BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- New data unveiled by Israeli NGO Yesh Din on Monday revealed that Israeli authorities have served indictments in less than 10 percent of cases of Israeli settlers committing anti-Palestinian crimes in the occupied West Bank in the past three years.
The establishment of an Israeli police “nationalistic crime unit” in the occupied Palestinian territory in 2013 intended to specifically handle “ideologically motivated crimes” in the West Bank only led to an 0.2 percent increase in indictments.
“The miserable results of this department after four years raise concerns that its opening was only performed for appearance’s sake and was not meant to truly address ideologically motivated crime against Palestinians in the West Bank,” Yesh Din information coordinator told Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Monday
Of the 289 investigations monitored by Yesh Din during the three-year time frame, 47 percent were attacks on Palestinian property through theft, damage, or arson, while 34 percent were physical assaults or threats of assault against Palestinians.
Of those 289 files, prosecutors had reached a final decision in 245, of which only 20 saw investigation files opened. According to Yesh Din, 225 cases -- 91.8 percent of the concluded files -- were closed without an indictment.
The main reasons cited by prosecutors for closing cases without formal charges were listed by Yesh Din as “offender unknown,” “insufficient evidence,” “absence of criminal culpability,” and “lack of public interest” -- justifications which Yesh Din legally challenged in a number of cases.
Yesh Din said that it had begun monitoring police response to such crimes in order to assess “the degree to which Israel complies with its obligation to protect residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
“Although the offenses are perpetrated by private individuals, the end result is systemic criminal activity meant to terrorize Palestinians in order to drive them off their lands, and help expand the settlement enterprise,” the organization wrote in its report. “Ideologically motivated crime adds to the restrictions the military regime imposes on Palestinians in the West Bank, and contributes to their dispossession.”
Looking more specifically at the year 2015, Yesh Din found “stark differences” between the outcome of cases when Israeli civilians committed “nationalistic crimes” against Palestinians and those where the victims were not Palestinian, with only 4.5 percent of cases yielding indictments in the former compared to a 28.8 percent likelihood of indictment in the latter cases.
“The fact that the law enforcement authorities manage to put suspects on trial for nationalist crimes when the victims are not Palestinians demonstrates that these figures are not inevitable, but rather a product of policy,” Yesh Din wrote.
As a result of Israeli police’s failure to properly investigate and punish attacks on Palestinians and their property, Yesh Din estimated that a third of Palestinian victims decided not to file a complaint with Israeli security forces.
The main reasons cited by Palestinians for not seeking legal recourse were cited by Yesh Din as “mistrust of Israeli law enforcement,” as well as “fear that filing the complaint would bring harm to themselves or to their families,” either as retaliation from settlers or punitive measures from Israeli authorities.
“These reasons indicate that Palestinians’ disinclination toward complaining to the police is influenced both by the actual failure of the police to investigate crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians, and by systemic factors connected to the fact that the system placed to enforce the law on Israeli civilians in the West Bank, including the Israel police, is not merely a law enforcement system, but part of the apparatus of Israeli control over the West Bank -- part of the occupation,” Yesh Din wrote.
Denying the results of the report, which was based on data obtained by Yesh Din from the police, Israeli police told Haaretz that it enforced law “with equality and without bias,” and accused the NGO of “distorting reality.”
Many Palestinian activists and rights groups have accused Israel of fostering a “culture of impunity”
for Israeli settlers and soldiers committing violent acts against Palestinians.
Attacks by settlers are often carried out under the armed protection of Israeli forces, who rarely make efforts to protect Palestinians from such attacks.
Between 500,000 and 600,000 Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements across occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank in violation of international law, with announcements of settlement expansion earlier this year sparking condemnation from the international community.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there were a total of 107 reported settler attacks against Palestinians and their properties in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem in 2016.