2023November 2023WorldMiddle East

With All Eyes on Gaza, Violence in the West Bank Goes Unchecked

Hamzah Khan
Managing Editor

On November 17, Israeli forces surrounded the Ibn Sina Hospital in the Jenin Refugee Camp of the West Bank and engaged in a firefight with militants that killed five Palestinians, three of whom were confirmed militants, according to The Guardian. This is just the latest spat of violence in the West Bank in which over 350 Palestinians have been killed in 2023 alone, at least 170 of which were killed before the Hamas attacks on October 7. While violence may be exploding at unprecedented levels right now, the violence in the West Bank that Israel has perpetrated against the Palestinians living under occupation has been sustained and continuous since Israel first occupied the territory in 1967.

While Israel has always taken a devastatingly brutal approach to containing Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, deploying a strategy called “mowing the grass” in which they overwhelmingly and indiscriminately bomb civilian infrastructure and neighborhoods to inflict as much damage as possible before a ceasefire, they have always taken a more “death by a thousand cuts” approach in response to the West Bank. Israel started building illegal West Bank settlements in 1967 and today there are currently over 700,000 Israeli settlers living in illegal settlements that give Israel control of roughly 60 percent of all the land in the territory, according to Al Jazeera.

The international community overwhelmingly considers these settlements illegal, yet they have continued to expand nearly non-stop since 1967. Many on the far-right in Israel refer to the land in the West Bank as Judea and Samaria and hope to incorporate it into the Jewish state because they believe the land was promised to them by God, according to The New Yorker. Thus, unlike in Gaza where Israel bombs relentlessly because it does not care what happens to the land, the far-right settlers want to incorporate the West Bank into Israel itself. In an interview with the New Yorker, a West Bank Settler says, “The borders of the homeland of the Jews are the Euphrates in the east and the Nile in the southwest,” which extends far beyond Israel and covers many neighboring Arab countries as well. The original charter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party also says, “between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.”

The Palestinians who live in this territory are subject to a suffocating military occupation in which Israel restricts their freedom of movement, erects endless humiliating checkpoints, and launches constant raids that often kill many civilians. There are over 140 official checkpoints and even more unofficial obstacles that restrict daily life for Palestinians, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This is in addition to the Separation Wall in the West Bank that separates hundreds of Palestinian communities and is also considered illegal under International Law, according to The Guardian.

In addition to all these restrictions and settlement expansion, Israeli Occupation Forces have also increased violent raids in the West Bank due to the presence of newer armed groups that have emerged in response to the endless military occupation that impedes the lives of West Bank residents. In fact, part of the reason Hamas was able to launch their unprecedented attacks on the south of Israel is because Netanyahu and his pro-settler government decided to move troops to focus more on the West Bank, according to The Washington Post. 2022 was the deadliest year on record for Palestinians in the West Bank since the Second Intifada with over 170 Palestinians killed, including 30 children, reports Al Jazeera. Unfortunately, 2023 broke that record in the first seven months with over 180 West Bank Palestinians killed by September. In the aftermath of the Hamas attacks these numbers have exploded with nearly 190 Palestinians in the West Bank killed by Israeli Occupation Forces and settlers since October 7, more than in all of 2022 and the first six months of 2023.

Settler violence has also increased dramatically against Palestinians in the last two years. Since Netanyahu empowered bigoted racists on the fringes of Israel’s right-wing like Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, radical settler groups have been emboldened to commit violence against Palestinians under the protection of the Israeli Occupation Forces. Settlers notably carried out a violent pogrom through the Palestinian village of Huwara last February as Israeli forces turned a blind eye, according to The Times of Israel. The International Crisis Group (ICG) reports that settlers carried out around 530 attacks on Palestinians in just the first half of 2023, usually with protection from Israeli Occupation Forces. Settler leaders and ministers of this racist government have not been shy about their goals: ethnically cleansing the West Bank and replacing the Palestinians with over a million Jewish-Israeli settlers.

The situation in the West Bank has become so dire that even Western leaders who have always given unconditional support to Israel have criticized the failure of the Israeli government to contain the radical settlers. United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, called on Israel to stop settler violence, reports Al Jazeera, while France has also criticized Israel’s government for allowing these violent incidents to take place, reports Reuters.  ICG furthers that since October 7, nearly 1,000 Palestinians have been driven from their homes in the West Bank as instances of violent settler attacks have increased to around seven per day. Israeli Security Minister Ben Gvir has even made it easier for settlers to get assault rifles. Israeli forces often look on as acts of violence are carried out, for example in the West Bank village of At-Tuwani where a settler shot a Palestinian man at point blank range while Israeli soldiers watched, according to Haaretz.

Violence in the West Bank has never been more palpable, and Israel risks its own security by letting violence on this scale fester. If they want to prevent the opening of a second front in their war with Hamas in the West Bank, not to mention the northern threat of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the government must hold settlers accountable for their crimes. Despite increasing Western pressure, Netanyahu and his ministers seem to be doing the opposite, however, escalating their genocidal rhetoric almost every day from calling for another “Nakba” or “Catastrophe,” referring to the forced displacement of over 700,000 Palestinians in 1948 during Israel’s founding, to suggestions of nuking Gaza, a besieged enclave of 2.3 million people. The irreparable damage done to Palestinians in the West Bank this time around may extinguish the possibility of a two-state solution forever, permanently entrenching Israeli sovereignty and apartheid from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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