Israel’s little reported war in the West Bank

June 4, 2024
map of settler violence
Settler violence ramped up after Israel launched its attacks on Gaza on October 7. Image:

While opposing Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Gaza, we should not forget another aspect of Israel’s genocidal project: the growing violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.

Since Israel’s capture of the West Bank in the 1967 war, the area has been under direct military control. Over time, Israeli settlers have moved into the West Bank and East Jerusalem and, with backing of the military, are pushing Palestinians (who have no rights) from their lands, taking their water, burning down their olive trees and killing them.

These actions violate international law concerning occupied territories and are backed by the United States and other Western powers. The extent of this war has been little reported in the mainstream media.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, since October 7, Israel has killed 516 Palestinians in the West Bank.

When Israel launched its war in Gaza on October 7, it also mobilised thousands of military reservists from among Israeli settlers in the West Bank, to impose “wide-ranging restrictions on Palestinians, blocking the exits from their communities and barring Palestinian workers from entering Israel or the settlements,” reported the New York Times.

This has increased the economic hardships on Palestinians.


Since October, settlers have intensified their attacks. But Israeli military attacks on occupied West Bank cities have been little-reported, except for brief references to the attack on a refugee camp in Jenin in May.

While trying to report on the latest attack on Jenin, videographer Amr Musara and three Palestinian colleagues — all identified as press — were fired on by the Israeli army, reported Al Jazeera.

“Musara was shot in the back as his colleagues hit the ground to take cover. When the soldiers stopped shooting, Musara was rushed to the nearest hospital.”

He is recovering from his wounds.

Musara told Al Jazeera “They targeted us the same way they targeted Shireen,” referring to Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, who was deliberately shot and killed by the IDF while reporting on a raid in Jenin in May, 2022.

Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq and London-based research group Foremost Architecture revealed through investigation that Israel sends undercover soldiers into West Bank cities to monitor and assess an area before a raid.

Journalist and camp resident Atef Abdul Rub told Al Jazeera that this occurred in Jenin the day before the latest Israeli attack.

“The next morning, the army stormed Jenin’s refugee camp with tanks, jeeps and bulldozers.”

Abdul Rub told Al Jazeera: “They started shooting at a school … at the students and at the teachers.”

Ten civilians were killed in the raid, including a teenage boy and a doctor.

According to Al Jazeera, Israel has continually raided the Jenin refuge camp, “ostensibly to root out an umbrella organisation known as the Jenin brigades, which opposes Israeli occupation”.

Zaid Shuabi, a Palestinian human rights organiser in the West Bank told Al Jazeera: “What I saw in Jenin camp is like Gaza on a smaller scale … You don’t see roads because they’re destroyed. The infrastructure … the sewage and electricity system and the water pipes and telecommunication networks are damaged.

According to the UN, 88 people have been killed in the Jenin camp and 104 structures have been destroyed since January last year.

Al Jazeera reported that since 2021, a new cohort of Palestinian armed groups has emerged across the West Bank.

In the Jenin camp, the Benin brigades have clashed with Israeli troops during dozens of raids. The group is loosely composed of fighters linked to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Fatah, according to Thani Mustafa, an Israel-Palestine expert for the International Crisis Group.

“These groups [in Jenin] started as a community defense mechanism, so the more violent Israeli raids got and the more systematic, the bigger these groups grew,” Mustafa told Al Jazeera.

The same is true of Palestinian armed groups across the West Bank.

Settler violence

As these direct Israeli military attacks have occurred, Israeli settlers have intensified their attacks on surrounding Palestinians.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), since October 2023, “[t]he Israeli military either took part in or did not protect Palestinians from violent settler attacks in the West Bank that have displaced people from 20 communities and have entirely uprooted at least 7 communities.

“Israeli settlers have assaulted, tortured, and committed sexual violence against Palestinians, stolen their belongings and livestock, threatened to kill them if they did not leave permanently, and destroyed their homes and schools under cover of the ongoing hostilities Gaza.

“Many Palestinians, including entire communities, have fled their homes and lands. The military has not assured displaced residents that it will protect their security or allow them to return, forcing them to live in precarious conditions elsewhere.”

HRW “investigated attacks that forcibly displaced all residents of Khirbet Zanuata, Khirbet al-Ratheem south of Hebron, al-Qanub east of Hebron, and Ein al-Rashash and Wadi al Seeq, east of Ramallah, in October and November 2023.

“The evidence shows that armed settlers, with the active participation of army units, repeatedly cut off road access and raided Palestinian communities, detained, assaulted, and tortured residents, chased them out of their homes and off their lands at gunpoint or coerced them to leave with death threats, and blocked them from taking their belongings.

As part of the investigation, HRW “spoke to 27 witnesses of the attacks, and viewed videos that residents filmed, showing harassment by men in Israeli military uniforms carrying M16 assault rifles”.

HRW reported that Israeli human rights organisation Haqel “petitioned the Israeli High Court to instruct the army to protect five Palestinian communities from threats of displacement due to settler violence, and allow Khirbet Zanuta families to return to their lands.”

However, “[t]he Israeli state’s attorney’s February 20 response claimed that no forced displacement occurred in Khirbet Zanuta, and that Palestinians had left voluntarily due to herding and agricultural problems”.

Thousands of guns have been distributed to settlers by the Israeli state since October 7, according to HRW, and these weapons have been supplied to Israel by countries such as the US, Germany, Italy and Britain.

Ethnic cleansing

HRW published harrowing witness testimony about an October 12 attack by armed settlers in civilian clothes and an IDF unit, which displaced all 30 families — about 180 people, including 90 children — from Wadi al-Seeq, north east of Ramallah.

According to one witness, settlers started gathered daily on the road that leads to the community on October 7. Men in military uniforms, armed with M16s and some wearing masks, arrived in trucks at 8pm on October 11 and started ransacking tents and stealing residents’ belongings.

Later that morning, a prominent local settler, armed and wearing civilian clothes, led a group of armed men wearing military uniforms without name tags in blocking the access road. A military vehicle and two police patrol vehicles were stationed nearby.

Four vehicles with soldiers, some of whom residents recognised as settlers from previous attacks, then entered Wadi al-Seeq. They took residents’ phones, car keys, and IDs, hit people, and entered tents where women and children were taking cover, and threw belongings to the ground.

The attackers said they would shoot residents if they did not leave within an hour and told them they could not take anything with them, even their cars. About 30 people were wounded in the attack, according to news reports.

“Soldiers entered Reem R’s tent, shoved her children, and took their phones, she said. ‘One man in uniform kicked me in the back of my neck. They said “Go to the valley, and if you come back, we will kill you.’”

The women and children fled to a cave, where they sheltered for eight hours without food or water, then walked toward the town of Taybeh, Reem said.

Three male residents were blindfolded, stripped to their underwear and tortured for hours in a sheep pen. The attackers posted images of the men online.

What is happening in the West Bank is like Gaza on a smaller scale and is preparation for full ethnic cleansing. Israel is undertaking a drive to implement the long-held Zionist project of establishing a Jewish supremacist state in the biblical land of ancient Israel, from the river to the sea, and Egypt to Lebanon and Syria.

In spite of face-saving protests in the United States, the White House supports this.

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