World Bulletin/News Desk
The annual rate of Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians has almost quadrupled in eight years, U.N. figures show, buttressing claims that Israeli security forces have largely failed to stem the so-called "price tag" campaign in which thugs cut down trees, deface mosques and beat Palestinian farmers.
"Price tag" refers to settler attacks on Palestinians in response to army actions against any of dozens of West Bank settlement outposts.
Last week 20 Israelis moved toward Palestinian villages, including Qusra, when troops uprooted olive trees planted on private Palestinian land by settlers from the Esh Kodesh outpost.
Palestinians said the settlers damaged olive trees, and were caught by villagers after a stone-throwing clash and held by them for more than two hours before being handed to the army.
Footage of the settlers surrounded by an angry crowd led the TV news in Israel that day, with commentators saying serious bloodshed was averted by Palestinians who shielded the settlers.
Residents of a village in the area reported that the door of a mosque was set on fire and some of the carpet was burned. Graffiti read, "Blood for blood, Qusra." Settlers have damaged hundreds of trees in Qusra, killed 18 sheep, torched six cars and set fire to a mosque in dozens of attacks. The village has lost half its lands to settlements.
Israeli soldiers either stand by during settler attacks or fire tear gas, rubber bullets and occasionally live rounds at Palestinians if the attacks escalate into stone-throwing clashes. A Qusra man was killed by army fire and dozens were wounded by settlers and soldiers, he said.
Palestinians say "price tag" is part of Israel's policy of cementing control over the West Bank. Israel has been providing practical support for outposts even though they were set up without formal government permission.
Indictments were only filed in 8.5 percent of 825 completed police investigations monitored by the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din. In most cases, investigators failed to locate suspects or collect enough evidence, Yesh Din said.
In Qusra and two neighboring villages, residents filed 21 police complaints between 2011 and 2013, but none led to indictments so far, said Yesh Din. Twelve cases were closed, including a February shooting in which 28-year-old Hilmi Hassan was seriously wounded in a confrontation with settlers.
Yesh Din said police were given photos of Israeli civilians who participated in the incident.
10 Palestinians were killed by settlers
There have been 2,100 such attacks since 2006, the year the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) started counting. The annual totals are up from 115 in 2006 to 399 in 2013.
In the past eight years, 10 Palestinians were killed by settlers, and 29 settlers were killed by Palestinians, according to OCHA figures. More than 1,700 Palestinians were injured by settlers or by troops in clashes, while 324 settlers and 37 soldiers were hurt by Palestinians in confrontations.
Some settlers devised price tag to deter Israeli authorities from taking down more settlements, particularly the outposts that are home to "hilltop youth," the most fanatic among the settlers.
Since then, settlers have routinely attacked Palestinian villages whenever the army moves against an outpost. Vandals have broadened their targets to churches, mosques and dovish groups in Israel, as well as Israeli military bases.
Settler leaders portray the vandals as hotheads, but security officers said in a report that the groups are organized, even if there is no apparent central leadership.
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