B’Tselem strongly condemns the stabbing attack yesterday (11 March) at the settlement of Itamar, in the Northern West Bank, in which five Israeli civilians were killed. The victims of the attack were parents, and three of their children, a baby, a 3 year old and an 11 year old. The Israeli and Palestinian authorities must act to locate and the perpetrators and bring to them to justice.
Over the past ten years, Palestinian terror attacks perpetrated in Israel and in the Occupied Territories have killed hundreds and injured thousands of Israeli civilians, among them men, women, and children. Attacks aimed at civilians are immoral, inhuman, and illegal. Intentional killing of civilians is a grave breach of international humanitarian law and is considered a war crime that can never be justified, whatever the circumstances.
Palestinian organizations seek to justify attacks on Israeli civilians by claiming the attacks are carried out in their struggle against the Israeli occupation. This argument does not justify the attacks and undermines the fundamental principle of international humanitarian law, according to which civilians must remain outside the sphere of hostilities, and therefore a distinction must be made between combatants and civilians and attacks directed at civilians are prohibited. These rules are part of international customary law and apply to every state, organization, and person. Some persons speaking on behalf of Palestinians argue that, inasmuch as the settlements are illegal and many settlers belong to Israel’s security forces, it is permissible to attack settlers. This argument is groundless: the illegality of the settlements does not affect the civilian status of their residents in the slightest. The settler population is civilian and as such is entitled to all the protections that international law provides to civilians. The use that Israeli security forces make of lands on which settlements were built, or the fact that some settlers are members of Israel’s security forces, does not alter the civilian status of the residents who are not members of the security forces, and certainly does not legitimize attacks on them.
B’Tselem strongly objects to attempts to justify these actions by means of misleading arguments based on a distorted interpretation of international law and demands that the Palestinian Authority do everything within its ability to prevent such attacks.