6 Things to Remember When Covering Israeli Settler Violence
1. Israeli settler violence against Palestinians is an integral part of Israel’s apartheid system and theft of occupied Palestinian land.
- Settlers and the Israeli military and government work hand in hand to push Palestinians out of their homes and off their land. In the words of Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem: “Settler violence against Palestinians is part of the strategy employed by Israel’s apartheid regime, which seeks to take over more and more West Bank land. The state fully supports and assists these acts of violence, and its agents sometimes participate in them directly.”
- In December 2022, a group of independent United Nations human rights experts released a statement condemning settler violence and the complicity of Israel’s government and occupying army, noting: “Disturbing evidence of Israeli forces frequently facilitating, supporting and participating in settler attacks, makes it difficult to discern between Israeli settler and State violence.”
2. Extremist settlers hold powerful positions in Israel’s government and condone and encourage settler violence against Palestinians.
- Israel’s government includes notorious extremists and settlers in senior positions, most notably National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. Ben-Gvir, who controls Israel’s domestic police and its paramilitary border police in the occupied West Bank, lives in one of the most radical Israeli settlements in the West Bank and has a long history of inciting racism and violence against Palestinians, including a conviction for supporting a terrorist organization.
- In August 2023, Ben-Gvir praised a settler who murdered a 19-year-old Palestinian man, calling him a “hero.” In June 2023, he defended young settlers who rampaged through the West Bank attacking Palestinians and torching their homes and cars, calling them “sweet kids.” Until recently, for many years Ben-Gvir had a framed photo of the U.S.-born settler who massacred 29 Palestinians in Hebron in the West Bank in 1994 hanging in a place of honor in his home. (See here for more on Ben-Gvir and Smotrich)
3. Israeli settlers have been waging a campaign of terror against Palestinians for decades but the number of attacks has increased in recent years.
- Settler violence has been intrinsic to Israel’s settlement enterprise since it began in earnest in the 1970s. In the 1980s, settlers terrorized Palestinians with a series of bombing and shooting attacks that killed and maimed numerous people, including the targeting of mayors of Palestinians towns and a plot to blow up the Noble Sanctuary Mosque complex in East Jerusalem. In the single deadliest instance of settler violence, in 1994 a Brooklyn-born settler shot and killed 29 Palestinians while they prayed in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.
- Since 2017, the number of settler attacks against Palestinians has increased each year. In August 2023, the UN warned of a dramatic increase in settler violence, with nearly 600 attacks recorded in the first six months of the year, averaging 99 incidents each month, an increase of nearly 40% over the monthly average in 2022. The UN also said that at least 399 Palestinians from seven communities had been forcibly displaced from their homes by settler violence, including three communities that were completely abandoned due to fear of settler attacks.
4. Many Israeli settlers are heavily armed religious fanatics who believe they have an exclusive Biblical right to all of Palestine/Israel.
- Many of the most extreme and violent settlers are messianic Jewish extremists who believe that all of the land in Palestine/Israel was given to them by God. Prominent right-wing settler rabbis on the government payroll routinely incite racism against Palestinians and have condoned the murder of Palestinians, including children. Following the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians by a settler in Hebron, Rabbi Dov Lior, who remains a highly influential figure among extremist settlers - including National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir - praised the murderer as “a holier martyr than all the holy martyrs of the Holocaust.”
5. Extremist settler groups receive millions of dollars annually in tax-deductible donations from U.S. registered charitable organizations.
- Groups like the New York-based Central Fund of Israel send millions of dollars in tax-deductible donations each year to many of the most dangerous and violent elements in the settler movement. Amongst others, they fund a group that provides legal and financial support to Jewish extremists who have been accused and convicted of murder and other violent attacks against Palestinians and liberal Israelis; and a religious school in a West Bank settlement where some of the most violent settlers live and whose heads published a book that condoned the murder of Palestinians, including children. The book read in part: “there is reason to harm children if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us.” It concluded that the injunction “Thou Shalt Not Murder” applies only “to a Jew who kills a Jew.”
- In May 2023, a New York state lawmaker introduced a bill entitled “Not on our dime!: Ending New York funding of Israeli settler violence” as part of an effort to stop New York-based registered 501(c)(3) organizations from subsidizing Israeli settlers and the crimes they commit against Palestinians.
6. All Israeli settlements are flagrantly illegal under international law and violate longstanding U.S. policy.
- Israel’s settlement enterprise is illegal under international law and has been repeatedly condemned as such by the UN Security Council, International Court of Justice, and human rights organizations. According to Amnesty International: “Israel’s policy of settling its civilians in occupied Palestinian territory and displacing the local population contravenes fundamental rules of international humanitarian law.”
- Israel’s settlement enterprise also violates long standing official U.S. policy and has severely undermined efforts by the U.S. and international community to make peace in the region based on the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the occupied territories as part of a “two-state solution.”