Unsurprisingly, attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians have increased during the first three months of 2021. UN human rights experts and rapporteurs have documented more than 210 settler attacks in the first three months of this year, indicating a possible increase when compared with the 771 instances of settler violence recorded by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in 2020.
Israel, of course, will not do anything to prevent such attacks from happening, let alone prosecute the perpetrators, no matter what the UN recommends. The compromised organisation, which facilitated settler-colonisation in Palestine, has little say when it comes to upholding international law. Settler attacks work where the government policy of dispossessing the Palestinians feels it is best to take a step back and allow the violence it has nurtured within society to play a role. After all, settlers need the colonial enterprise just as much as Israel needs settler violence to sustain its illegal occupation agenda.
According to the report in question, “Besides the presence and expansion of Israeli settlements, which are intended to establish illegal claims for Israeli sovereignty, settler violence is meant to make the daily lives of Palestinians untenable.” Perhaps the most striking observation is the acknowledgement that there are no limits on who the illegal settlers target. Settler violence is primarily associated with crimes relating to the destruction of agricultural land, yet the report notes that pregnant women, the elderly and children are also being attacked regularly. “The pattern2 of attacks, particularly by violent and ideologically motivated settlers, consistently confirms that the boundaries of attacks on all categories of Palestinians is being erased.”Despite this, the UN still treats settler violence as an isolated phenomenon, away from the workings of the Zionist colonial enterprise. It calls upon Israel as the occupying power to fulfil its duty in terms of protecting the Palestinians, but knows full well that Israel will not substitute violence for protection as this will jeopardise its colonial expansion. So why are UN officials “deeply worried by the atmosphere of impunity in which these attacks are taking place,” when the UN itself has contributed to Israel’s untouchable status? And how will “calling upon the international community” help Palestinians when the international community’s primary concern is Israel’s protection?
With a simplistic approach to a detailed report, the UN rapporteurs know full well that recommendations do not work, not only due to Israel’s belligerence, but also because the international community is too entrenched in its relations with the occupation state to oppose it. Hence the refusal to acknowledge the harm that the suspended annexation plans have inflicted upon the Palestinian population, for example, and how annexation ties in to settler violence.
But why disrupt the fragile illusion which UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres sought to portray when he endorsed the normalisation agreements that are now a focal point of US policy? Settler violence will increase of course, as will Israel’s impunity and the international community’s refusal to act. There is a limit as to how effective reporting on settler violence can be, especially if the same reports fail to at least mention the bigger picture which is behind and endorsing Israeli impunity.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.