Displaced Palestinians, who fled their homes due to Israeli raids, reside in a camp in Rafah (Reuters)

On February 8, Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian shepherds who were herding their flocks in the Sadda al-Thaala community, near Hebron in the occupied West Bank, expelling the Palestinians from pastures and using drones to frighten their livestock.

As a result, herders have suffered huge losses, with many of their herded animals suffering miscarriages and stillbirths at the peak of pregnancy.

This incident was not unique, but rather part of what human rights defenders describe as “an economic war waged by settlers that results in displacement.”

What happened in Sadda al-Thaala is only one of 561 incidents of Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians, recorded by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs between October 7, 2023, and February 20, 2024.

These incidents killed at least eight Palestinians and injured 111 others, according to the OCHA database. Repeated waves of violence carried out by settlers, often with the support of the army, led to the displacement of 1,208 Palestinians, including 586. Children, from 198 families.

While humanitarian and human rights organizations tend to record such acts of violence as isolated incidents, these incidents are, in fact, acts of brutality committed by extremist settlers against the Palestinian population in the occupied West Bank in parallel with acts of genocide committed by the Israeli army in Gaza.

With the support of the Israeli security forces and aided and abetted by the government, settler violence is an essential part of the Israeli state’s policy and its plan to ethnically cleanse the occupied Palestinian territories.

In order to gain full sovereignty over it, and enable settlement expansion, even though settlements are illegal under international law.

The settlement project is illegal in its entirety

Settlements are a collection of state-sponsored (or largely tolerated, in the case of outposts and informal "farms") urban settlements built for Israelis in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights.

The truth is that all Israeli settlements are illegal under international law;

Because they violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which Israel has ratified, and, moreover, settlement expansion plans are often used as a means of promoting Israel's de facto annexation of the occupied Palestinian territories, in violation of the prohibition of the invasion of territory by force set forth in Article 2(4) of the Charter of Nations. United.

Despite the clarity of international law on the matter, supported by a 2016 UN Security Council resolution that the United States did not veto, Israel has provided the political conditions and economic incentives, as well as infrastructure support, for the growth of 279 settlements in the West Bank, In which about 700 thousand settlers actually live.

Settlements extend beyond gated urban areas;

That is, to the surrounding rural areas, where vulnerable Palestinian families live in constant fear of attacks on their homes, the herds on which they depend for their livelihood, and for their lives in general.

In some of the 16 Palestinian communities that have been forcibly transferred since October 7, 2023, such as Khirbet Zanuta in the South Hebron Hills, settlers have already fenced off land, effectively taking control of it for their own use, and preventing Palestinian communities from returning.


It has now become clear that the political positions of extremist settlers, at the heart of which is the desire to rid the occupied West Bank of Palestinians, have become part of mainstream Israeli policy.

Following high-profile incidents of settler violence, government officials embraced such actions and expressed support for them, and government ministers even publicly incited settlers to commit acts of violence against Palestinians.

Last year, for example, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for the Palestinian town of Huwara to be wiped off the map.

Settlers enjoy not only political support, but also military support. In the past two decades, the presence of Israeli security forces in the West Bank has expanded to help “secure” illegal Israeli settlements.

In addition, the Israeli army created, trained and armed so-called “territorial defense units” composed of settlers.

Over the years, armed settlers have attacked Palestinians under the protection of and with the participation of Israeli security forces.

Since 7 October 2023, several army units have been deployed on the Gaza front, giving locally affiliated settler defense units a more prominent role in enforcing control over the occupied territories. The line between security forces and armed settlers has become increasingly blurred, especially Under the law, and especially under the leadership of the Israeli Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, who in recent months ordered the distribution of thousands of firearms and other combat equipment to settlers.

Although settler violence in occupied Palestine is committed by ordinary citizens, it can only be understood as state violence. Applicable international law - including articles relating to the responsibility of states for internationally wrongful acts - confirms that a set of behaviors committed by... Non-state, such as armed Israeli settlers, can be attributed to the state.

The prominent human rights organization B'Tselem has described settler violence as a form of state violence, through which Israel can “have two things at once”: it can claim that this violence is being committed by private individuals – a few “bad apples.” among settlers - and at the same time deny the role played by its security forces, while benefiting from the consequences;

That is, expelling the Palestinians from their lands.

Abandoning the duty to protect

Under international law, Israel, as the occupying power, is obligated to protect the Palestinian population.

However, settler violence occurs openly, in complete disregard for the laws of war and human rights.

The fact that Israeli security forces accompanied the settlers and provided them with protection during their violent operations is a clear indication that they deliberately ignore their legal responsibilities towards the occupied population.

The lack of accountability for settler violence in Israeli courts – military or civil – demonstrates that the Israeli authorities are unwilling to put an end to impunity.

In 2013, a UN fact-finding mission reported that “the identities of the settlers responsible for acts of violence and intimidation are known to the Israeli authorities, yet these actions continue with impunity.”

A recent study conducted by a human rights non-governmental organization revealed that between 2005 and 2023, the Israeli police closed about 93.7 percent of investigation files related to Israelis who harmed Palestinians and their property in the occupied West Bank.

Since the current government took office in December 2022, 57.5% of Palestinian victims of Israeli crimes have chosen not to file a complaint due to a lack of confidence in the system.

The Israeli state has embraced settler violence as a tool to accelerate the displacement of Palestinians.

Once major parts of occupied Palestine are cleared of indigenous Palestinian communities, then the settlement enterprise can continue unabated and unopposed, and annexation can take place as well.

Because settlement activities constitute a recognized violation of international law, the international community cannot acquiesce to settler violence that drives Palestinians from their lands to facilitate settlement expansion.

There are pending investigations into the situation in Palestine at the International Criminal Court.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan has confirmed that his office is working to expedite investigations regarding settler violence, stressing that “Israel bears a fundamental responsibility as an occupying power” to investigate and prosecute these crimes, prevent their recurrence, and ensure justice.

In our view, ICC investigations may have deterrent effects only if they include not only the role of the Israeli authorities in enabling this violence, but also the illegality of the settlements, and there is no doubt that the “deportation of civilians” by the occupying power is in fact one of the most documented alleged war crimes in history. Israel.

We also find that recent sanctions against individual violent settlers imposed by the United States, the United Kingdom, France and other countries are short-sighted.

By targeting individuals, not the state, Western powers continue to give Israel a free hand when it comes to violating the rights of Palestinian civilians living under Israeli occupation.

Instead, the international community must clearly and unhesitatingly attribute settler violence to the Israeli state, and hold its officials accountable in appropriate international forums;

Because they did not take decisive measures to prevent, stop, and reverse its effects.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.