Obligation to Protect Palestinians in the West Bank from Settler Violence and Forced Displacement
On October 15, 2023, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Yesh Din, Haqel, and Bimkom appealed to the Israeli War Cabinet, the IDF Chief of Staff, and the Police Commissioner, insisting they order security forces to protect Palestinians in the West Bank from settler violence. Moreover, it demanded that the forces act to prevent the mass displacement of Palestinian shepherding communities spearheaded by settlers amidst the war.
On Saturday, October 7, 2023, Hamas launched a war on Israel by heinously attacking the civilian population. Over 1,300 women, men, and children were murdered. Hundreds of people, including women, elderly, and children, were abducted into the Gaza Strip, their fate still unknown. Thousands more civilians were injured and displaced from their homes. The extent of the horrific crimes committed against the civilian population continues to be exposed, revealing itself as an unprecedented and cruel attack, a violation of international law, a war crime, and a crime against humanity.
The acts and grave violations of international humanitarian law committed by Hamas and other terrorist organizations do not absolve the State of Israel from its responsibility to act in accordance with the law, to ensure the safety of Palestinian residents in the West Bank, and to protect them from acts of violence and reprisals.
During these times, there are those who take advantage of the lack of public and media attention on the West Bank and the preoccupation of law enforcement agencies with the war and the harrowing events to harm Palestinian residents of the West Bank in an unprecedented manner.
The level of violence against Palestinians in the West Bank since the outbreak of the war is unparalleled in both severity and scope. Settlers violence has already claimed the lives of several residents, displacing families and communities in the Jordan Valley, the South Hebron Hills, and the central West Bank.
Repeated appeals to military and police officials have proven to be counterproductive. We are witnessing the complete abandonment of Palestinian residents within the West Bank and the absence of their protection. Under the auspices of the war, there are large- scale violent expulsions of herding communities, raids on Palestinian villages, settler takeover and destruction of land and property, and bodily harm to the civilian population. These acts are frequently coupled with live ammunition, often with the explicit purpose of preventing Palestinian residents from attending olive harvests. These are all acts of aggression and vengeance, terrorizing the civilian population.
ACRI's joint appeal cited more than 80 incidents of violence, expulsion, property damage, restriction of movement, and threats between October 7 and 15, 2023. Among them were about 30 cases in which live ammunition was used, some of which resulted in the death and injury of Palestinians.
It is Israel's duty to safeguard Palestinian residents of the area under its direct control from all violence and threats while ensuring the protection of private property rights of the protected residents.
The expulsion of herding communities constitutes a forcible transfer prohibited under international law. This prohibition remains in effect whether civilians or the occupying power carry out such actions, and it applies when the occupying power neglects to protect these communities or provides direct or indirect support for the expulsion. Such expulsion is a flagrant violation of Article 49 of the Geneva Convention and constitutes a war crime.
ACRI, jointly with other Human Rights organizations, has appealed to the government, army, and police to take all measures to immediately stop the wave of violence and daily harm to Palestinian residents within the West Bank. The appeal demands that the expelled communities return to their homes, the protection of these civilians, and bring the perpetrators to justice.