Al-Haq is alarmed by the vicious conflagration of settler violence directed against the Palestinians in Hebron, and now in pockets of the rest of the OPT. Given the historical context of settler violence in Hebron, Al-Haq must warn that without immediate and direct action by the State of Israel and the international community to stop these current attacks, greater bloodshed may result.
In response to yesterday’s eviction of the Rajabi house in the old city of Hebron, ordered by the Israeli High Court of Justice on 16 November 2008, hundreds of extremist settlers from across the West Bank have flocked to the city and mounted violent attacks against the local population. Widespread stone throwing at Palestinians and other targets, including ambulances, and desecration of Palestinian homes, mosques, and gravestones, has now escalated into more severe and violent attacks, including shootings and serious physical abuse against the Palestinian residents of Hebron. At least four Palestinian homes and two Palestinian shops have been set ablaze, while emergency response vehicles such as fire trucks and ambulances have either been prevented access or attacked during attempts to reach the wounded. Livestock and agricultural lands have also been attacked and burned. Settlers throughout the West Bank have begun indiscriminately attacking Palestinian cars, burning olive trees and destroying agricultural lands.
Despite the fact that many of these Israeli settlers are well-armed and clearly willing to use unrestrained force, the Israeli Occupying Forces and Border Police have done little to protect the Palestinians, often standing by and watching while the settlers continue their increasingly violent rampage with near impunity. The area surrounding the Rajabi house was declared a closed military zone on Tuesday 2 December 2008, which increased the already extreme vulnerability of the local Palestinian population.
This is not an isolated incident. Ubiquitous tensions created by the existence of the illegal Israeli settlements in Hebron and the violent and antagonistic behaviour of the settler population have resulted in explosions of violence that have taken numerous Palestinian lives in the past. It is imperative that this current violence be stopped before such a devastating turn of events is allowed to occur again.
Members of the civilian population in the OPT qualify as "protected persons" under Article 4 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Accordingly, the settler violence directed against the Palestinian population in Hebron engages the international legal obligations of the State of Israel as defined in Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Under Article 27, Israel has a direct responsibility to protect Palestinians, "especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof."
Al-Haq therefore immediately calls upon the Israeli government to fulfil its international legal obligations and to employ all necessary measures to immediately halt the Israeli settlers attacks against the Palestinians in Hebron and the rest of the West Bank. Settlers engaged in such attacks must then be held accountable, to the full extent of Israeli law, for such violent acts. This, however, must only be the first step in a larger process of removing all illegal settlements from the OPT.
Al-Haq also urges the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions to fulfil their obligation under Common Article 1 to take urgent and concrete action to ensure that Israel abides by its legal responsibilities to protect the occupied population in the OPT.