A video of a Jewish settler kneeling to fire his pistol at dozens of rock-throwing Palestinians was one of dozens of cases presented by human rights groups and United Nations agencies Wednesday in a report that documents a sharp increase in violence by Jewish settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank.
The number of attacks by settlers against Palestinians has risen by about 150 percent each year since 2008, with 154 attacks in the first half of this year alone, said Matthias Behnke, who’s with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“There is an issue with accountability in settler violence,” Behnke said. Noting the cases of settlers opening fire on Palestinians, he added, “This isn’t vigilante justice. I would call it criminal behavior.”
The rise in violence – occurring amid a rapid expansion of the Israeli settler population – comes just days after an Israeli government-appointed panel declared that “there is no occupation of the West Bank” and contended that the settlements are legal. Currently, more then 500,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on land that the Palestinians claim is earmarked for their future state.
Since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn into office in March 2009, the Jewish population in the West Bank has grown by 18 percent, according to Israel’s Interior Ministry. The growth is driven both by Israelis moving to the settlements and high birth rates among the settler population.