Palestinians see little solace in Western sanctions against some settlers

By Thomson Reuters Feb 13, 2024 | 9:03 AM

By Ali Sawafta

ASIRA AL-QIBILIYA, West Bank (Reuters) – U.S., British and French sanctions against some Jewish settlers accused of political violence have brought little solace to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank who say such attacks persist, with Israeli security forces standing by or joining in.

In one hilltop village, a torched car and a scorched terrace of a home told of what residents described as an attack on Monday evening involving 20 to 30 men from a nearby settlement.

The Israeli army described the incident in Asira al-Qibiliya as a “riot” by Palestinians and settlers, during which troops shot rock-throwers. Two Palestinians suffered gunshot wounds. There was no word of casualties or arrests among the settlers, though the army acknowledged some of the latter had set fires.

“We thought that the army would push them (settlers) away but we were surprised to see them coming in droves,” villager Abdul Basiti Abdul Rahman told Reuters. “It lasted two hours.”

He said the incident began with settlers throwing a Molotov cocktail at the car and, once confronted by local Palestinians, circling the village to firebomb a home. Violent confrontations between villagers and settlers ensued, he said.

While backing Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, some Western countries have stepped up scrutiny of settlements they deem illegal and an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Israel disputes this. It also opposes calls for a Palestinian state.

France on Tuesday said it would bar 28 people over settler violence. Britain on Monday sanctioned four settlers over conduct it characterised as “threatening Palestinians, often at gunpoint, and forcing them off land that is rightfully theirs”. Washington announced similar Feb 1 moves against four settlers.

Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian Mission in London, said on the X social media platform that the British measure was long overdue but a welcome step in the right direction.

“However all settlements are illegal and all settlers should be treated accordingly. All settlement products and companies profiting from them must be sanctioned,” he added.

Speaking before the French announcement, Abdul Rahman said he had little hope of the sanctions changing settler behaviour.

“The (British) decision happened yesterday and also yesterday they came at us, as if they don’t care about anyone. They don’t care, and of course (they act) with the help of the army. The army doesn’t do anything,” he said.

Though the Israeli banking sector appeared to be heeding the U.S. sanctions, the country’s rightist government has bridled at them, describing the vast majority of settlers as law-abiding.

The far-right minister for police, Itamar Ben-Gvir, accused London of “grave moral confusion”, saying one of the settlers it blacklisted was wounded while fighting as a soldier in Gaza.

That war, sparked by a cross-border Hamas killing and kidnapping spree on Oct 7, has stoked a surge of lethal violence in the West Bank – including, Palestinians say, by settlers. Israel says it is trying to stem Hamas attacks in the West Bank.

B’Tselem, an Israeli group that monitors human rights among Palestinians, said settler violence had diminished recently.

“But what we see on the ground now are less overt attacks like the one last night and more concerted efforts by settlers, together with other branches of the Israeli government, to impose restrictions, fines and other hardships on Palestinians, like confiscating their herds and preventing them from grazing on vast areas of the West Bank,” said a B’Tselem spokeswoman.

Israel says it acts against illicit land use. Palestinians say they are discriminated against in such measures, note that settlements are often expanded without government licence – and say the Israelis should not control the land in the first place.

(Editing by William Maclean)