B’Tselem has obtained video footage, captured by a security camera, in which masked settlers are seen setting fire to a tool-shed in the village of ‘Asirah al-Qibliyah, which lies in the northern West Bank. The shed was lightly damaged. The incident occurred on 18 June 2013, the day before yesterday (19 June 2013), at around 7:00 am. Settlers claimed responsibility for the arson attack in a report published in Yitzhar-based website “Hakol Hayehudi” (“the Jewish Voice”). The shed is located Some 200 meters away an army post that is, to the best of B’Tselem’s knowledge, staffed around the clock. The post overlooks the shed, and every movement in its vicinity is visible to the soldiers stationed there.
The torched tool-shed was used to store tools for building a water reservoir to be shared by ‘Asirah al-Qibliyah and neighboring villages ‘Urif and Madama, a project funded by USAID. It is located in Area B, on private land owned by an ‘Asira resident. The reservoir site lies about 500 meters from the homes of ‘Asira, and approximately one kilometer from the westernmost outpost of the Yitzhar settlement – the Shalhevet neighborhood.
In recent weeks, local residents have reported several instances of sabotage and vandalism at the reservoir site. The local council and project managers submitted complaints on the matter to the Palestinian DCL. Yesterday, settlers from Yitzhar organized a demonstration march towards the site to show their objection to the project. Workers at the site informed B’Tselem that the military had made them leave the spot, in preparation for the protest. Reports by B’Tselem volunteers indicate that the army managed to prevent the settlers from reaching houses in the village.
As with many other similar incidents, this last act of arson raises grave concern over Israeli security forces’ willingness to protect Palestinians and their property from settler violence. The Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs recently decided to declare “price tag” acts as “illegal association”. This decision will enable the use of strict measures against the perpetrators of such acts, measures that violate human rights. However, the law enforcement authorities already have at their disposal an assortment of legal means that they refrain from employing. For instance, it stands to reason that the law-enforcement and investigative authorities take basic steps such as:
- Seriously investigating repeated complaints of damage to property;
- giving forces in the field unequivocal orders to detain settlers who attack Palestinians or their property, transfer them to the police and testify against them;
- immediately seizing the relevant footage captured on security cameras in Yitzhar, before it is erased, so as to identify the perpetrators of the arson attack.
B’Tselem will transfer the footage it has received to the police, along with a demand that an investigation be opened in order to identify the perpetrators of the attack and arrest them. In addition, B’Tselem will demand that the army check whether soldiers were at the nearby post while the attack took place and, if so, why they did not apprehend the perpetrators.