Israeli settler violence in Hawara is a sign of what's to come
Not even a week after Israeli settlers rampaged in the village of Hawara in the occupied West Bank, settlers threatened to enact another pogrom against the Palestinian community on Saturday.
Flyers calling to destroy Hawara — overlain with an image of the village burning — spread on social media over the weekend. While a repeat of last week’s attack hasn’t yet occurred, Palestinians and international workers in the occupied West Bank are now bracing for more violence to erupt.
On 26 February, hundreds of settlers descended on Hawara after a Palestinian fatally shot two Israeli settlers driving through the village earlier that day.
"We've seen settlers attacking in full daylight. We've seen coordination among settlers. We see settlers using bulldozers. We see more and more intimidation and harassment"
Surrounded by settlements, Hawara is a frequent target for attacks, but residents and NGOs never expected the violence to reach the degree seen on that fateful Sunday.
“We have anticipated [settler violence], but we never thought that it would be of such an intensity,” a director at a European NGO, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of Israeli delegitimisation, told The New Arab.
Munir Qaddus, a field researcher for Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organisation reporting on settler violence, explained that Hawara is a prime location for violence because Highway 60, a road used by both Israeli settlers and Palestinians, runs through the town.
However, Qaddus described the latest attack as unique for occurring in Hawara’s main centre instead of on the village’s outskirts where previous violence took place.
“In recent years, attacks have become more aggressive and dangerous, and started happening inside the village,” Qaddus said. “[Attacks] kept going up and up and up until last Sunday when everything exploded and we saw the climax.”
Last year was the deadliest for Palestinians since 2004, with Israeli forces and settlers killing 146 Palestinians. This year is on track to becoming even deadlier, with more than 60 Palestinians killed in the first two months, according to UN data.
Settler violence has increased by 90 per cent since January 2021, according to field reporting from international NGOs.
“We expect a 20 per cent increase of settler attacks in 2023,” the NGO director said, explaining that in the last few years settler violence has not only increased in frequency but also in severity.
“We've seen settlers attacking in full daylight. We've seen coordination among settlers. We see settlers using bulldozers. We see more and more intimidation and harassment,” the director said. “Hawara is just representative of what's happening everywhere, in the overall occupied West Bank.”
Following the pogrom, Israeli Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich, said, “Hawara needs to be wiped out” during an interview.
"[Israel] has reached its ultimate point of fascism. So, it's very normal for [settlers] to feel this huge power in their hands"
The leader of the far-right Religious Zionism Party is also a minister in the Defence Ministry overseeing Israeli civilian affairs in the West Bank. His remark drew strong condemnation and caused the politician to clarify his language, stating his “word choice was wrong", but the intention was very clear.
Made up of religious extremists, Israel’s newest government is the most far-right in its history. With settlers like Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir in high-ranking positions and regularly using inflammatory rhetoric, settlers are feeling more emboldened.
But Palestinians caution against simply putting Israel’s current leadership at fault.
“I will not blame the governments, where one goes and another comes. I blame the main policy of the state,” Qaddus said. “Because people are changing, figures are changing, even individuals are changing, but the policy is one. It’s about grabbing more land and depopulating Palestinians. And this is permanent.”
Qaddus explained that the Israeli army’s inaction during the riots demonstrates how settler terrorism is state-sanctioned.
The military reportedly let settlers enter Hawara while restricting residents’ movement with checkpoints, didn’t stop settlers from rampaging the area, and blocked medical aid from entering the town.
Younes Arar, director of international and public relations and media for the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s Colonisation and Wall Resistance Commission, emphasised the state’s complicity in Hawara.
“Everything was prepared, everything was set - from the top of the government to the lowest, they knew about it,” Arar said.
Today, settlers are becoming even more empowered through the government. In 2020, Israel’s Settlement Affairs Ministry began allowing settlement councils to apply for financial support in order to monitor Palestinian building activities in Israeli-military-controlled Area C of the West Bank.
The funds are allocated for drones, field inspector salaries, vehicles, aerial photography, and fencing.
"People are changing, figures are changing, even individuals are changing, but the policy is one. It's about grabbing more land and depopulating Palestinians. And this is permanent"
Coupled with increasing impunity, Arar described the Israeli settlers and the state as untouchable as violence increases but inaction from the international community remains.
“[Israel] has reached its ultimate point of fascism,” Arar said. “So, it's very normal for them to feel this huge power in their hands.” And with this mindset, another Hawara feels inevitable.
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