Between violent settlers and the IDF, Palestinians in the West Bank are suffering an unprecedented death toll. As Israel's machine of death claims the lives of defenseless civilians in Gaza, West Bank Palestinians face collective punishment and revenge for October 7
Until recently, we considered the city of Ramallah relatively safe, especially by day, as the Israeli army does not usually enter the city until after midnight to carry out arrest campaigns or demolish homes.
But what happened just over a week ago shattered this illusion.
I’m the bureau chief of Asharq News, an Arabic language television network, and my staff and I were preparing to broadcast from the balcony of the building that houses our office on Nablus Street in the center of the city. But suddenly we looked up to see dozens of Israeli soldiers spread out around the building and began shooting in every direction.
The Al Arabiya TV team in the office next door was also broadcasting from the balcony at the time. Their cameraman tried to point his lens at the soldiers. One of them saw him and opened fire at him. The bullets penetrated the glass partition, and the fragments hit an analyst guest, Khaldoun Barghouti, who was preparing to appear on the channel.
The channel's correspondent, Abdel Hafeez Jaawan, measured and found a bullet fell only 15 inches from where he had been standing.
The young man, Yazan Shiha, 23, worked for the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Transportation. He was in his office when he was struck by a fatal bullet in the abdomen. The boy was Ayham Al-Shafi’I, just 14. Ayham was among several boys seen throwing stones at the soldiers from a distance. It remains unclear to us why the soldiers were shooting at and near our office, but some soldiers were later seen trying to make an arrest nearby and they were also firing towards a group of stone-throwing youths, including Ayham.
Since the start of the war, I’ve seen on the ground myself that the Israeli army has changed the rules of engagement in the West Bank. Soldiers have begun firing live bullets in situations that in the past they would have refrained, apparently aiming to kill any target they see as a threat, among them a 70-year-old man in Tubas, near Nablus, and a handicapped 65-year-old man in Tulkarem.
We just marked the end of the first month of this new war between Israel and Hamas, and the number of Palestinians that have been killed in the West Bank is during this dark times is over 155 people, according to the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry.
It’s an unprecedented death toll for one month, more than in any month since the end of the Second Intifadah, twenty years ago. Some of the victims have been killed by settlers' bullets. Bilal Saleh, 40, was shot by a settler, a soldier on leave from the army at the time, while harvesting olives.
The goal of killing this farmer in his fields is clear: to spread fear in the hearts of all Palestinian farmers and olive pickers in the West Bank and drive them to leave their fields. Settler violence is a phenomenon we have seen grow since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power in January, but even before the war broke out it their aggression was intensifying and now appears to be spiraling to new heights.
In wake of the war, the army has closed most of the roads in the West Bank, and movement has become extremely difficult and risky. We, residents of Ramallah, who have families in the northern West Bank, are used to visiting our families on the weekends.
But since the start of the war we have not been able to leave the city because we fear settlers who are moving in armed groups throughout the rural areas, and from Israeli soldiers who appear to have been given license to shoot any Palestinian without accountability.
It seems clear to Palestinians living in the West Bank that many of the decisions of the Israeli authorities and the practices of the soldiers are aimed at revenge for the October 7 Hamas attacks, including wide-scale arrests. Over 2,000 Palestinians here have been arrested in the past month, including lawmakers, mayors, journalists, students, and women, the Palestinian Authority says.
Among the detainees are some 50 women, including journalist Somaya Jawabra, seven months pregnant mother of three. Those who know her, say she was arrested for her tweets which reportedly praised Hamas or wished them victory.
There’s a growing number of soldiers patrolling Israeli-controlled roads outside of West Bank villages and cities, stopping passersby and drivers, checking their IDs, and scrolling through their phones searching for signs of support for Hamas or Islamic Jihad and arresting those who have such “evidence” on their phone.
Many West Bank Palestinians have stopped tweeting on social media for fear of being arrested. The only explanation for what is happening in the West Bank is collective punishment and revenge, and perhaps the de-facto imposition of rules similar to what we saw in the pre-Oslo Accord era, where West Bank Palestinians could and were arrested on of grounds of possessing a prohibited book or newspaper.
Israeli soldiers stop impoverished Palestinian workers trying to enter Israel in search of work and publish videos on their social media accounts of them stripping the workers of their clothes, tying them up, and kicking them mercilessly. I’ve seen videos of these workers tied up and laid on the ground. Some of them have been interviewed on local radio stations where they say they have been beaten by soldiers.
Video showing Israeli soldiers humiliating detained Palestinians.
Israel says that it is implementing measures in the West Bank with the aim of preventing the opening of a second front there, in addition to the one in Gaza. But it’s clear that Israel is the one that is opening the door to that possibility through daily raids that include killing Palestinians, obstructing their movement, systematically insulting and humiliating them, and destroying infrastructure.
When war breaks out in Gaza between Hamas and Israel, residents of West Bank tend to watch the violence on television and await the results. They know that the weapons available in the West Bank won’t have an impact in a war being waged by much heavier weapons. The data supports this assumption, as the number of attacks against Israelis in the West Bank before the war was higher than those launched during this war.
While the war rages in Gaza, West Bank Palestinians continue to watch the spread of death on television, and they resort to all they have left to make them feel less helpless: praying to God to protect to protect the children, the elderly, and the women there. West Bank Palestinians have lost hope of anyone intervening to stop this all-out war.
In past wars, some counted on the U.S. administration to intervene, but this White House provides political, military and financial cover for Israel to continue the war, not end it.
Others used to bet on the Israeli street lobbying for an end to the fighting, but the Hamas attack on civilians on October 7 demolished the last bridges between the two societies.
Now there is nothing left for us to do but to pray to God to stop the machine of death that continues to claim the lives of defenseless civilians in Gaza. But we pray with great frustration, knowing that neither war – and not even promises of peace - can end this misery.
Mohammed Daraghmeh is the bureau chief of Ashraq News, an Arabic-language television channel.
(c) 2023, Haaretz