OPT: DCI shocked by Bat Ayin attack, urges respect for lives of all children

[RAMALLAH, 4 April 2009] - DCI-Palestine is shocked and saddened by the attack in Bat Ayin settlement on Thursday, near Bethlehem, resulting in the death of a settler child aged 13 and serious injury to another settler aged 7 years old. Police and eyewitness reports alleged that a Palestinian man wielding an axe perpetrated the assault.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has decried the attack as "a senseless act of brutality." The killing of a child is indeed a senseless act, which must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. But where was the outcry when 17-year-old Mohammad Shreiteh was fatally shot by a settler near Ramallah while taking part in a peaceful demonstration against the Israeli military attack on Gaza in March 2008? We must equally condemn all acts of violence perpetrated against Palestinian and Israeli children alike.

There are more than 462,000 Israeli settlers illegally residing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In spite of numerous UN Resolutions condemning the practice of illegal settlement building, and the US-backed Road Map for peace, which calls for a freeze in settlement expansion, the Israeli government has continuously facilitated and encouraged this practice in flagrant violation of international law. In 2008, settlement construction and expansion grew at the fastest rate since 2000.

The year 2008 was also exceptional in terms of the widespread incidence of settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. As documented by DCI-Palestine, the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 2008 saw a sharp increase (more than 42 per cent) in acts of physical assaults perpetrated by settlers against Palestinians over the previous year. Palestinian children are particularly vulnerable to attack and have increasingly fallen victim to these types of assaults. In 2008 DCI-Palestine documented one child fatality and 14 child injuries, a notable increase over 2007. Many more incidents go unreported.

Amidst this rising tide in settler violence, Israeli authorities, once quick to place the blame on a few bad seeds, were forced to acknowledge this phenomenon to be significant and widespread. However, the Israeli military and police have continually failed to enforce the law and hold settlers to account thus promoting a culture of impunity. In 2007, the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din reported that 85 per cent of assault cases were closed without indictments. Palestinians have lost faith in a law enforcement system that ultimately serves to protect the settlers, and as a consequence, many more cases of attacks go unreported each year and the abuse Palestinians suffer daily becomes a routine part of life.

Since the start of 2009, DCI-Palestine has investigated two serious incidents in which settlers fired on unarmed Palestinian children. In one such incident, a 15-year-old boy from Husan, Bethlehem, was injured in his left leg as he stood in front of his house when settlers riding a bus on a bypass road opened fire on him. In Qaryut village, near Nablus, a group of settlers fired on two Palestinian boys aged 16 and 17 as they approached. The boys miraculously escaped unharmed only to be later detained by Israeli police and accused of throwing stones at the very settlers who attacked them. These tactics employed by the Israeli authorities are meant to intimidate and deter Palestinians from filing complaints against settlers in their attempt to seek accountability and justice.

While strongly condemning the attack on settler children in Bat Ayin, DCI-Palestine urges that the lives of all children - Israeli and Palestinian alike - be equally respected, and in all cases of violence perpetrated against children, an immediate and thorough investigation should be conducted and perpetrators brought to justice.

DCI report: Under Attack: Settler Violence against Palestinian Children in the Occupied Territory (November 2008)