Rights group urges tougher EU measures on settler violence 27Nov13 November 27, 2013

205403_345x230by Charlie Hoyle   -   Ma’an   -   27 November 2013
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — A Palestinian human rights group on Wednesday called on EU member states to take tougher measures to ensure that public and private national bodies do not provide support to violent settler groups in the occupied West Bank.

In a new report, “Institutionalized Impunity: Israel’s Failure to Combat Settler Violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”, Al-Haq documents settler violence as an “extensive, long-term, and worsening phenomenon.”

The report calls on Israel to enforce the law against settler attacks, end all incitement to violence by settler groups and guarantee the protection of the Palestinian civilian population subject to Israeli control.

Al-Haq also says that third-party states to the conflict have an “obligation to combat organized crime by ensuring that support, financial or otherwise, is not being lent to violent settler groups by private and public entities within their jurisdiction.”

Shawan Jabarin, director of Al-Haq, told Ma’an that impunity for settler violence is systematic and part of an institutionalized Israeli policy which directly, and indirectly, encourages settler attacks.

“The obligation of Israeli authorities is to protect Palestinians under occupation. They are not; they are closing their eyes and facilitating the violence against Palestinians.”

EU member states must carry out their responsibilities in dealing with settlers who visit the EU to solicit funds for violent groups as well as known violent settlers who have dual nationality, Jabarin says.

“It is time for action against these groups and the settlers in general, as well as the leaders, such as settler councils.”

In 2011, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the French branch of the Jewish Defense League, an extreme right-wing group, was recruiting Jews with military training to visit Israel and “defend” illegal settlements.

A group spokesman said that five groups of 11 people were expected to take “positions” in five Israeli settlements, with all expenses paid by un-named French donors.

The Dutch Christian Zionist organization Christenen voor Israel, or Christians for Israel, is another one of the groups in EU member states with links to Israeli settlements.

A 2010 report by the Inter Press Service news agency said that the organization’s website was soliciting donations to install security cameras for the illegal settlement of Tzofim near Qalqiliya and was also providing stipends for students studying at a university in Ariel settlement.

In August this year, the Corporate Watch website sent a series of open letters to UK registered charity Stewardship Services out of concern that it was collecting donations for the Kochav Yaakov settlement southeast of Ramallah.

The charity collects donations for a project run by the Christian Friends of Israeli Communities Heartland, which Corporate Watch says is akin to giving “tacit support to Israel’s colonization policies.”

Stewardship Services said the donations were solely to support a project providing hot lunches to children in the illegal settlement.

EU visa ban for violent settlers

Valentina Azarov, a legal adviser for Al-Haq, told Ma’an that EU states should investigate individuals or groups which provide support to violent settler groups or settlements known for violence who “could be held liable for committing offenses under their domestic laws on organized crime and financing of acts of terror.”

Such groups, or individuals, should be subject to investigation by their national authorities, she says, and third state authorities should seek Israel’s cooperation in such investigations.

The EU should also “follow through with its own legal and public policy needs by adopting risk aversive measures against violent settlers such as banning their entry into the EU,” Azarov added.

In November last year, the independent EU Observer news site reported that a group of EU diplomats from the Political and Security Committee dealing with conflict zones had approved measures to impose visa bans on violent Israeli settlers.

A memo seen by the website said that “individual EU member states could explore possibilities of denying access of known violent settlers to the EU.”

There were also European Parliamentary questions regarding the matter in January this year, to which EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton responded: “By definition, actions by Israeli settlers in occupied territory are not an internal matter for Israel.”

Al-Haq’s recommendations come as EU guidelines prohibiting financial cooperation with Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are due to take effect on Jan. 1.

The guidelines, issued in July, raised a storm in Israel and were denounced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “an external diktat about our borders.”

Palestinian officials welcomed the decision.

Settler attacks on Palestinians and their property increased by 32 percent in 2011 compared to the previous year, and by over 144 percent compared to the year before that, according to UN statistics.

In 2011, 10,000 olive trees were damaged or destroyed by settlers and 139 Palestinian families displaced due to settler violence, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported.

Over 90 percent of complaints filed by Palestinians regarding settler violence are closed by Israeli authorities without an indictment, the agency says.

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