Report Release: When Settlers Attack


Video and Edited Transcript
Mr. Yousef Munayyer 
Transcript No. 361 (14 February 2012)


14 February 2012
The Palestine Center
Washington, DC

Mr. Yousef Munayyer:

Welcome everyone. Thank you for coming to our event today. On behalf of our Board of Directors here at the Jerusalem Fund, I’d like to welcome you to the release of our report When Settlers Attack. Before I jump into our presentation today, I want to note that those watching online can send in your questions if you have any once we get into the question and answer period, or comment via Facebook, our live-stream page or via Twitter by tagging @PalestineCenter. We’ll do our best to address any of the questions that you have.

Just a little bit of background about this particular report and this topic. Some of you who have been at Palestine Center events on settler violence before will know that this is an issue that we’ve been working on for some time now.

This is the third event that we have done on settler violence. In the past, once we had begun putting together a database on settler violence, we had done some preliminary events, and at the end of our last event we had promised that we were putting forward a comprehensive report on Israeli settler violence. And I am happy to say that that is why we are here today – to release this report and its findings and to address any questions; and hopefully to advance the discussion on Israeli settler violence and help those who formulate policy in finding ways to help prevent it.

Let’s just get started now. [Slide] This image that you see is on the cover of the report. The report, by the way, is being sent out electronically and is probably available right now online so that it can be downloaded later and read in its entirety. It’s very heavy on information and numbers and so what I’m going to go over today is sort of an overview of what the report includes.

So, I’m going to be talking today about the data, some of the trends that we saw, why we believe, from looking at this, settler violence happens, and how we tested different explanations for settler violence. We’re also going to talk a little bit about the price tag narrative and then talk about the appendix and some of the data included in the appendix in our report.

So the data we used comes from a few different sources. Primarily, the data comes from something called the Palestine Monitoring Group, which is a collection of civil society and security agencies within the Palestinian Authority’s Negotiations Support Unit. We used this data for keeping track of events – of Palestinian violence and settler violence – primarily because it was the best available daily data on events. When looking at this issue, we wanted to understand settler violence at a very nuanced, very detailed level, and so we wanted data on a day-to-day basis, but also on a very nuanced scale when it comes to location. We wanted to know which villages and which settlements were most involved. We didn’t want some broader aggregate data but we wanted something specific that we could then look at very carefully and so the data from the reports of the Palestine Monitoring Group was most useful for that. We also quoted media roundups from the Foundation for Middle East Peace to put together variables that I will discuss later. Also, the report includes a section showing areas where settler violence occur superimposed on a map that was produced by B’Tselem in the past that I found to be the best when looking at the contrasts between Areas A, B and C. And that’s something that we will discuss further as well.

So the numbers that we have and the events that we have are events coded from September of 2004 to December of 2011. So we really coded everything that we had available. These reports began in terms of being written and being available on a daily basis in September of 2004, so we collected everything that we possibly could to look at settler violence over this period. And, we stopped for this report at the end of December 2011 to kind of round out the year, but we continue to record up- to-date instances of settler violence and so on, so we can expand the database. This report covers September 2004 to December 2011.

The database contains over 10,000 events, including 3,700 instances of settler violence. And so, when we look at all this information, we are able to identify three really important trends, and these are trends that are highlighted within the report. I’m going to go through them individually. The first is the general trend over time, the second is a geographic trend and the third is trends that we see in tactics that are being used. When we look at the general trend over time, there is one thing that is very, very obvious and that is that it continues to increase year after year, particularly since 2006 onward, where we see really a dramatic spike. And this is an absolute number of events year after year.

Last year, in April, we had an event on settler violence where we were able to look at data only up to the first couple of months of 2011; and from that point, we had said that it seems that 2011 was going to be the most violent year on record as far as settler violence is concerned. And it turns out that even though we only had two years of data, those trends continued, and proved to be correct. We saw a 39 percent increase in the number of settler violence incidents from 2010 to 2011 and importantly here, a 315 percent increase from 2007 to 2011. So, over that five year period, we saw a very significant increase in settler violence. Interestingly, over that same five year period, the past five years, we see something like a 95 percent decrease in Palestinian violence in the West Bank. And so that is important information to note when we talk about why settler violence happens and we will be getting to that later on as well.

The second trend that we notice is a geographic trend. In the past, all documentation of settler violence that we’ve seen, particularly prior to 2009, situated settler violence primarily within the southern half of the West Bank much of it happening in the city of Hebron. What’s unique about the city of Hebron is it’s one of the only areas outside of Jerusalem of course, in the West Bank, where you have settlers literally living inside of a Palestinian city. And, so the opportunities for settler violence were clearly greater in those areas, and we have seen in the past settler violence happening predominantly there more than any other governorate.

