Since the war on Gaza began, violence against Palestinians has surged in the West Bank

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Families from across the West Bank gather in Ramallah for an upcoming prisoner release
Families from across the West Bank gather in Ramallah for an upcoming prisoner release. Their journey is risky due to a recent increase in Israeli settler attacks on October 7, reports Al Jazeera's Nida Ibrahim. Image: Al Jazeera screenshot Palestine Online

ANALYSIS: By Tristan Dunning, University of Queensland, and Martin Kear, University of Sydney

While the world remains fixated on the devastating October 7 Hamas attacks and the subsequent Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, there has been a pronounced — and mostly unnoticed — escalation in violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Before the recent events, this had already been the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2005, with about 200 fatalities, mostly attributed to Israeli security forces.

This figure has more than doubled since October 7, including the killings of 55 children. That brings the yearly fatality total in the West Bank to more than 450 Palestinians so far, according to the United Nations.

The UN has also recorded 281 settler attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank since October 7, resulting in eight deaths. Four Israelis have been killed in attacks by Palestinians.

In nearly half of the settler attacks, Israeli security forces either “accompanied or actively supported the attackers”, according to the UN.

A sharp increase in displacements
It is no coincidence the upsurge in anti-Palestinian violence this year has corresponded with the coming to power of the most right-wing nationalist government in Israeli history.

The new hardline government promised to expand Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since capturing the territory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

This has emboldened Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, who now regularly engage in violence and provocative nationalist actions around the al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Since 1967, Israel has built over 270 settlements containing approximately 750,000 settlers. Despite these settlements being deemed illegal under international law, they remain protected by the Israeli military and their own security squads.

In February, the Israeli government transferred the West Bank from military to civilian control, which critics claimed could represent a step towards legalised annexation.

Since October 7 alone, the Israeli human rights group B’tselem reports that 16 Palestinian communities have been “forcibly transferred” in Area C, which covers about 65 percent of the West Bank and is under complete Israeli control. Overall, more than 1000 Palestinians have been displaced in the West Bank due to settler violence and access restrictions, according to the UN.

"High Fives" . . . Hamas release more hostages
“High Fives” . . . Hamas release more hostages to the ICRC on Day 6 of the temporary truce. Image: Palestine Online/ @OnlinePalEng

According to a group of UN experts:

Israel’s continuous annexation of portions of the occupied Palestinian territory […] suggests that a concrete effort may be under way to annex the entire occupied Palestinian territory in violation of international law.

Settler violence against Palestinians also includes the uprooting of hundreds of olive trees, destruction of property, blocked roads, armed raids and sabotaged wells. Military checkpoints and barriers make movement between Palestinian areas increasingly difficult.

Settlers also enjoy civilian and political rights in the West Bank, while Palestinians are subjected to military rule. This has been described by human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’tselem, as well as prominent Israelis, as apartheid.

In a study of 1,000 cases of settler violence submitted to the Israeli judiciary between 2005 and 2021, the human rights organisation Yesh Din found 92% were dismissed.

A recipe for more violence
The West Bank continues to be run, at least in parts, by the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority (PA), led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah.

However, the PA is considered corrupt, nepotistic and is deeply unpopular among Palestinians in the territories. Recent polling revealed 78 percent of Palestinians want Abbas to resign. Primarily, this is because the PA is seen by Palestinians in the West Bank as nothing more than Israel’s security subcontractor and has suppressed demonstrations in solidarity with Gaza.

As a result, a younger generation of Palestinian fighters has emerged in West Bank towns and cities that transcend the longstanding divide between Hamas in Gaza and the PA in the West Bank.

These self-defence battalions are intended to defend Palestinians against Israeli incursions, especially in the Jenin refugee camp and the old city of Nablus, both of which have repeatedly been the subject of Israeli raids this year.

Meanwhile, Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister and the leader of the Jewish Power Party, continues to openly defend settlers’ actions, setting the stage for more attacks.

Earlier this year, a joint statement by the Israeli military, Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic security agency) and Israeli police condemned Jewish settler violence against Palestinians, saying the increased vigilantism contradicted Jewish values and were a form of “nationalist terror in the full sense of the term”. Days later, though, Ben-Gvir blocked condemnation of the settlers and is reported to have called them “sweet kids” who had been turned into adults in detention.

After the October 7 attacks, Ben-Gvir’s ministry announced it had purchased 10,000 assault rifles to be distributed to civilian security teams around the country, including in West Bank settlements.

Other senior Israeli politicians have also been seen to encourage violence. In March, for instance, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is also in charge of the civil administration of the West Bank, said a Palestinian town called Huwara should be “wiped out”.

The US State Department said the comment amounted to an incitement of violence and called it “repugnant”. Smotrich later apologised, calling it a “slip of the tongue”.

All of this has helped create an environment of fear, frustration and desperation among Palestinians in the West Bank. Following five weeks of war in Gaza, the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research reported 69 percent of Palestinians say they “fear future settler attacks”.

The upshot of this continued violence in the West Bank is the prospects for a viable two-state solution are more remote than ever, leaving Palestinians with little alternative then to continue resisting. The Conversation

Tristan Dunning, honorary research fellow, The University of Queensland and Martin Kear, sessional lecturer Dept Govt & Int Rel., University of Sydney. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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