A Culture of Impunity: Violence Against Non-Jews in Israel & the Occupied Territories

August 20, 2012 IMEU

Last week, two incidents involving Jewish Israeli civilians attacking Palestinians made headlines in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. On August 16, 2012, a firebomb was thrown at a Palestinian taxi in the occupied West Bank, injuring six members of one family, and the next day four Palestinian young men were beaten, one of them severely, by a mob of dozens of Jewish teens in Jerusalem. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials frequently condemn violence by settlers and other Jews against Palestinians, human rights organizations, the United Nations, and European Union officials have questioned their sincerity, accusing the Israeli government of being complicit in, and even encouraging, violence against Palestinians and other non-Jews living in Israel and the occupied territories. To put these latest acts of violence and the response of Israeli authorities into context, the IMEU offers the following fact sheet:


Jump to a section: Increasing Violence by Jewish Israelis Against Palestinians & Other Non-Jews --Recent High-Profile Cases --Skyrocketing Settler Violence Israeli Government Complicity --Failure to Investigate & Racism in the Legal System --Incitement by Jewish-Israeli Politicians --Incitement by Jewish Religious Leaders



- Recent High-Profile Cases-

  • On August 17, 2012, four young Palestinian men were attacked without provocation and severely beaten by a mob of dozens of Jewish teens in Jerusalem. According to witnesses, the teens had been roaming the neighborhood searching for Arabs to beat up. One of the victims was admitted to hospital in critical condition. Police and an eyewitness described the attack as a "lynching."
  • On August 16, 2012 a firebomb was thrown at a Palestinian taxi traveling in the occupied West Bank. Six Palestinians, all members of the same family, were injured, including two four-year-old boys. As the car was clearly identifiable as belonging to a Palestinian, bearing a Palestinian license plate that distinguishes it from settler vehicles, and the attack took place in daylight, the perpetrator is believed to be a Jewish settler.
  • Also in May 2012, an Israeli settler was caught on video shooting at Palestinians near the city of Nablus in the northern West Bank, hitting one man in the face, while Israeli soldiers stood idly by.
  • In March 2012, hundreds of mostly young, Jewish-Israeli soccer fans of the Beitar Jerusalem team entered the Malha Mall in West Jerusalem chanting "Death to the Arabs," jumping on tables, and attacking Palestinian workers.



- Skyrocketing Settler Violence -

  • In July 2012, the UN and human rights organizations including B'Tselem and Al Haq, released a report documenting a sharp increase in the number of settler attacks against Palestinians and their property in recent years. According to the report, there has been approximately a 150% rise in violent settler attacks against Palestinians each year since 2008, with 154 attacks in the first half of 2012 alone.
  • According to an April 2012 report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in 2011 three Palestinians were killed and 183 injured by Israeli settlers, and approximately 10,000 Palestinian-owned trees, primarily olive trees, were damaged or destroyed by settlers.
  • In recent years, settlers have carried out a string of arson and vandalism attacks against mosques in the occupied territories and Israel. In 2011, there were 10 such attacks, part of the "price tag" campaign waged by hardline settlers in response to Israeli government actions they deem harmful to the settlement movement.

Click here for more on settler violence



  • In June 2012, Dan Halutz, former chief of staff of the Israeli Army, said that the Netanyahu government isn't serious about stopping settler violence, stating: "If we wanted, we could catch them [settlers who are attacking Palestinians] and when we want to, we will."
  • In March 2012, the Guardian newspaper reported that senior European Union officials had drafted a confidential report concluding that Jewish settlers are engaged in a systematic and growing campaign of violence against Palestinians and that "settler violence enjoys the tacit support of the state of Israel."
  • Also in March 2012, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released a report documenting the growing use of threats, violence and intimidation by Jewish settlers to deny Palestinians access to their water resources in the West Bank. The report criticized Israeli authorities for having "systematically failed to enforce the law on those responsible for these acts and to provide Palestinians with any effective remedy."
  • In February 2012, it was revealed that Israeli Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman had been offering advice to extreme right-wing activists on how to seek pardons for Israeli Jews convicted of violent attacks against Palestinians and others.



- Failure to Investigate & Racism in the Legal System -

  • According to Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, of the 642 cases of settler violence Palestinians reported to Israeli police between 2005 and 2012, 90% were closed after authorities failed to mount a proper investigation.
  • Between September 2000 and December 2011, Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem lodged 57 complaints against Israeli soldiers who stood by and did nothing to prevent settler violence against Palestinians or their property. Of the 57 complaints, investigations were opened into only four, two of which were closed with no action taken.
  • In July 2012, a Jewish teenager was sentenced to just 8 years in prison for brutally murdering a Palestinian man in February 2011, prompting renewed accusations that Israel's legal system treats Jews who commit violent acts against Palestinians more leniently that it does Palestinians accused of violence against Jews. The teen and three friends beat and stabbed a Palestinian to death after provoking a fight with him with racist verbal abuse.
  • In August, 2012, in a plea deal with prosecutors, the only Israeli soldier to face serious charges stemming from Israel's bloody military assault on Gaza in the winter of 2008-9, was sentenced to just 45 days in prison for shooting and killing a 64-year-old Palestinian woman and her 37-year-old daughter who were carrying white flags. The decision again prompted criticism that Israel's military justice system doesn't place as much value on Palestinian lives as it does on Jewish Israeli lives.



