Palestinians brace for a dystopian nightmare in 2023
In 2022, Israeli security forces and settlers killed more Palestinians in the West Bank than in any year since the United Nations began documenting such fatalities in 2005.
According to figures, 146 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and Border Police (Magav), including 34 children, in addition to four killed by settlers.
The deadliest year for West Bank Palestinians in almost two decades culminated with the return of Israel’s ousted prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the most far-right government in the country's history, exacerbating Palestinian fears of what lies ahead.
"Netanyahu's government represents a green light for settlers to escalate their violence across the occupied West Bank"
With 2023 having barely begun, Israeli forces have already killed four Palestinians within four days. Israel’s new Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, meanwhile, provoked international condemnation after visiting the Al-Asqa Mosque compound under heavy police guard.
The Israeli army has also initiated plans to displace more than 1,000 Palestinians in Masafer Yatta in the southern West Bank, demolishing homes, schools, farms and water infrastructure in the village.
Emboldened settlers, impunity for soldiers
The composition of Netanyahu’s government represents a green light for settlers to escalate their violence across the occupied West Bank and for Israeli forces to act with greater disregard for Palestinian lives and basic rights.
Shortly following the Israeli far-right’s electoral victory, an Israeli soldier was filmed beating up an Israeli peace activist in Hebron while another was telling Palestinian nonviolent resistance activist Issa Amro, "I hate left-wingers. Ben-Gvir is going to sort things out in this place. That's it, you guys have lost... the fun is over".
When the two soldiers were suspended, Ben-Gvir and members of the Knesset from Netanyahu’s Likud party railed against the army’s decision and defended the soldiers. Ben-Gvir visited the soldiers’ families to show support. Shortly after, footage showed Israeli soldiers dancing jubilantly around Ben-Gvir.
With Ben-Gvir, leader of the far-right Jewish Power party, taking control of the Israeli paramilitary border police and police forces, Palestinians expect Israeli violations to increase significantly.
The far-right provocateur agreed a deal with the ruling Likud party to relax Israel’s already controversial rules of engagement to allow for fatally shooting Palestinians holding stones or firebombs.
The deal proposes granting full immunity to Israeli soldiers and policemen even if they act in violation of the rules of engagement or when outside active duty.
The first statement outlining the new Israeli government’s official basic policy, posted by Netanyahu on Twitter, is that “The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel,” including the occupied Golan Heights and the West Bank.
Hagai El-Ad, the head of Israel’s leading Human Rights organisation, B’Tselem, commented that this is a declaration of “a regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea,” which conforms to the crime of apartheid.
"Netanyahu's government pledged in late December to 'Judaise' the Galilee and the Negev by providing land discounts and other benefits to Jewish citizens"
The 'Judaisation' of Palestinian areas in Israel
A prominent official discriminatory policy of the new government is the ‘Judaisation’ of areas with significant Palestinian populations inside Israel, such as the Negev and the Galilee.
Since 1948, the Israeli government has blocked the creation of new Palestinian communities in the Galilee despite overcrowding in existing Palestinian towns in the area. The Israeli government has developed industrial zones which are almost exclusive to Jewish communities, while systematically excluding Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin.
Netanyahu’s government pledged in late December to ‘Judaise’ the Galilee and the Negev by providing land discounts and other benefits to Jewish citizens only, with extra discounts to Jewish Israelis who served in the army.
The government’s plan further proposes amending the law to allow small cooperative communities to screen potential residents to ensure Jewish-only towns.
'Doomsday settlements' and legalising outposts
In addition, the new Israeli government has pledged to legalise settlement outposts built without authorisation, which are deemed illegal under Israeli law, and to allow for the revival of evacuated outposts such as Homesh, which fuelled tensions for years with Palestinians.
Furthermore, shortly before the departure Ben-Gvir’s predecessor Ayelet Shaked from office, she instructed the Jerusalem District Committee to expedite plans for the frozen settlement of Atarot, which is among the so-called ‘doomsday settlements’ – construction in the E1 area near East Jerusalem that would render a future Palestinian state unviable, ending the two-state solution.
Weakening the Palestinian Authority to the brink of collapse
The year 2022 was a tough financial year for Palestinians, with the Palestinian Authority (PA) unable to pay its civil servants their full salaries, cutting wages by 80%.
Israel’s government continues to withhold about $180 million annually from the PA’s tax revenues due to a 2018 Israeli law to punish the PA for paying stipends to the families of Palestinians killed or imprisoned by Israel.
The year ahead does not look any better for the PA, with far-right Israeli parties that created the 2018 law back in power.
Furthermore, the head of Israel’s far-right Religious Zionist party, Bezalel Smotrich, became the Ministry of Finance in Netanyahu’s government, further portending a year of financial strangulation against the Palestinians.
Smotrich also assumed a second role in the Ministry of Defence that makes him a de facto ‘prime minister’ in the West Bank in charge of settlements and the Israeli military’s civil administration that rules over Palestinians.
In 2017, Smotrich proposed a “subjugation plan” aiming "to erase all Palestinian national hope," which he derived from the biblical genocidaire, Joshua bin Nun.
Smotrich’s plan would give Palestinians three options: leave the occupied territories; surrender to living perpetually as inferior second-class non-citizens; or resist and be dealt with by the Israeli army.
"The Israeli government seems intent on weakening the Palestinian Authority to the point of collapse"
Deportations, capital punishment, and prisoners
In late 2022, Israel drew condemnation from the French government for deporting Palestinian-French lawyer Salah Hammouri from East Jerusalem to Paris, which the United Nations deemed a forcible population transfer from occupied territory, and therefore a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Palestinians fear they will witness more deportations soon, with Ben-Gvir as Security Minister being able to revoke the residency status of East Jerusalemites and expel them to the oPt. The far-right politician campaigned on expelling “disloyal” Palestinian citizens of Israel and members of the Knesset as well as East Jerusalemites.
Ben Gvir also oversees Israel’s Prison Service and plans to make conditions for Palestinian prisoners and detainees even worse than they already are, where they live in crowded cells and experience physical and psychological abuse, besides being denied family visits.
Furthermore, the far-right coalition agreed to create a new unit in the Israeli Security Agency, Shin Bet, specifically for Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as enforcing the death penalty on Palestinians and Palestinian citizens of Israel convicted of terrorism.
These factors, combined with Ben-Gvir’s pledge to change the status quo at the Haram Al-Sharif to allow for triumphalist Jewish prayer, bode ill for the future, threatening to destabilise the occupied Palestinian territories and lead to a popular uprising or another war on Gaza.
Muhammad Shehada is a Palestinian writer and analyst from Gaza and the EU Affairs Manager at Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor.
Follow him on Twitter: @muhammadshehad2