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Violence and Forced Displacement Increase in the West Bank


Residents watch as an Israeli bulldozer demolishes a Palestinian home in the Umm Qasas area of Masafer Yatta in the occupied West Bank, on July 25, 2022. (MOSAB SHAWER/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

Waging Peace


THE BALFOUR PROJECT and Sadaka, the Ireland Palestine Alliance, cohosted a webinar on Dec. 19, 2023 to examine the dire conditions Palestinians face in the West Bank, particularly in Masafer Yatta, a region in the South Hebron Hills subjected to an Israeli lockdown and rampant settler violence. 


Even before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, 2023 marked the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2005, as 234 people were killed in just over nine months. Between Oct. 7 and Jan. 14, 2024, Israeli occupation forces (IOF) and armed settlers killed an additional339 Palestinians in the West Bank, including 88 children. Israel is also conducting “a massive sweep of arrests and arbitrary detentions” in the West Bank, with 5,835 Palestinians abducted since Oct. 7, stated Susan Power, head of legal research and advocacy at Al-Haq, a Ramallah-based human rights group. “We’re witnessing a number of forcible transfer measures as well: the transfer or the removal of Palestinians from their homes through settler violence, through punitive house demolitions and various attacks on property.” 


The settler movement’s “creeping annexation” of the West Bank is a “continuation of the Nakba,” Power explained. “There are 700,000 settlers who are colonizing the West Bank…in the first six months of this year [2023], the Israeli government legalized 22 new settlements.” The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) found that incidents of settler-related violence occurred three times a day on average during the first eight months of 2023. Israeli officials have offered tacit to unequivocal support for the rampant incursions, with National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir celebrating the murderers of a Palestinian teenager as “heroes” and distributing automatic rifles to settlers. 


Palestinians in Masafer Yatta already faced home demolitions, denial of water access, electricity shortages, arbitrary detentions and summary killings before Oct. 7, Owda Hathaleen, a human rights activist and English teacher based in the area, emphasized. The scope and frequency of Israeli persecution has drastically increased in recent months. “Nowadays, they [the IOF] are raiding houses most every night,” including his residence. An IOF lockdown has separated the area’s 19 hamlets by closing off nearly all access between them, Hathaleen said. “All of the villages now are not connected, all the villages are besieged from all sides, and all of the entrances are closed.” He said the lockdown prevents most Palestinians from traveling to work or buying food.


The blockade has also had a devastating impact on the physical and mental health of Masafer Yatta’s residents. Citing “fear, terror, stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, very poor economic conditions and restrictions on movement,” Hathaleen observed that “there is no hope at all” in the South Hebron Hills. “We are asking everyone in the world to do their best to stop this,” he implored. “We wish that we will get justice and we will get our dignity back, and we will sleep even one night while feeling safe.”


Life in the occupied territories has become exponentially worse as Israeli atrocities are “escalating in their gravity,” Power reported. “War crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are now being carried out in the orchestration of this settler colonial project.” She called on the international community to sanction Israel; initiate an arms embargo; prohibit trade with settlements; and impose asset freezes and travel bans on government, settler and military officials. Additionally, she recommended that states warn dual-Israeli citizens that they could be held liable for war crimes. 


“We can only resolve this issue by going back to the root causes,” Power asserted. “So it is important for states to recognize that the situation is settler colonialism and apartheid and then introduce measures that bring the settler colonization to an end and address the right to full self-determination for the Palestinian people.” 


 

(c) 2024, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

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