Washington, DC, May 22 -- The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) expressed deep alarm about a video released by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem that shows a group of armed settlers opening fire on Palestinian protesters in the occupied West Bank. Settlers, some of them masked and armed, reportedly entered the village of Asira al-Qibliya, near Nablus, on Saturday and began a confrontation by throwing rocks at the villagers. The Palestinians responded by throwing stones back at the settlers. The footage demonstrates that after Israeli occupation forces arrived on the scene, settlers were firing on the villagers with live ammunition. Apparently the Israeli soldiers did nothing to try to prevent this. One villager, Nimir Fathi, aged 24, was shot in the neck and another was hit in the face with a rock.
B'Tselem said the video raises "grave suspicions that the soldiers present did not act to prevent the settlers from throwing stones and firing live ammunition at the Palestinians ... and in fact are seen standing by settlers while they are shooting and stone throwing.” The group added that one of the settlers used a "Tavor” rifle, which is reserved for Israeli infantry troops, raising suspicions that one of the assailants might have been a soldier on leave, and that another of the armed settlers was wearing a police cap. B'Tselem called on the military to investigate the "suspicion that the soldiers did not adhere to their obligation to protect Palestinians from settler violence."
ATFP noted that, as the occupying power, Israel is responsible for protecting Palestinian civilians from attacks by settlers, which is an increasing and highly destabilizing phenomenon. The UN has estimated that settler attacks increased by 50 percent in 2011. Another Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din, has estimated that nine out of 10 investigations into these violent incidents fail to result in any prosecutions.
ATFP called on the Israeli government to investigate this incident and move urgently and decisively to suppress violent attacks against Palestinian villagers by settlers. The Task Force also urged the United States government to use its good offices to ensure that Israel fulfills its responsibility to protect the Palestinian population living under occupation.
ATFP President Ziad J. Asali said, “Such attacks are intolerable and totally unacceptable. The Israeli military and civil administration in the occupied territories has a clear moral and legal responsibility to prevent them. The footage suggests this responsibility was being disregarded by the soldiers at the scene of the incident. The images of Israeli soldiers standing side-by-side with armed settlers as they open fire on Palestinian villagers could not be more damaging to Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, the atmosphere on the ground and the prospects for maintaining law and order. It is imperative that such behavior on the part of occupation forces not be repeated and that the Israeli authorities move quickly and decisively to curb settler violence and bring its perpetrators to justice. It is strongly in Israel's own interests, as well as the basic human rights of the Palestinian people, for settler violence to be suppressed, not tolerated or ignored. The potential negative consequences of this growing pattern of settler attacks, and the insufficient measures to deal with them by the Israeli authorities cannot be overstated.”