Violence with Impunity

February 28, 2019

‘Alhamdulillah (Thanks to God), I’m alright but I’m not as I was before’

Mufid, Burqa

We are sitting in the living room of Mufid Abu Hussein, who has returned home after a stay in hospital. The 71 year old grandfather was attacked by a group of Israeli settlers while tending his sheep just ten minutes from his home in Burqa, in the occupied West Bank.

Mufid told us how he saw ten settlers come down the hill towards him, and he heard them say ‘beat him, beat him’. Three of them, armed with sticks, came close to him while the others, including one with a gun, surrounded him. He tried to fend them off so he could escape, but as he turned to run down the hill, they hit his head. He woke up covered in blood.

Mufid Abu Hussein

His wife knew something was wrong when his sheep returned without him. She ran out of the house to go and find him, but saw him coming down the hill, still bleeding heavily. Mufid spent three days in hospital, including two days in intensive care and had to have an operation for a skull fracture. He shows us the wound on his head, the stitches clearly visible as well as the cuts on his face.

His wife tells us she has worried for a long time that this might happen – violence and harassment from the Israeli settlers has happened in this village before. Mufid feels that if it’s God’s will, it will happen. Besides, he adds, ‘we can’t just stay inside’.

Although attacks like this rarely make the international news, violence from Israeli settlers is very common. Between January and November 2018, more than two hundred acts of violence were committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. Three Palestinians were killed, and over eighty were injured. As well as physical assault, incidents include stone throwing, attacks on homes and destruction of property.

‘If the judge is your enemy, who can you complain to?’

Mufid, Nablus

Mufid and his family have not complained to the police. We complain to God, he says, not to people. He lacks faith in the Israeli system to treat his case fairly – ‘if the judge is your enemy, who can you complain to?’

His concerns are well founded. According to Yesh Din, only eight per cent of ideological attacks on Palestinians since 2015 led to charges, and only three per cent led to a conviction. 82 per cent of investigations are closed due to police failure to properly investigate. Often the police investigating crimes committed by settlers live and work in settlements themselves.

According to Yesh Din, many Palestinians simply don’t even complain to the police, due to mistrust in the Israeli authorities and a fear of repercussions for them or their families for reporting the incident. Without consequences for settlers committing violent crimes, a culture of impunity has developed, allowing settlers to attack Palestinians with no fear of repercussion.

Video credit: Yesh Din

This injustice is made more stark by the discriminatory dual systems used to prosecute Israelis and Palestinians. Although military courts can officially try anyone living in the West Bank, settlers committing crimes are arrested by the Israeli police and will be prosecuted under civil law. Civil law secures their right to fair trial, to due process, and to access bail. Palestinians, however are prosecuted under Israeli military law, and will be tried by soldiers in a military court.  Rather than being given bail, they will usually be remanded in custody in a military jail until the end of their trial. The low conviction rate for Israeli settlers contrasts starkly with almost 100 per cent conviction rate for Palestinians.  This asymmetrical system makes it almost impossible for Palestinians to see justice.

Mufid hopes that he’ll be able to return to shepherding at some point when he is well enough. A doctor is attending to him at home until his wounds heal. But it is unlikely that he, or the other Palestinians attacked by settlers, will ever see justice. Under the military occupation, settlers’ crimes go unpunished and Palestinians receive military justice. The failure of the Israeli state to tackle these crimes emboldens settlers to commit more attacks without consequences, and leaves Palestinians living in fear. It is vital that they have access to a fair justice system that treats Israeli and Palestinians as equals under the law in order for both to live together in peace.

What does international law say?

'Protected persons... shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence.'

Article 27, Fourth Geneva Convention, 1949

'All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals... entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.'

Article 14, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966

by EA Sophie   –    February 28, 2019

Share now