That is no longer the case. In fact, we have noticed a trend of settler violence shifting north, with Nablus now overtaking Hebron as the governorate that sees the largest portion of settler violence, even though we still see of course far too much settler violence in Hebron. We are seeing more now in Nablus than before, and the trends in other northern districts like Qalqilya, like Tulkaram and Salfit and so on, are also on the rise. [Slide] This chart just shows you two polynomials that graph the trends of Nablus and Hebron over the span of our database. You can see that while of course Hebron continues to be very significant, it has tapered off while attacks in Nablus are on a consistent rise. So these are the sorts of geographic trends that we are seeing.

The third trend that I’d like to talk about is trends in tactics. Some of these are a little bit less pronounced than the other trends, but nonetheless apparent. Two that I want to highlight in particular are instances of arson, which were 6 percent in 2005 and have nearly doubled to 11 percent of all settler violence attacks in 2011. Stone-throwing is also up from 20 percent in 2005 to 32 percent in 2011. Again this is the attack type as a proportion of total attacks. So in terms of tactics, we can say that settlers are using arson now more often than they used to as a form of violence against Palestinian civilians. This chart gives you a break down of the top incident types. There’s stone-throwing, arson, destruction of property, vehicular attacks, shooting, physical attacks and then the 25 percent remainder is a variety of other different types of methods that we grouped together under ‘miscellaneous’. All of this information is included in detail in the report.

And so why does settler violence happen? This is one of the important questions that we hoped to try to answer once we collected this data. And there are three explanations for why settler violence happens and they fall under two categories. One is a category of responsorial explanations, and the other is a category of structural explanations. As far as the responsorial category goes, there are two ideas that explain why settler violence happens. The first one is that settler violence is a response to Israeli government actions. This is something we often hear reported about particularly as of late in the media, if the Israeli government dismantles an outpost or prevents settlers from taking over a house, or takes some sort of step which is adverse to the ideology of settlers, that settlers respond by putting a price on these actions, trying to create a price for the Israeli government, by using violence against Palestinian civilians. This is often called price-tag violence. That is one responsorial explanation. The other is that settler violence is a response to Palestinian violence. Settlers see an act of Palestinian violence and feel the need to respond by using violence against Palestinian civilians. At the structural end of the explanations, there’s the idea that settler violence is a product of demographics and security arrangements, which is something that is constant and not necessarily a response to sporadic events.

So what we wanted to do was test the various explanations to the extent that we could using the data that we collected. We did this by coding different variables for Israeli government actions. We actually divided these into two categories: Israeli government announcements, which were basically any time that the Israeli cabinet, Israeli Knesset or Supreme Court made an announcement or decision that is adverse to settler ideology, whether it is the announcement of a dismantlement of an outpost, or what have you. And we coded a separate variable for Israeli government executions which would be the actual dismantlement of those outposts; the actual carrying out of the orders announced by the different facets of the government. We also coded Palestinian violence. We coded Palestinian violence in the West Bank, and we coded Palestinian violence in Gaza or emanating from Gaza, the vast majority of which were rocket attacks, to understand how these things interact with settler violence or whether or not they are involved in making settler violence go up or down in any way.

What we found, which was really interesting, is that Palestinian violence has a significant relationship with settler violence but it’s actually a negative one. And what that tells us is when Palestinian violence goes up, settler violence actually goes down. And that’s a relationship that proved to be statistically significant over 369 different cases. That is an interesting fact that warrants further investigation, but one initial hunch in that direction is that after an instance of Palestinian violence, for example, settlers may be told by the military administration, the occupation, the Israeli army to stay in their houses, to not respond, because the response is coming from the Israeli army. So it’s not that there is not, of course, an Israeli response, but that response is coming from the army or what other policing authorities there are in the West Bank, and are not coming from the settlers.

However when we look at Israeli government actions, particularly Israeli government executions, they have a significant and positive relationship with settler violence. So to an extent the price tag theory proves to be the one that is most supported by the evidence that we have in the report. The problem is that the models that we have created using these different variables leave a lot to be desired because there’s still very much variation in settler violence that exists outside the cases where you have these different variables taking place. It’s only in 15 percent of the different weeks that we look at where you have instances of Israeli government executions taking place. Outside of that, we still see a tremendous amount of settler violence and a tremendous amount of variation. So even though Israeli government executions do lead to increases in settler violence, it really explains a very small portion of the overall phenomenon. Something else is going on.

To try to test the other explanation, the structural explanation, we turn now to mapping the violence by looking at the data that we have for settler attacks, which settlements attack which villages and then superimposing that on maps of the West Bank that also show us security jurisdiction in Areas A, B and C. So, we look at each governorate and by doing this what you’re able to see over a number of different cases is that settlers–and [slide] this is a really good example that I’ve included here; I’ve only included one in this presentation, but there’s a map like this for every single governorate included in the actual report–what you see is that settlers are not just attacking Palestinian targets, but the location of these Palestinian targets matters. [Slide] Take, for example, the settlement of Bracha which is located right here. The arrows that you see show you the directions in which they are most commonly attacking the Palestinian villages that they predominately target, which is the village of Iraq Burin and Burin down here. And what we see is even though the settlement of Bracha is located much closer to the city of Nablus, the outskirts of which begin right here, where there is a plethora of Palestinian targets for them to attack, they opt overwhelmingly to travel to villages further away but in a different security jurisdiction to carry out these attacks. So, Nablus, which is the city here in the dark blue, is located in this security perimeter in this color here, which is Area A. This is an area where Palestinians are in charge of security jurisdiction. If a settler enters into Area A–and this happens sometimes, for example, to visit Joseph’s Tomb which is in the Area A around Nablus–those have to be coordinated with Palestinian security. If they’re not, settlers are subject to either arrest or some other use of deterrent force, like getting shot at, or getting beaten or being forcibly arrested or what have you. So that deterrent matters. That deterrent exists in Area A. It does not exist in Area B and it certainly does not exist in Area C, where the Israelis have security jurisdiction. And what we have found is that 90 percent of all Palestinian villages which have been attacked multiple times, 90 percent of them are in areas under Israeli security jurisdiction, either Area B or Area C.

