With all eyes on Gaza, Israeli settlers wage their own war in the West Bank

5 min read
19 October, 2023

On 13 October, an Israeli settler accompanied by a soldier shot a Palestinian man in the village of At-Tuwani in the occupied West Bank at point-blank range. Zakirah Adra, 29, remains in critical condition.

“We called the police and even they didn't come,” Zakirah Adra’s cousin, Basel Adra, a Palestinian journalist and activist who captured the shooting on film, told The New Arab.

“The violence is totally ignored and not just ignored by the international community now.”

"Israeli soldiers and settlers have killed over 60 Palestinians in the West Bank over the last 10 days"

In the aftermath of Hamas’ deadly 7 October attack on Israel, which killed over 1,400 people, Israeli settlers have harassed, attacked, and killed Palestinians in the occupied territories.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, soldiers and settlers have killed over 60 Palestinians over the last 10 days.

At least seven Palestinian villages in Israeli-military-controlled Area C of the West Bank have recently been fully or partially displaced due to settler violence.

Read more on Israeli settler violence
How Israel uses settler violence to displace Palestinians
Israeli settler violence in Hawara is a sign of what's to come
For the sake of the Temple: The rise of Israel's messianic settler movement

Basel Adra explained that attacks aren’t just limited to physical violence. Settlers are also destroying villages’ water tanks, blocking roads, and stopping residents from driving by taking their keys.

Many of these settlers are reservists now donning military uniforms as they’ve been drafted for the ongoing war, and anticipated ground invasion in Gaza.

“The road has become a nightmare for us when just going to buy [basic] needs,” Basel Adra said, explaining how At-Tuwani’s residents are now sleeping in shifts to guard against settler attacks.

In February this year, hundreds of Israeli settlers attacked Hawara and nearby villages, torching hundreds of Palestinian homes and cars. [Getty]

'Right now, one goal: Nakba!'

In response to Hamas’ attack, Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir vowed to arm civilian security teams, specifically around towns close to Israel’s borders, in illegal settlements in the West Bank, and in cities with both Palestinian and Jewish populations.

So far, about 150,000 firearms have been distributed to settlers, according to a security committee in the Israeli parliament.

“There is a very authentic and justified fear,” Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at Ir Amim, a Jerusalem-focused non-profit organisation, told The New Arab. “There is a lot of anger and even wanting revenge and feeling that you have to strike back.”

"Around 150,000 firearms have been distributed to settlers after Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir vowed to arm civilian security teams"

Israeli leaders have been accused of using genocidal language in responding to Hamas’ brutal attacks. Israeli President Isaac Herzog even pinned the blame on all Palestinians.

“It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. This rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved, it’s absolutely not true. They could’ve risen up, they could have fought against that evil regime,” Herzog said.

A member of Israel’s parliament, Ariel Kallner, called to repeat the mass expulsion of Palestinians during Israel’s establishment as a state in 1948, referred to as the Nakba or 'catastrophe' in Arabic.

“Right now, one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 1948,” he said.

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'Go up to the Temple Mount'

Settler organisation, Beyadenu - Returning to the Temple Mount, demanded that the Israeli government bar Palestinian Muslims from Al-Aqsa Mosque until Israelis captured by Hamas are released.

“The Temple Mount must be closed to Muslims until the last Israeli hostage returns to Israeli territory,” the extremist group said on X (formerly Twitter).

The group, which regularly leads incursions into the Al-Aqsa compound, also called for Jews to take over the holy site managed by the Jordanian Waqf.

“Go up to the Temple Mount and demand a free ascent to the Temple Mount and the expulsion of the Waqf!” the right-wing group wrote on social media.

Maale Adumim settlement
There are over 750,000 Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. [Getty]

“There are those who are using the situation and using the very strong emotions for incitement and for pushing for very drastic, violent measures that have nothing to do with security,” Tatarsky said.

And while the Israeli far-right weaponises the Hamas attack, the everyday person is clouded by fear, as Israeli citizens enraged by what happened are either unable or unwilling to distinguish between Palestinian armed groups and "terrorised Palestinians", Rabbi Arik Ascherman, director of Israeli human rights organisation, Torat Tzedek, said.

Ascherman, whose organisation is currently filing a joint appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court with Palestinians who recently fled the West Bank village of Wadi al-Sik because of settler violence, described how before the Hamas attack Palestinians and solidarity activists could sometimes receive army and police protection from settlers, but now that is no longer the case.

"These settlers don't care about the Israelis killed near Gaza. They want Palestinians to leave Area C so they can steal our land. And now the government has given them guns and allows them to wear uniforms so they can do these attacks"

“There is more than ever before, simply nobody to talk to,” Ascherman said.

But even as Israeli society is riddled with anger and pain, Basel Adra doesn’t view the intensified settler attacks as the product of vengeance.

Rather, he says settlers are merely manipulating the current political climate to commit more violence against Palestinians.

“These settlers don’t care about the Israelis killed near Gaza,” Adra said. “They want Palestinians to leave Area C so they can steal our land. And now the government has given them guns and allows them to wear uniforms so they can do these attacks.”

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist covering Palestine and Israel. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The National, and Gulf News.

Follow her on Twitter: @jess_buxbaum