In the end of January, a UN report on the impact of Israeli settlements on the rights of Palestinians was released. Now, a follow-up report shows that in spite of there being a lot of international advocating for the Israel-Palestine peace talks that now have been renewed, the first six months of 2013 brought an increase in attacks by settlers on Palestinians and their property in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“The settlers threw rocks at our house and the soldiers kept firing tear gas. (…) I constantly feel unsafe in my own house with my young children. On that day I realised how the settlers can get away with anything with the army’s protection.”
The words are Fatima’s, a 41-year-old woman living in the village of Burin in the West Bank. She is one of 13 women, whose testimonies are included in the report Israeli settler violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, by Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling, WCLAC. With these interviews, WCLAC wants to highlight the impact settler violence and property distruction have on women. The report has also been submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.
More settlements being built
The January UN report stated that the establishment of the settlements has fragmented the West Bank placing at risk the possibility of a Palestinian State, and by implication, a viable two state solution – which is the stated purpose of the resumed peace talks. Still, WCLAC’s report shows that during the first six months of 2013, work began on 865 new housing units in settlements in the West Bank, the highest figure in seven years, and an 176 percent increase compared to the same period last year. Settler-related incidents resulting in injury to Palestinians rose 5,5 percent and incidents involving property damage rose 41 percent.
Lack of accountability
According to the report, there is a general lack of accountability for settler attacks, which is a major factor in their continuance. “Despite Israel’s obligations under international law to protect the civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, settler violence persists largely due to the lack of adequate law enforcement by the Israeli authorities. Many soldiers appear to see their protective role as only applying to settlers, and not Palestinians” the report states. In connection, the UN report showed that complaints made by Palestinians against settlers had a 91 percent chance of being dismissed, whereas in cases involving settlers complatins against Palestinians, up to 95 percent proceed to court.
No compensation for stolen herd
Montaha, a Bedouin woman from near Jericho tells a similar story:
“My brother-in-law (…) told us that he had to hide out of fear for his life when he saw four settlers carrying guns coming from the outpost. They took [our] livestock back to the outpost and later to the settlement. We couldn’t believe we had lost our only source of income. We reported the incident to the Palestinian authorities, who in turn reorted it to the Israeli authorities. We also reported it at an Israeli police station nearby (…). Nothing was done (..) One day we saw the settlers moving the herd. We called the police who managed to retrieve six of our livestock. Two weeks later the police returned three of our goats after another three had died. (…) I dream that one day the rest of our goats will be returned as we need the income. We were given no support or compensation.”
In a bleak concluding remark, the report states that due to an absence of international and domestic accountability, there is no likelihood that the situation will improve.
The winners of the Young Women Caucasus Peace Award 2013 Zaruhi Hovanessian (Armenia) and Malikat Djabirova (Dagestan, Russian Federation). Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Julia Lapitskii
The laureates of the Young Women Caucasus Peace Award 2013 were announced in Yerevan on March 25. The Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismailova, Zaruhi Hovanessian from Armenia and Malikat Djabirova from Dagestan were announced winners.
One of the award founders, Gulnara Shahinian, UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery and board member of the Armenian NGO ‘Democracy Today’, opened the ceremony stating that the award is granted for human rights work and peace promotion in the region. “These young women are activists in their societies, their potential to achieve change is enormous, “ she said.
“This award is a living body. It is not only celebration, there is much work behind it. We want to motivate and provide these women with the opportunity to participate in peace processes in the region.”
Neither award-winner Khadija Ismailova nor any representative from Azerbaijan were present at the ceremony.
“It is extremely painful that our colleagues from Azerbaijan could not come, though we arranged it in detail. However, we are fully aware that all these years we have been walking on thin ice, and we do our best to avoid slipping. It is our duty to protect each and everyone of the project participants,” said Shahinian. Since 1994, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in the state of a “frozen conflict” with the territory of Nagorno-Karabach at stake.
The third award winner, Malikat Djabirova, leads a regional NGO “Mother and Child” in Dagestan, one of the Russian republics. Since 2005, she has been working to actively promote tolerance among youth, as well as working with young women and their rights.
According to her, the level of education in Dagestan is very low, that’s why “many women don’t have the slightest idea of their own legal rights”. The organization runs a clinic for women as well as provides women with legal and psychological consultations. “My work is in no way extraordinary, I only want the people of Dagestan to be happy and live in peace”, says Malikat. Since the 1990s, Dagestan has been a scene of low-level Islamic insurgency, occasional outbreaks of separatism, ethnic tensions and terrorism.
“I have never thought I deserve any kind of award, everything I do comes from inside of me. This award makes me move forward,” says Zaruhi Hovanessian from Armenia, who leads the civic initiative ‘The Army in Reality’. Together with other human rights organizations in Armenia, in particular the Vanadzor office of the Helsinki Citizens’ Initiative, they take part in the investigation of deaths in the army. “We are trying to get rid of violence and corruption in the Armenian army during peace times,” she said.
Last year’s award-winner Sophia Shakirova presented the award to the first winner from Azerbaijan, the investigative journalist Khadija Ismailova. Ismailova is actively working in the fields of human rights and democracy.
“A special topic of her investigations is corruption. She revealed corruption in the highest echelons of power, which does not go unpunished,” said Sophia Shakirova.
Last year, Khadija was at the center of international attention because of slander and blackmail she was subjected to. “Despite all that, she continues her journalistic work at ‘Radio Free Europe’, teaches young journalists investigative techniques and shares her experience with them, thus preparing change,” said Shakirov.
The Young Women Caucasus Peace Award was founded in 2011 by Democracy Today (Armenia), Society for Women’s Rights in Azerbaijan (Azerbaijan) and Women’s Information Center. This award is the first of its kind and has been established to acknowledge the exceptional role and leadership potential of young women in peace building, empowerment of their communities and working to prevent conflicts and to restore and protect human rights. It has been inspired by the work of the famous peace and human rights activist Anahit Bayandur (1931-2011), a winner of the Olof Palme Award.
Armine Martirosyan, Caucasian Knot