- Incitement by Jewish-Israeli Politicians -

  • In May 2012, Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, helped incite a wave of anti-African racism and violence targeting asylum seekers from countries such as Sudan and Eritrea. According to press reports, Netanyahu warned members of his cabinet that the "phenomenon of illegal infiltrators from Africa is extremely serious and threatens Israel's social fabric and national security." A few days later, a surge of violence against Africans, including physical assaults and arsons, erupted following a Tel Aviv rally where members of the Israeli parliament made inflammatory remarks. Miri Regev, of Netanyahu's Likud party, told the crowd that Sudanese asylum seekers were a "cancer in our body."
  • In June 2012, Shas party leader and Interior Minister Eli Yishai told an interviewer that Israel "belongs to us, to the white man." The previous month, Yishai helped fuel anti-African violence, complaining that African asylum seekers threatened to "bury the Zionist dream."
  • In July 2012, Israeli parliamentarian Aryeh Eldad called publicly for the destruction of Al Aqsa mosque in occupied East Jerusalem's Old City and for a new Jewish temple to be built in its place. Eldad is reportedly planning to introduce an extremely provocative bill to the Knesset calling for the mosque to be opened for Jewish prayer half of the time.
  • Following the wave of racist incitement and violence against African asylum seekers in May 2012, a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 52% of Israeli Jews agreed with the claim made by parliamentarian Miri Regev, of Prime Minister Netanyahu's Likud party, that Africans living illegally in Israel were a "cancer" in the body of Israel, and that 33.5% of Israeli Jews said they supported violent attacks against Africans.

Click here for more on institutionalized discrimination against non-Jews in Israel



- Incitement by Jewish Religious Leaders -

  • In May 2012, Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman, the spiritual leader of the United Torah Judaism party, which is a part of Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government, told a conference in the city of Beit Shemesh that non-Jews are "murderers, thieves and senseless," stating: "Today they say there are eight billion people in the world. And what are they all? Murderers, thieves and senseless. Did God create the world for these murderers? The world was created for the righteous people who study Torah. That is the purpose of creation ... The nations of the world have no redeeming qualities."
  • Also in May 2012, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas party, which is part of Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government, said that doctors who were religious Jews shouldn't treat non-Jews on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, even if the patient's life was in danger, stating: "If a gentile were to get injured in a car accident during Sabbath, and he is brought to the hospital - Israel must not treat him." He concluded "the Torah forbids to violate the Sabbath for gentiles." (See below for more on Yosef's history of making racist and inflammatory remarks.)
  • In February 2012, the influential chief rabbi of settlements in Hebron and Kiryat Arba, Dov Lior, called President Barack Obama a "kushi," a derogatory term for individuals of African descent, and compared him to Haman, a biblical enemy of the Jewish people. He also called for increased settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, in order to "eradicate the jungle."
  • In September 2011, Lior, who's salary is paid by the Israeli government, told a conference that Arabs are "wolves," "savages," and "evil camel riders." Earlier in 2011, he warned Jewish women against marrying non-Jewish women, stating: "Gentile sperm leads to barbaric offspring."
  • In October 2011, former Chief Military Rabbi Avihai Rontzki told an interviewer that Palestinians suspected of being involved in militant activity should "be shot, exterminated," and killed "in their beds," instead of being arrested.
  • In the summer of 2011, the chief rabbi of the city of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, who is also on the government payroll, told reporters: "Arab culture is very cruel... a Jew should not run away from an Arab. A Jew should chase away Arabs," and "Expelling Arabs from Jewish neighborhoods is part of the strategy." Eliyahu had previously decreed in 2010 that it was forbidden for Jews to rent or sell property to non-Jews, advocated the carpet bombing of Gaza, and called on the government to hang the children of Palestinian militants.
  • In December 2010, dozens of municipal chief rabbis on the government payroll signed a letter supporting Eliyahu and his decree prohibiting Jews from renting property to Gentiles. One of the signatories, Rabbi Yosef Scheinen, head of the Ashdod Yeshiva, stated, "Racism originated in the Torah... The land of Israel is designated for the people of Israel."
  • Also in December 2010, the wives of 30 prominent rabbis signed an open letter calling on Jewish women not to date or work with non-Jews. The letter stated: "For your sake, for the sake of future generations, and so you don't undergo horrible suffering, we turn to you with a request, a plea, a prayer. Don't date non-Jews, don't work at places that non-Jews frequent, and don't do national service with non-Jews."
  • In September 2010, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas party, which is part of Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government, declared that non-Jews were created to "serve" Jews, stating: "Goyim [non-Jews] were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world - only to serve the People of Israel... Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat."
  • In August 2010, on the eve of peace talks between Palestinian and Israeli leaders in Washington DC, Yosef delivered a sermon describing Palestinians as "evil, bitter enemies" and calling on god to make them "perish from this world" by striking them with a plague. Previously, in 2001,Yosef gave a sermon in which he stated: "It is forbidden to be merciful to [Arabs]. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable... The Lord shall return the Arabs' deeds on their own heads, waste their seed and exterminate them, devastate them and vanish them from this world."
  • In August 2010, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, head of a state-funded religious school in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, published a book condoning the murder of non-Jewish children because they may grow up to pose a threat to the state, writing that non-Jews are "uncompassionate by nature" and attacks against them "curb their evil inclination." The book was subsequently endorsed by a number of other high-profile rabbis. In July 2012, an investigation by Israeli authorities into allegations that the book amounted to incitement was closed without any charges being filed.
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