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Obligations to combat settler violence under the domestic law of Third Party States

January 24, 2014 at 3:16 am

Third Party States have obligations under international law and their own domestic laws to investigate entities within their jurisdictions that are lending support to violent settler groups in the Occupied Territories, according to a new report by Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq.

As internationally deemed illegal settlements have mushroomed across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, attacks against Palestinians perpetrated by some of the 520,000 settlers have only increased.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the number of settler attacks resulting in Palestinian casualties and property damage has increased by 32 percent in 2011 compared to 2010, and by over 144 percent compared to 2009.

As settler violence is considered an organized crime, Third Party States must ensure that support, financial or otherwise, coming from within their borders and going towards settler violence is investigated and tackled.

“States should investigate groups and individuals that lend support to violent settler groups, or settlements known for their involvement in settler violence, both of which could be held liable for committing offences under the domestic laws on organized crime and financing of acts of terror,” said an Al-Haq legal advisor.

This comes in response to suspicions raised with regard to support being given to settler groups and settlements from associations and individuals in France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.

For example, in September 2011, the French Defense League, a private group in France, sent its members to conduct military trainings for Israeli settlers. JNF UK, a registered charity in the UK, funds a project called “The New Guardians” or the HaShomer HaChadash which functions as a as a vigilante police force. According to the site, “A lack of adequate law-enforcement in some of the more isolated areas has left communities vulnerable to attack from criminal elements.” While the project has been focused in the Negev and Galilee area, the group illegally entered Palestinian land in the South Hebron Hills.

The report also highlights how many States, such as France and the UK, have domestic legal provisions regarding the suppression of financing terrorism that make them obliged to investigate and tackle organizations, such as the FDL in France and the JNF UK in the UK. The UK’s Terrorism Act 2000 states it is an offence to collect, contribute, receive, use, or possess money or property that is likely to be used for the purposes of terrorism, are the proceeds of acts of terrorism or the proceeds of acts carried out for the purposes of terrorism.

Settler violence has been described as a form of terrorism from the highest echelons of the Israeli government. Minister of Defence, Ehud Barak, amongst others, stated that perpetrators of ‘Price Tag’ attacks are acting “like a terror organization” and Major General Nizan Alon called the activities acts of “terror.”

Some States have already enacted ‘anti-terror’ laws as part of their transnational organized crime laws.

Third Party States are also obligated to deal with groups such as the FDL and JNF UK under the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.

The phenomenon of “price tagging,” attacks against Palestinians and their property as a response to Israeli government decisions that negatively affect settler interests, falls squarely under the 1999 Convention.

Article 2 of the Convention is particularly relevant to the pressure “price tagging” aims to assert on the Israeli government and the fear it intentionally arouses in the Palestinian population; “Any other act intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.”

The Convention requires States to not only criminalise the act of financing groups that engage in the activities outlined above in their domestic laws, but also to make those offences punishable by appropriate penalties.

This Convention has been transposed into national legislation in many of the 106 State parties.

The report also recommends that in addition to combating support for organized crime within their jurisdictions, Third States should consider taking risk-aversive restrictive measures against settlers and settler groups involved in violent crimes, such as travel restrictions and visa bans.

Under international law the building of settlements is in itself illegal. In addition, any act of violence perpetrated by residents of settlements that is not investigated efficiently by the Israeli police is also a breach of Israel’s international legal obligations.

It is the responsibility of Israel, as an Occupying Power, to protect the citizens of the territories they occupy. Not to mention that the failure of Israel to combat such crimes leads to severe restrictions on the Palestinians people’s rights, violating human rights law.

Even within its own domestic laws, Israel is obligated to combat settler violence, according to Al-Haq’s report. The settlers, despite living in the West Bank, are subject to the domestic laws of Israel.

As settler violence is often encouraged by public figures, the state of Israel should use the strong legal provisions it has against incitement to violence to tackle the issue. Particularly as this legislation has been enforced strictly against groups and individuals engaging in acts of incitement against Jews.

Rabbi Elieser Melamed, the mayor of ‘Bracha’ settlement near Nablus publically supported ‘Price Tag’ attacks. Referring to the violent settler group “Hilltop Youth” he called to “praise the dear youths of the hilltops who devote their lives to the settlement of the land.” Instead of using the anti-incitement laws to stop instances such as this one, there have been moves from members of the parliament to enact a bill shielding Rabbis from incitement charges.

Despite the entire legal framework, from International law to Israel’s domestic laws, providing obligations and apt provisions to deal with settler violence, the Israeli authorities have failed to effectively combat it.

Out of the hundreds of attacks on Palestinians and their property, only 8.5% of the complaints raised actually lead to an indictment.

These are just the statistics on attacks which have been reported. Many victims do not even reach the stage of placing a complaint due to a deliberate number of hurdles Palestinians must pass in order to do so. To place a complaint, most of the time a Palestinian will need to go to a police station inside one of the settlements, and in order to enter they must be granted a permit. If a complaint is raised, it is highly unlikely it will lead to an effective remedy, and more likely that retaliation attacks will take place.

In the report Al-Haq calls upon Israel to effectively combat settler violence and also calls upon Third Party States, particularly EU Member States, to use their domestic legislation and their obligations under international law to tackle settler violence.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.