now a common occurrence. It is particularly disturbing that in this case such unlawful action is seemingly condoned by the state of Israel. This undisguised aggression is facilitated by tolerance and at times active support from public figures and members of the Knesset.
Rather than investigate and punish incidents of settler violence, the Israeli authorities are complicit by virtue of acquiescence. A recent study by Yesh Din, the Israeli human rights organisation, found that 90 per cent of complaints about settler violence were either lost or closed.
Such obvious reluctance to enforce the law against settlers in the occupied territories has created a climate of impunity in which settlers and public figures can stand side by side and incite violence, offering rewards for the assassination of released political prisoners. Members of the Knesset, high-profile religious figures and settlement mayors have all publicly expressed support for the "Price Tag" policy.
As an occupying power, Israel has a duty is to protect the occupied Palestinian population. This means taking effective measures to prevent attacks and prosecute settlers, whose very presence in the West Bank is illegal under international law. It means holding settlers legally responsible for their actions. In this case, they are not campaigning for murder in secret, but publishing calls for assassination in popular newspapers, openly and without fear of consequences.
Every time a settler is not held accountable for his crimes, Israel is condoning the next act of violence. For every dollar offered in exchange for murder, high profile public figures have offered their support. The state has so far remained silent and averted its gaze.
Palestinians exist in a reality where Israel continues to commit war crimes and violations of international law regularly with impunity. This reality now includes settlers who operate outside of the law and are immune to its rule. Their attacks occur with greater frequency and increased ferocity, escalating tensions in an already unstable environment.
However, these attackers and the impunity they enjoy are but elements of a wider system of institutionalised repression, one that is characterised by illegal settlements and an occupation that has lasted for decades. Peace cannot be achieved without justice, and justice means accountability for all crimes.
As long as settler attacks go unpunished and human rights are ignored, as long as settlements continue to exist in occupied Palestinian territory, and as long as the international community prioritises political expediency over international law, a lasting peace can never be achieved.
Shawan Jabarin is the general director of Al Haq, an independent Palestinian human rights organisation based in Ramallah
Updated: November 8, 2011 04:00 AM