The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Tuesday published a report listing Palestinian communities that are especially vulnerable to the settler strategy known as the "price tag."
The document includes 83 villages, hamlets and neighborhoods that appear to be particularly vulnerable to retaliatory attacks by settlers in response to army operations to dismantle illegal structures built by Jewish residents in the West Bank. In the past, such attacks have included rock-throwing and setting fire to Palestinian property.
According to the report, "the 'price tag' strategy entails the exertion of systematic, widespread and indiscriminate violence against Palestinian civilians and Israeli security forces, following attempts by the Israeli authorities to evacuate settlement outposts.
"The overall objective of this strategy is to deter the Israeli authorities from removing such outposts. In the immediate term, the 'price tag' strategy aims at diverting Israeli forces and troops from the scene of an outpost evacuation into other areas, requiring the intervention of those forces to contain violent incidents."
The authors of the report said its main aim was forward-looking, to a time when Israel might dismantle 23 illegal outposts built after Ariel Sharon became prime minister.
In 2003, Sharon promised the US to remove these outposts, but the government has refrained from doing so.
OCHA warned that the use of the "price tag" policy by the settlers might become far more extensive and violent if the government decides to tear down the outposts. "Considering the limited scope of the removal operations implemented so far by the Israel authorities, the level of violence that could be expected following a relatively large dismantlement operation is significantly higher," the authors of the report wrote.
As it is, "price tag" incidents have been violent and caused harm to Palestinians and their crops. For example, on July 20, Israeli authorities removed a few uninhabited structures at three illegal outposts in the Ramallah-Nablus area, triggering a wave of violence during the following days. Settlers allegedly set fire to more than 1,000 olive trees belonging to five Palestinian communities, blocked several junctions and threw rocks at Palestinian cars, causing injury to two drivers and damage to six vehicles. On July 23, as part of this wave of violence, more than 20 armed setters from an outpost next to the settlement of Yitzhar entered the nearby village of Asira el-Kibliyeh and threw rocks at residents.
Settlers also rampaged through Hebron on December 4, 2008, after the army forced settlers to leave a disputed building that they had occupied and claimed to own. Angry settlers from all over the West Bank who had come to Hebron to prevent the evacuation, attacked Palestinians and soldiers in various parts of the city, injuring six Palestinians and setting fire to vehicles, agricultural fields, houses and the contents of a mosque.
In mapping the Palestinian communities according to criteria, the OCHA report found that 22 communities were at high risk of attack, while 61 were at moderate risk. A total of 187,000 residents were at risk of attack.
OCHA recommended that security forces offer special protection to these communities in advance of operations to dismantle the illegal outposts.