We have seen a rapid escalation of violence from Israeli settlers, yet this seems to sit outside the consideration of world leaders
Since Hamas’s 7 October invasion, which killed more than 1,300 Israelis and took control of several military bases and settlements, Israel has embarked on what some human rights groups are warning will amount to a genocide. Israel has killed more than 4,000 Palestinians in Gaza, and many thousands more have been injured, according to the UN. Countless others are trapped under the rubble. Supplies of water, food, electricity and fuel have been cut off.
Because of this devastation, governments and hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have called for a ceasefire in Gaza. This is desperately needed to stop the immediate bloodshed. It would not, however, end the violence that Israel subjects Palestinians to on a daily basis.
As the world watches Gaza, the violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank has skyrocketed. Days before the 7 October attack,armed Israeli settlers, reportedly from the settlement of Esh Kodesh, stormed the Palestinian village of Qusra, which stands south-west of the city of Nablus. Settlers fired at residents who had gathered, unarmed, to protect their village. That night, under the cover of darkness, settlers returned to destroy cars and electricity lines.
In the following days, settlers cut off the road leading to the village, only to return on 11 October with Israeli occupation forces in tow. Israeli settlers opened fire at residents and rather than hold them back, as Israeli forces claim to do, they joined in. Four Palestinians were killed that day, with settlers killing three and soldiers killing one.
The next day, settlers returned and attacked the funeral for the four killed the day before, opening fire once again, killing a father and his son.
These are not isolated incidents. Since 7 October, settler attacks have risen to an average of eight incidents a day and have led to the displacement of 13 Palestinian communities. The Israeli government’s intention to arm its settlers with an additional 10,000 rifles will undoubtedly make the situation much worse.
In the first eight months of 2023, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recorded a daily average of three incidents of settler attacks a day on Palestinians in the West Bank, killing and injuring Palestinians, damaging their property, and preventing them from moving to reach their lands, workplaces, families and friends.
However, what we are experiencing now is a rapid escalation of this violence. Between 1 January and 19 September 2023, Israeli settlers and forces killed 189 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and injured 8,192. Since 7 October alone, Israeli soldiers and settlers killed 64 Palestinians, injured 1,300, and carried out 77 attacks on healthcare facilities.
The physical violence is only one aspect of the systematic attempts by Israel to dispossess Palestinians of their lands and move Israeli settlers on to them. Israeli forces have also cut Palestinian cities, towns and villages off from each other by closing the vast majority of checkpoints that are dotted across the entire West Bank, severely restricting the movement of people and goods to small enclaves.The roads have been so inaccessible due to closures and violence that shopkeepers are already struggling to keep their shelves stocked, many workers are unable to reach workplaces outside their immediate vicinity and farmers are unable to access their lands.
This story of dispossession, Zionist settlement and violence is repeated across every Palestinian locality, irrespective of ceasefires. This takes place through direct violence, unjust laws and squeezing Palestinians out by making their situation unliveable. A 2013 UN report found that in Jerusalem, 77% of Palestinian households live below the poverty line and the municipality underserves Palestinian neighbourhoods with regards to key infrastructure. This is used in conjunction with settler violence and legal measures to force Palestinians out. Many of the areas that were initially confiscated from Palestinians “for military use” are now used as settlements.
For as long as Israel has exercised this violence against Palestinians, Palestinians have risen against it. Despite this, all forms of resistance from Palestinians are suppressed. Israeli martial law outlaws belonging to any Palestinian political group, including student groups, where university students are targeted and arrested.
Israel is currently holding 1,264 Palestinians in administrative detention, meaning they are held without trial or charge. And when Palestinians are charged, they are often imprisoned with charges as trivial as “incitement” against the occupation. Before 7 October, Israel held 5,200 Palestinians as prisoners. The Palestinian Authority, the Israeli occupation’s subcontractor in the West Bank, cracks down on dissent with the same enthusiasm as Israel, with journalists and activists jailed over Facebook posts. Just this week, Palestinian Authority security forces killed a 12-year-old girl in Jenin and injured dozens of people across the West Bank after opening fire on protesters who came out in support of Gaza.
While this violence against Palestinians will sit outside the considerations of world leaders as they debate ceasefires and humanitarian corridors, the systems that are in place to kill and harm Palestinians during and outside “escalations” remain untouched. But only breaking the systems that cause oppression can end the systematic violence that Israel has subjected Palestinians to for as long as it has existed. This means ending the occupation, dismantling all the colonial institutions that inflict violence, allowing refugees to return to their lands, and paying reparations for all the harm that Israel and its accomplices have inflicted on Palestinians.
- Layth Hanbali is a health researcher working independently and at Birzeit University in Ramallah, Palestine