Displacement and Killings Surge in West Bank, Amid Gaza War

The UN human rights chief said “I am ringing the loudest possible alarm bell” about the “potentially explosive situation” in the occupied West Bank

A wave of murders, violence, and harassment waged against Palestinians has been unleashed by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) personnel and illegal settlers alike in the occupied West Bank, according to the Time of Israel. Nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed, including 48 children, in the West Bank since Tel Aviv’s massive bombing campaign against the besieged Gaza Strip was launched last month.

B’tselem, the premier Israeli human rights organization, reports that since the October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel, 963 Palestinians have been displaced in these rampant attacks. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates the number of people forced from their homes and villages is even higher.

OCHA notes about 1,150 Palestinians from 15 herding communities have been uprooted by repressive movement restrictions imposed on Palestinians in the West Bank as well as the settler violence. Entire villages such as Radhem and Zanutah have been depopulated over the last month as well.

In that same time, the Yesh Din organization estimates that there have been in excess of 185 attacks by settlers against Palestinians in more than 84 villages and towns. Times of Israel reports that in the wake of the current war, illegal West Bank settlers have been recruited by the army into six so-called regional defensive battalions.

As the line between settlers and the military is obscured, violent attacks have escalated. Earlier this month, Haaretz reported that some of the settlers being inducted into these army militias, ostensibly formed to defend ultra-orthodox illegal colonies in the West Bank, may have criminal records.

For example, in the village of Susya, a Palestinian shepherd named Ahmad Jabra Nawaja, was brutally beaten in front of his wife and daughters and threatened with death in the middle of the night by masked men in IDF uniforms, armed with M-16 assault rifles. They warned if he did not destroy structures on his property and leave his land, they would come back and kill him.

“When he put the gun to my neck I was terrified. I thought he was going to shoot me, I thought it was over. My heart was beating like crazy,” Nawaja told the outlet.  He says such incidents are the new reality in the West Bank, lamenting “We have nowhere else to go. We don’t have any alternative.”

Additionally, deliberate destruction and sabotage of water tanks and solar panels has occurred in multiple Palestinian villages, according to B’tselem.

For instance, in Susya, three water cisterns were damaged severely and rendered unusable after a man, believed to be a settler, using a tractor pushed rubble into them under the supervision of armed IDF soldiers. In a response to questions regarding the demolition, the Israeli army spokespersons unit stated, “IDF forces that came to Susya to carry out an engineering operation… on October 16 exceeded the boundaries of the actions that had been defined due to lack of coordination.”

Peace Now, the Israeli activist group, has explained that Israel’s bombing campaign and ground invasion in Gaza, which has killed over 11,000 Palestinians, along with tensions at the northern border with Hezbollah, “created a new reality where the security system in the West Bank increasingly relies on settlers within the framework of operational activities, becoming more dependent on them.” The group adds, that “Ideological and violent settlers leverage the war to coerce the military for their own goals of expulsion and harm to Palestinians.”

Settlers have murdered olive harvesters and then even killed people attending their funerals. OCHA says that, since the October 7th Hamas attack and the war on Gaza began, settler attacks on Palestinians have more than doubled.

Itmar Ben-Gvir, the extremist settler and Israel’s National Security minister, announced last month that Tel Aviv would purchase and distribute 10,000 assault rifles to Israeli citizens including within the West Bank’s illegal settlements.

According to Axios, the US State Department is set to approve a $34 million sale of 24,000 M-16 semiautomatic and automatic rifles after reportedly receiving dubious assurances from Tel Aviv that the weapons will not be provided to settlers.

Concurrently, per the Palestinian Prisoners Society, almost 2,800 Palestinians have been rounded up by Israeli security forces since October 7 as a huge arrest campaign has been ongoing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Middle East Eye reports the “compiled figures include arrests made from homes, military checkpoints,” and Palestinians forced into submission “under pressure” by Israeli forces.

Although the war on Gaza is making all the headlines because of the thousands of women and children the Israelis have killed, the West Bank is now receiving more international attention.

“Concerning the West Bank, I’d like to express the strongest condemnation by France of the violence carried out by the settlers against the Palestinians,” Anne-Claire Legendre, a spokesperson for the French Foreign Ministry, told a press conference. “Violence which has the clear objective of forced displacement of the Palestinians and a policy of terror,” she added.

Volker Turk, the United Nations’ human rights chief, admonished that the “intensification of violence and severe discrimination against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” creates a “potentially explosive situation.” He emphasized, “I am ringing the loudest possible alarm bell” regarding the deteriorating situation in the West Bank.

For Palestinians, prior to October, this year was already one of the deadliest on record. Before the end of September, more than 220 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli forces, including over three dozen children. That figure includes 187 people who were murdered in the occupied territories and another 37 killed – mostly amidst a smaller bombing campaign – in the Gaza Strip.

Connor Freeman is the assistant editor and a writer at the Libertarian Institute, primarily covering foreign policy. He is a co-host on the Conflicts of Interest podcast. His writing has been featured in media outlets such as Antiwar.com, Counterpunch, and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. He has also appeared on Liberty Weekly, Around the Empire, and Parallax Views. You can follow him on Twitter @FreemansMind96.