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Al-Haq Calls for International Accountability Measures as Alarming Settler Attacks on Palestinians Leave Huwwara Properties Razed in Blistering Inferno
01، Mar 2023

Al-Haq vociferously asserts that the aggravated spate of settler attacks and calculated collective punishment of Palestinians and the destruction of civilian properties in Huwwara is a direct consequence of the international community’s inaction to take effective and meaningful measures to end Israel’s illegal occupation, and settler-colonial apartheid regime. Starting on Sunday, 26 February 2023, Israeli colonial settlers, illegally present in the occupied West Bank, conducted a series of arson attacks on Palestinian homes and private properties, including trees and cars, in an egregious systematic act of reprisal and collective punishment on Huwwara and other near-by Palestinian villages. The Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) facilitated the settler attack, effectively laying siege to Huwwara by closing off all the entrances of the town, in advance of the attack, permitting the entrance of hundreds of settlers by foot, and preventing the entry of medics and journalists. During Israeli colonial settler attacks against Palestinians in Huwwara, and other nearby villages, Sameh Aqtash, 37, was killed, a further two Palestinians were shot and wounded, another stabbed, and a fourth beaten with an iron bar, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. The IOF openly accompanied the marauding settler mob, attacking Palestinians with military grade tear gas, leaving 95 Palestinians suffocated from tear gas inhalation.

The same day, Davidi Ben Zion, Deputy Head of the Samaria Regional Council, published an incendiary call inciting the commission of war crimes and erasure of Huwwara ordering: “Huwwara needs to be wiped out today. Enough talk about building and strengthening the settlements. The deterrence that was lost must return now, there’s no room for mercy”. The tweet was liked by Bezalel Smotrich, the Israeli Finance Minister with responsibility for the freshly annexed portfolio for the Civil Administration and founder of the notorious settler organisation Regavim, known for its complicity in advancing Israel’s illegal, colonial settlement of the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT). On Monday, Israel’s ‘National Security’ Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, relayed to colonial settlers at the Evyatar colonial outpost that, “[o]ur enemies need to hear a message of settlement, but also one of crushing them one by one”. He warned against settler attacks, advising instead that, “[t]he government of Israel, the State of Israel, the IDF, the security forces – they are the ones who have to crush our enemies”.

On Sunday, at around 6:00 pm, stoked by malicious intent, approximately 500 Israeli colonial settlers, accompanied by the IOF, infiltrated Huwwara, setting fire to Palestinian homes, cars, and other properties, in a campaign which lasted for around eight hours. During the Israeli attack on Huwwara, the IOF fired tear gas canisters at Palestinians therein, with the Palestinian Ministry of Health recording 95 cases of suffocation among Palestinians. According to Al-Haq’s initial documentation, Israeli colonial settlers completely burned at least two Palestinian houses, seven businesses and shops, eight car workshops, and 40 vehicles, and smashed the windows of another 40 houses in Huwwara. Notably, three Palestinian ambulances and a civil defence vehicle were also targeted, attacked and stoned by Israeli colonial settlers, effectively preventing their access into Huwwara to provide medical aid to injured Palestinians and extinguish fires. Moreover, Huwwara was left inaccessible after the IOF arbitrarily rendered the area a closed military zone on Sunday for three days.  

Furthermore, at around 5:00 pm, around 50-70 Israeli colonial settlers infiltrated the village of ‘Asira al-Qibliyya, south of Nablus city, threw stones at Palestinian homes as well as a highly flammable material at the entrance of one of the houses, partially damaging the property. Furthermore, at around 9:00 pm on the same day, some 100 Israeli colonial settlers, accompanied with, and under the protection of the IOF, attacked Za’tara village, southern Nablus, and attacked Palestinians and their properties. A number of Palestinians gathered in front of their homes and properties, in an attempt to protect them from Israeli arson attacks. 37-year-old Sameh al-Aqtash was standing in front of his blacksmiths workshop at the entrance to the village, approximately 100 meters away from Israeli colonial settlers, when he was shot and injured in the abdomen. Sameh was then transferred, by his brother’s private vehicle to Zakat Beita Clinic, where doctors pronounced his death due to his serious injury.

