In a trend that threatens to spark a major Palestinian uprising in the Israel-occupied West Bank and a new combat front for the Israel Defense Forces, abuse directed at Palestinians by Jewish settlers and IDF soldiers has surged in the wake of the Hamas attack on southern Israel.
There have been more than 170 attacks by Jewish settlers on West Bank Palestinians since Oct 7, and some of them have been deadly. In one back-to-back episode, three Palestinians were shot dead on Oct 11. The next day, settlers and soldiers descended on the funeral procession and killed a man and his son.
Israeli settlers went on a rampage in the small town of Deir Sharaf west of the city of Nablus, etc., which caused clashes. notice IDF soldiers just standing around doing nothing. pic.twitter.com/l7Fpfxp2IT— jalbert king (@jalbert_king) November 2, 2023
Last Saturday, Bilal Mohammed Saleh was harvesting olives with his family when four armed Jewish settlers accosted them, witnesses say. The family fled, but when Saleh doubled back to retrieve his phone, he was shot dead. More than 120 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since Oct 7. This video purports to show the incident:
Israeli terrorist settlers are now murdering farmers in the west bank. They are armed militias of israel outside of the IDF. Israel is the jewish ISIS. pic.twitter.com/mKCsndlmAX— Syrian Girl 🇸🇾🎗 (@Partisangirl) October 30, 2023
Since Oct 7, Palestinians also report widespread threats and intimidation. Palestinians have found threatening leaflets on their cars, reading:
"By God, we will descend upon your heads with a great catastrophe soon. You have the last chance to escape to Jordan in an organized manner. After that, we will destroy every enemy and forcefully expel you from our holy land...Load your bags immediately and leave wherever you came from. We are coming."
Others say settlers have come to their homes, telling them to leave within 24 hours. Many families have taken the threats to heart and fled. The UK's Channel 4 News reports Jewish settlers blocking roads with boulders, cutting electricity lines to Palestinians' homes, and shutting down water wells -- "they do everything they can to render life in these villages unlivable."
It's not just civilian settlers who are inviting a Palestinian uprising. This week, photographs and video recordings made by soldiers and circulated online depicted their abuse and humiliation of Palestinian captives. In one, soldiers have stripped and blindfolded seven laborers who were trying to enter Israel without the proper paperwork. They're needlessly thrown around, with one dragged across the ground and another has a boot placed on his head.
In another recording, a soldier repeatedly kicks a blindfolded and restrained Palestinian man, spits on him, and curses at him in Arabic.
עוד מחבל pic.twitter.com/Fqa7xR4bif— קובי ברסלר 🇮🇱 (@kzxkzxkzxkzx) October 31, 2023
Yet another video shows what the Times of Israel describes as a "religious Jewish reserve soldier" mocking a blindfolded and handcuffed Arab by playing religious music and dancing around him. One more shows soldiers draping a blindfolded detainee with an Israeli flag. The IDF condemned the incidents.
This latest spike in abuse comes in a year that was already considered the worst in more than a decade. There were 21 killings of West Bank Palestinians by settlers before Oct 7, and already another 8 since, according to the U.N. Humanitarian Affairs Office, OCHA.
In an analogue for what the IDF is now doing in Gaza, Jewish settlers are prone to punish innocent individual Palestinians for the actions of others. As we reported in June, for example, in the wake of the killing of four settlers, mobs of West Bank settlers went on a rampage in several Palestinian villages, setting fire to dozens of vehicles and occupied homes and killing one person.
Settlers have a long history of assaulting Palestinians, wrecking their property and destroying olive groves that are essential to their livelihoods and are a cherished part of their culture.
BREAKING: ISRAELI SETTLERS BURN OLIVE TREES WEST OF NABLUS IN THE WEST BANK— Sulaiman Ahmed (@ShaykhSulaiman) November 2, 2023
Hamas are hiding in olive trees in the West Bank right? pic.twitter.com/OzWO5ufVvL
Much of settlers' bad behavior happens in direct view of the IDF, though at times soldiers do intervene to keep the violence within limits. However, with the IDF's resources now being focused on the war in Gaza, settlers are more free to act with impunity.
A Palestinian family being attacked repeatedly by Israeli settlers with the IDF watching— Hamdi Rifai حمدي الرفاعي 🇺🇸 (@HamdiRifaiJD) November 2, 2023
Palestinians in the West Bank that have nothing to do with Hamas are subjected to a constant harassment by the Israeli settlers
At the same time, Jewish settlers have been emboldened by the installation the most extreme ruling coalition in the country's history. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir -- the man responsible for policing the West Bank -- adorned his living room with a photograph of mass-murdering settler Baruch Goldstein, who killed 28 Muslims and wounded 125 more in a 1994 massacre.
Settlers are often seen carrying AR-15 rifles. The 29-year-old son of one of the slain funeral attendees told Reuters that while settlers used to fire shots into the ground or air as a scare tactic, things have changed: "Now, they shoot to kill."
Those rifles are about to grow in number. Earlier this month, Ben-Gvir announced his ministry would distribute 10,000 rifles to distribute to "civilian security teams" in border towns like those attacked by Hamas, but also in mixed Arab/Jew cities and West Bank settlements.
Since the war broke out, the military has been almost completely preventing the Palestinian farmers from harvesting their olives. However, the settlers who steal the Palestinian-owned crops aren't being arrested or held accountable. Watch this video taken by us this morning: pic.twitter.com/72IHrdy5Qj— Yesh Din English (@Yesh_Din) October 27, 2023
The West Bank has twice been the scenes of popular uprisings called "intifadas," an Arabic word that roughly translates into "shaking off." The first intifada lasted from December 1987 to September 1993. The second began in September 2000 and petered out in 2005. Together, they brought death to about 1,400 Israelis and 5,000 Palestinians. If a third intifada is in the cards, expect mayhem in the form of Palestinian riots, shootings and suicide bombings.
Unlike Gaza, the West Bank areas in which Israel allows a small degree of Palestinian autonomy aren't ruled by Hamas, but rather the Palestinian Authority. However, Gallup polling of West Bank Palestinians before Oct 7 found a marked decrease in hope for the next generation, with just 28% saying their children have opportunity to learn and grow.
Similarly, a late-2022 poll found 69% felt a two-state solution was impossible given widespread Jewish settlement of the West Bank, and 65% backed the formation of Palestinian militias. Notably, only 26% said they supported Hamas.
Against that backdrop of hopelessness after 56 years of military occupation, if Israeli settlers and soldiers continue their heightened abuse of Palestinians, a third intifada seems inevitable. Combined with the potential for all-out war with Hezbollah in the north, that could leave the IDF fighting a multidimensional, three-front war.