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As military violence intensifies, so does settler brutality

Jerusalem24 – Recorded numbers show that 2022 has been witnessing one of the deadliest waves of military attacks in the Palestinian territories, with the death toll for Palestinians standing at 184 since the beginning of the year, and violent attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank increasing in frequency and intensity.

Israeli settlers have also killed three Palestinians in the West Bank this year, including a 17-year-old boy. None have been prosecuted.

2022 has been the deadliest year in the West Bank since 2006, according to the UN Humanitarian Coordinator.

During the olive picking season in particular, which began two weeks ago, there is always a strong uptick in settler violence. According to Haaretz, most of the recent attacks occurred in the northern West Bank around Huwara, the Palestinian village that sits on the road connecting the northern and southern parts of the West Bank.

Mutaa, the Palestine Information Center, reported 106 Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians during the month of September.

On 21 October, Haaretz reported that over 100 violent acts were committed by Israeli settlers in just 10 days.

The settlers’ so-called “price tag” attacks include hurling stones, assaulting and clashing with Palestinians, smashing vehicles’ windows, burning cars and olive trees, shooting live ammunition at Palestinians, attacking residents’ houses, and interfering in medical crews’ work and physically attacking them.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society confirmed to Jerusalem24 that 23 violations by Israeli soldiers and settlers were committed against its crews during the month of October.

PRC reported that its crews were harassed and attacked in three different incidents and that ambulances came under attack in five other incidents. Medical crews were prevented from providing medical care in eight incidents, and in seven others, Israeli settlers and soldiers interfered with the medical crews’ work.

Fawaz Al-Bitar, an ambulance officer, was arrested on 19 October, after being detained along with a medical crew. An Israeli court renewed, today Thursday, his detention for seven days.

Four attacks in 24 hours

During a particularly tense episode two weeks ago, Huwara sustained four attacks in 24 hours.

On Thursday 13 October, settlers threw stones at cars and set fire to olive trees, before a group of Israeli soldiers arrived at the scene.

Abdullah Odeh, the owner of an amusement park in Huwara that was directly in the path of the first attack, told Middle East Eye in an interview on 15 October that settlers were there for a duration of 20 minutes, and managed to set fire to dozens of olive trees and destroy windows and the body of three vehicles.

“The settlers were retreating, but when they saw the soldiers, they came back in force, and started to get closer, breaking everything in their path,” Odeh told MEE. “The soldiers did not push them back. Instead, they started to attack us and shoot toward us.”

At the same time that the group of settlers was attacking Odeh’s amusement park and the surrounding homes, a different group of armed and masked settlers was launching an attack on homes and businesses on the main road of Huwara, according to testimonies collected by MEE.

That night at 3:00AM, the settlers returned and vandalized more stores in the area and injured a security guard.

Later on Friday, around 1:00PM when residents were praying at the mosque, the settlers returned for the fourth time and vandalized more houses and businesses.

“Since the attacks began on Thursday, the settlers burned down between 20 and 30 olive groves and vandalized more than 30 shops and homes. Israeli forces arrested at least eight Palestinians from Huwara and wounded several others during confrontations,” Mohammad Khalaf, a spokesperson for the Huwara municipality, told MEE.

Nowhere is safe

While Huwara has found itself at the center of recent attacks, Palestinian communities across the West Bank routinely find themselves the subject of settler violence, almost always under the eye of the Israeli military which only intervenes in support of the settlers, in incidents that have become more brutal and brazen.

On 25 October, Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians in Turmus Aya, a wealthy town north of Ramallah, while they were picking olives. The settlers burned down a car belonging to the Wall and Settlement Resistance commission and another belonging to a resident, in an attack that was thoroughly documented on social media.

On 24 October, settlers attacked homes and vehicles of citizens in the town of Tuqu‘, southeast of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.

Local sources reported that a group of settlers hurled stones at several houses and vehicles belonging to the Al-Amour family, smashing their windows.

Selective impunity

On 20 October, a group of Israeli settlers hurled rocks at passing Palestinian vehicles in Huwara before also attacking Israeli soldiers deployed in the area.

The Israeli army said that settlers pepper-sprayed two additional soldiers at Tafuah (Tapuach) Junction, also in the West Bank.

Settlers attacking Israeli soldiers is not unheard of. Recording two attacks in one day, however, is unusual.

One of the attackers, an Israeli soldier who lives in an illegal settlement near the city of Nablus, was subsequently arrested.

According to a statement issued by the army, the Israeli soldiers were “violently attacked, including by pepper spray, by a number of settlers”, resulting in the injury of the commander of the unit and another soldier, according to Haaretz.

The Israeli army issued a prompt condemnation. “The settlers’ behavior, who are being protected by them [the soldiers], is unacceptable behavior which must be vigorously stamped out.”

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid described the assailants as “dangerous criminals” who “must be punished without hesitation. They are endangering the lives of our soldiers and are harming the State of Israel.”

This was a rare instance of an immediate and severe condemnation followed by judicial action against Israeli settlers carrying out attacks in the West Bank – but only for their attacks against Israeli soldiers.

Just one day before on 19 October, a 70-year-old Israeli left-wing activist was attacked by Israeli settlers in the village of Kisan east of Bethlehem while she was helping Palestinians with the olive harvest.

Hagar Gefan was hospitalized and suffered from a broken hand and ribs, a punctured lung, and required stitches to the head.

Israeli police notified Gefan that she is wanted for questioning, before telling her they were seeking her testimony about the incident, Haaretz reported.

Two other left-wing activists who were attacked by settlers that day were called in for questioning by the Israeli police on Wednesday. No settlers who participated in the documented attack have been arrested at time of publication.

Yesh Din, an Israeli NGO that tracks settler and settlement activity in the occupied West Bank, reports that between 2005 and 2021, “approximately 3% of investigation files (52 files) opened following ideologically motivated offenses Israeli settlers committed against Palestinians in the West Bank led to convictions.”

Nadeen Alshaer

Alshaer is a Palestinian journalist, a Birzeit University graduate with a B.A. in TV and Radio Broadcasting Journalism. Alshaer has 6 years of experience in journalism. She currently works as a reporter, editor and presenter/producer for PBC-Palestine TV and Jerusalem24 radio. She’s a UN and Kelley School of Business alumna.

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