(MENAFN- The Conversation) 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. The Israeli settlement of Kedar in the West Bank. Ohad Zwigenberg/AP
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% of the West Bank and is under complete Israeli control. Overall, over 1,000 Palestinians have been displaced in the West Bank due to settler violence and access restrictions, according to the UN. The West Bank town of Deir Sharaf was attacked by Israeli settlers in early November. Alaa Badarneh/EPA
According to a group of UN experts :
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.
Read more: Understanding the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 5 charts
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% 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. A Palestinian militant walks past burning tires during clashes with Israeli troops following a raid at the Jenin refugee camp in early November. Alaa Badarneh/EPA
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. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir (centre) inspects assault rifles being handed out to a security squad in the Israeli city of Ashkelon in late October. Hannibal Hanschke/EPA
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% 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.
Read more: West Bank's settler violence problem is a second sign that Israel's policy of ignoring Palestinians' drive for a homeland isn't a long-term solution
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