'Days of horror': West Bank faces 'worst settler violence yet' amidst concerns of further ethnic cleansing by Israel

'Days of horror': West Bank faces 'worst settler violence yet' amidst concerns of further ethnic cleansing by Israel
Israeli settler violence — backed by the Israeli military — has spread across the occupied West Bank and grown exponentially since 7 October.
5 min read
18 April, 2024
The settler movement across the occupied West Bank has taken advantage of the Gaza war to intensify local Palestinians' house demolitions, with the backing of Israel's far-right government. [picture by Issam Ahmed]

Families across the occupied West Bank said they've been living "days of horror" since Friday, as mobs of Israeli settlers raided their villages and properties in the hundreds, accompanied by Israeli soldiers, killing at least eight Palestinians and causing indiscriminate devastation.

The latest round of settler violence, extending from Nablus in the north of the occupied West Bank to central Ramallah, erupted after 14-year-old Benjamin Achimeir from a settler family went missing on Friday, and his body was found a day later in a village in the West Bank.

The death of Achimeir, who was out grazing sheep, unleashed yet another rampage of settler violence, with attacks against Palestinians being reported in the towns of Khirbet Abu Falah, Turmus Ayya, Sinjil, Beyten, Deir Dibwan and Al-Mazra'a Al-Sharqiya in Ramallah governorate, as well as Nablus' Douma, Qasra, Jalud and Aqraba.

Palestinian activists told The New Arab that the proximity of the targeted locations and the ferociousness of the attacks can only be seen as part of a broader Israeli plan to take over these villages and towns.

According to residents interviewed by TNA across the assaulted regions, not only was the latest wave of violence "the worst in months," but it was also clearly sanctioned by the Israeli military, whose soldiers Palestinian victims said were complicit in these attacks.

Tamer Abu Alia, a resident of Al-Mugheir and father of six, said that "some 1,500 settlers, many of whom were armed, raided the eastern part of the town, firing at people and throwing rocks, all under the sight of the Israeli army".

Inspecting the damage done to parts of his house, which settlers had set ablaze, he said, "We barely made it alive, but we had to leave our house". Abu Ali added that his two vehicles were torched down, along with parts of his brother's house, which is next door, and his cousin's flock of sheep was also stolen. His family has not felt safe returning home since then.

"The Israeli army is complicit in all this. No one stopped the settlers while they attacked. In fact, Israeli soldiers fired at us and used tear gas," said the 41-year-old.

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In a report issued on 17 April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, "The Israeli military either took part in or did not protect Palestinians from violent settler attacks in the West Bank that have displaced people from 20 communities and have entirely uprooted at least 7 communities since October 7, 2023."

Palestinians, many of whom were forced to flee their homes as they were threatened with death if they stayed, said armed settlers were accompanied by Israeli soldiers, and both groups were firing at civilians, burning down homes and cars, and threatening families.

'Gaza-fying the West Bank'

In response to questions, Colonization & Wall Resistance Commission (CWRC) said 75 citizens have been injured in settler attacks since Friday, mostly by live ammunition, 14 cases of whom are critically injured. The local nonprofit tracking assaults by Israeli parties against Palestinians in the West Bank told TNA that, since Friday, 49 houses were fully burned down by Israeli settlers, while they torched 59 houses partially, in addition to 92 vehicles, including four trucks, five diggers and seven tractors.

Settlers also went after animals, destroying 21 barns, stealing and slaughtering over 240 cattle and burning thousands of chickens.

While settler violence in the occupied West Bank was already on the rise before the 7 October Hamas-led attacks on Israeli military bases and civilian settlements within and around the Gaza envelope that unleashed a heinous seven-month war on Gaza by Israel, the ongoing war, which killed more than 33,000 people in the besieged strip, also marked an intensification of Israeli assaults in the occupied West Bank, drawing criticism and expressions of concerns even from Israel's staunchest allies.

Palestinians' properties in Al-Mughayer, northeast of Ramallah, were heavily targeted over the 13-14 April weekend [picture by Issam Ahmed]

Suleiman Dawabsha, head of the village council of Duma, south of Nablus, said Israel "is bringing the Gaza war into the West Bank", stating that the Israeli army protected settlers during the "war they waged on Palestinians".

"The settlers' attack was a real battle, but an unequal one. The defenceless residents of the town faced hundreds of settlers armed with pistols and rifles, with the protection and support of the Israeli army," he told TNA, adding that six Palestinians were wounded and many properties damaged. "If it weren't that residents stood up for the settlers, the outcome would've been much worse."

According to Ramallah-based member of CWRC Kazem al-Hajj Muhammad, these attacks are "planned for by the settlers' leadership and in agreement with the Israeli government," adding that "the targeted towns in the Ramallah and Nablus governorates are adjacent and fall within an integrated settlement plan aimed at expelling the Palestinians, controlling the land, and building a settlement bloc."

Muhammad pointed out that in recent years, Israeli settlers have established many illegal settlement outposts and pastoral outposts with the aim of preventing Palestinians from reaching their land.

He went on to say, "The shepherd settler determines the borders of the settlement outpost depending on where their sheep reaches, which makes these areas forbidden to the Palestinian who owns that land. The settler then imposes these borders by force, using his weapons and the Israeli army that provides him with protection."

This piece is published in collaboration with Egab.