The attack comes only days after Israel surreptitiously de facto annexed the entirety of the West Bank, incorporating the Civil Administration from the direction of the military commander under COGAT to the direct competence of an Israeli government ministry, effectively extending Israel’s sovereign authority over the administration of the OPT, and days after Israel’s High Planning Committee in the Civil Administration greenlighted the construction of 7,287 settlement units. Although 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2005, the scale of crimes committed by the IOF and colonial settlers since the beginning of 2023 suggests that it is set to be even worse. The year 2023, as of time of writing, has seen the killing of 65 Palestinians by the IOF and settlers, and has been met with predictable statements of neutered opprobrium from Third States, and the UN Security Council, which absent any meaningful commensurate sanctions, is effectively an international endorsement of the criminal status quo.

Al-Haq warns that attacks on civilians and civilian properties are in breach of sacrosanct principles of international humanitarian law, while the destruction of civilian property violates Article 46 of the Hague Regulations, Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and amounts to a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Meanwhile widespread or systematic attacks against the civilian population, including collective punishment measures, not only breach Article 50 of the Hague Regulations and Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibiting collective penalties, but also may amount to the crime against humanity of persecution incurring individual criminal liability. In light of the rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground, Al-Haq reiterates the need for urgent, effective, and meaningful accountability measures to ensure an end to Israel’s unlawfully-enjoyed culture of impunity, illegal occupation, and settler-colonial apartheid regime, and the realisation of the Palestinian people to their right to self-determination. Specifically, Al-Haq calls on:

  1. The Palestinian Authority to discontinue all self-flagellating “security coordination” with Israel, including the new United States-Israel led initiative;
  2. Third States, regional organisations, and the UN Security Council to match statements of condemnation with arms embargoes, economic sanctions and countermeasures against Israel; and targeted individual sanctions against Israeli settlers and Israeli settler organisations;
  3. Third State parties to the International Arms Trade Treaty, to examine and cease the trade and export to Israel of arms used in breach of international law;
  4. Third States to take steps to implement domestic legislation to prohibit the import of settlement goods and services into their jurisdictions, as products fuelling and incentivising the ongoing violence against the protected Palestinian population;
  5. Third States to revoke immediately any charitable status conferred on profiteering settler organisations domiciled in their jurisdictions, and operating in violation of international law, such as Regavim;
  6. Financial institutions to conduct enhanced human rights due diligence – including through human rights impact assessments – at all stages of the decision-making process, on all business relationships with enterprises that are in the financial institution’s lending, underwriting, and investment portfolios and which are known to be involved in activities linked to illegal Israeli settlements in the OPT;
  7. Business enterprises to responsibly cease all activities and relationships with, as well as responsibly disengage from, illegal Israeli settlements, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, OECD Guidelines, and all relevant responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law.
  8. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to expedite, without delay, the investigation into the Situation in Palestine, and to operationalise the plans announced at the Assembly of States Parties in December, for the investigation team to visit the OPT in 2023; and Third States to provide full cooperation to facilitate the coordination of the visit;
  9. Third States to prosecute nationals or persons present in their jurisdiction, who are identified as perpetrators of international crimes in the OPT;
  10. Third States to intervene in support of the State of Palestine at the International Court of Justice, to submit on the illegality of Israel’s settlements, de facto and de jure annexations, and prolonged indefinite occupation and settler-colonial apartheid regime in breach of the right of self-determination, a peremptory norm of international law, as together amounting to an illegal occupation of the Palestinian territory; and
  11. Third States and the international community to intervene to immediately and unconditionally bring to an end Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territory and dismantle Israel’s settler colonial apartheid regime, ensuring that the exercise of the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people as a whole, is fulfilled.