So what this really tells us is that these attacks are happening because there is nothing preventing them from happening in the vast majority of cases. And this is largely because the Israelis, which are the authority that is supposed to be protecting Palestinian civilians in the areas where they have security jurisdiction, are not.  There is a reason why, and I’m going to just return to this image here on the front, there’s a reason why we included this picture here, as the cover image for our report. I feel it really appropriately captures the main reason behind setter violence.

[Slide] What you’re looking at here is the Palestinian village of Arif, which is in the governorate of Nablus on the map that I just showed you, and we’ll go back to that. The angle at which you’re looking at it this picture is actually taken from the nearby settlement of Yitzhar. It is 3,500 feet away, and there is absolutely nothing preventing settlers from Yitzhar to walk right up to the Palestinian village, light things on fire, commit acts of violence, throw stones, what have you.  And so that proximity and the lack of deterrent is what enables settlers to carry out the attacks on such a regular basis on this village. Whereas if you are a Palestinian villager from Arif, you can not walk up to the settlement of Yitzhar without meeting a security perimeter and security guards which are present around every Israeli settlement. Given that there’s that constant void of deterrence, you can easily understand why a settler can walk down the hill, and carry out whatever act that they want. If the Israeli authorities respond at all to these events, if they respond to it in a proper manner, it is almost always far too late. And we often find that when they do respond they respond by intervening on behalf of the settlers. And so there has been plenty that has been written about the problems within the Israeli civil administration, the army’s response to violence against Palestinian civilians and about the failures to respond and the way the command structure prevents the Israeli military from protecting Palestinian civilians and actually compels them to protect Israeli settlers. Some of that is referenced in our report as well.


[Slide] So, I’ll go back here and just show you again, Yitzhar, the settlement from which the village of Arif, right here, is the picture at the beginning of the presentation. So you can see that particularly this settlement, this is another important point, even though it is surrounded by Palestinian villages, in every direction, which outnumber it in terms of population, which outflank it of course from every direction, which in any reasonable strategic context should not be falling victim to this settlement, are on a constant basis to these attacks particularly because this is fortified due to security jurisdiction. They are literally sitting ducks.

And so we wanted to also note that the price tag narrative which we hear often about in the media, particularly in recent years as the number of price tag events have increased, as the targets of price tag events have become, and the attacks themselves have become, more sensational with the arson attacks against mosques, with the calling cards left using graffiti, with even attacks against IDF [Israel Defense Forces] bases and Israeli activists in the West Bank, we hear a lot about price tag violence but it is improperly described more often than not as really the key motivator the key enabler of settler violence. That’s not the case. The case continues to be that settlers are exploiting the immunity, the impunity that they have and the immunity that they have by attacking in areas under Israeli security jurisdiction.

Finally, just a note on what’s included in the final section of our report, which is the appendix. It is a very large appendix because we wanted to put a lot of detail in there. We have a detailed list of notable settler violence events just in 2011. It includes a number of different pages of detailed events chronologically, to give the reader a flavor of how often these attacks occur. In fact, in 2011 we found an average of 2.7 attacks per day, where they occur and the extent to which they impede on the livelihood of Palestinian civilians. We also have a table there breaking down the data analysis which explains the different coefficients and so on of the variables that we tested. We have a list of the most dangerous settlements, which villages they are most often targeting and what different tactics these settlers from these settlements opt to use, and we have a list of the most vulnerable Palestinian villages.

We close our report by making a number of different recommendations to different parties, including the Israeli government, the U.S. government, the Palestinian Authority and also to journalists which are covering these events. We know what the most dangerous settlements are. We know which are the most vulnerable villages. And we also know that the vast majority of settler violence occurs not as a response to different events, but a failure to proactively prevent these events. Palestinian villages are vulnerable and are not being protected, and there is no deterrent for Israeli settlers which commit violence against the Palestinian civilians and their property.

And so, I think I will close there. At this point, I’m happy to take any questions that you have about the report or anything that I presented here or any other aspect of settler violence.

Thank you.

Mr. Yousef Munayyer is Executive Director of The Jerusalem Fund and its educational program, The Palestine Center.

This transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Center. The speaker’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund.