Last updated: 9 January, 2014

Israel must dismantle settler outpost, says watchdog

West Bank villagers who beat up a group of Jewish settlers then locked them inside a building were on Thursday hailed by the Palestinian government as acting in “self defence”.

“Citizens of Qusra village, who were subjected to numerous assaults by settlers during the past months, acted in self-defence,” said government spokesman Ihab Bseiso in a statement.

On Tuesday, around a dozen settlers from the Esh Kodesh settlement outpost entered Qusra, some wearing masks, but were beaten up by local Palestinians who then shut them up in a house.

Israeli troops eventually negotiated the release of the settlers but police placed seven of them under house arrest pending an investigation into why they had entered the village in the first place.

Qusra is just a few kilometres (miles) north of Esh Kodesh and is the scene of frequent clashes between settlers and Palestinians.

“Citizens of Qusra village were able to stand in the face of settler groups who assaulted farmers from the village and tried to sabotage their land; they chased them out of the fields and trapped them in a building under construction,” Bseiso said.

The villagers had “provided the settlers with water and wipes to clean their wounds” then contacted local officials who got in touch with the army, he said, demanding the international community to “intervene to provide protection” for Palestinians in the face of settler violence.

Bseiso said Qusra had suffered “continuous assaults” by local settlers, including shooting attacks, burnt crops and olive trees uprooted; three villagers were still suffering from serious injuries and one person had been shot dead by troops in 2011 in one such attack.

Palestinian daily Al-Quds said the detention of settlers by ordinary civilians was “a unique precedent and an example of passive resistance.”

On Wednesday, Israel’s Peace Now settlement watchdog sent a letter to the government demanding it dismantle Esh Kodesh, saying the residents had “repeatedly attacked” Palestinians in the area.

“Esh Kodesh is an outpost that serves as launching ground for severe unlawful activity, and as such… it creates severe friction that causes harm to people and their property, and therefore heavily burdens the security authorities,” said the letter, a copy of which was seen by AFP.

The watchdog slammed the government for failing to carry out existing demolition orders against wildcat outposts — settlements which have not been formally approved and are therefore illegal.

Under international law, all settlement building in the Palestinian territories is illegal.

Israel’s army later in the day announced it was investigating a separate incident where troops allowed settlers to throw stones at Palestinians in another village near Nablus.

The incident was caught on film by Israeli human rights watchdog B’Tselem.

“The forces on the scene did not respond to the situation appropriately. Standing orders in incidents like these require the forces to prevent activities carried out by masked activists, document these actions and immediately notify the police,” an army statement said.