11/16/2023, 14.28
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The other side of Gaza: a thousand Palestinians displaced in settlers’ 'war' in the West Bank

At least 963 Palestinians have had to flee their homes since 7 October compared to 480 in the previous 21 months. In just over a month, 185 settler attacks were reported in more than 84 towns and villages. For B'Tselem, the government and settlers want to "Judaize Area C." Lapid slams Netanyahu as unfit to govern, calls for a government of national rehabilitation led by another Likud leader.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - A "shadow" war is unfolding alongside Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza. The latter has monopolised the attention of the international community, but what is happening in the West Bank is no less tragic and worrisome for the future of the Holy Land.

B'Tselem and Peace Now, two of Israel’s most important pro-peace and anti-occupation groups, have reported that "violence and harassment" by Jewish settlers have driven about a thousand Palestinians from their West Bank villages.

Events in the Gaza Strip and its related humanitarian emergency and the de facto joint actions by pro-occupation groups and Israel’s military have led to an escalation of attacks and distracted world attention, experts say.

One of the consequences of these attacks is the "depopulation" of several villages and areas in the West Bank, where the security situation is becoming increasingly precarious, although the current Israeli government has long guaranteed broad freedom of movement (and attacks) by settlers.

Amid the instability and tensions, Hamas’s operations in southern Israel and Israel’s all-out war in Gaza, with its long trail of bloodshed especially among civilians, have precipitated the situation.

The repercussions of events in Gaza, the activist groups warn, are having an impact on Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, victims of equally violent attacks by extremist settlers and Israeli (IDF) reservists.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that from 7 October to 12 November, a total of 963 Palestinians had to flee their homes in the West Bank due to attacks, threats and restrictions on movement imposed by settlers.

The figure for the four-week period is almost double the number of those who fled in the previous 21 months, when, according to B'Tselem, about 480 Palestinians left their homes in the West Bank between January 2022 to October 2023.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967, a territory that today includes a large number of Jewish settlements and outposts considered illegal under international law.

The attacks come at a time when fighting in Gaza is intensifying, capturing almost the entire attention of the Jewish state and the international community.

Settler attacks occur mainly in Area C, a section of the West Bank administered directly by Israel.

Palestinian authorities say at least 185 people have been killed since the war began on 7 October, mostly in IDF military raids. Earlier, OCHA reported 199 Palestinian deaths in the West Bank in 2023.

According to Yesh Din, another NGO group that opposes Israeli control of the West Bank, more than 185 settler attacks have been reported against Palestinians in more than 84 towns and villages since 7 October.

“The scale and intensity of the attacks have escalated,” B'Tselem spokesman Dror Sadot told al-Monitor. The “settlers are basically targeting community after community, attacking multiple times … under the cover of the Gaza war.”

“The general violence is escalating. It’s not only the settlers, it’s also the army. Israel’s control of the civilian population is being tightened,” Dror added, noting that there are more checkpoints and limitations on movement as well.

The situation is particularly complicated in Hebron – site of the Cave of the Patriarchs and the Ibrahimi Mosque, a major flashpoint between Israeli settlers and Palestinians – where the IDF has imposed curfews in 11 neighbourhoods.

For the anti-occupation movement, settler attacks are not separate from Israeli government policy. “Israel and the settlers want the same thing and aim for the same goal: to Judaize Area C,” Dror explained.

"Israel is basically granting the settlers immunity. Nobody is being held accountable. So it’s kind of an unofficial arm of the state.”

Israel's current governing coalition includes staunch Jewish nationalist parties that support the settler movement. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich both live in West Bank settlements.

"Violent settlers sit in the government and the settlers know it," Dror said.

For his part, opposition leader Yair Lapid spoke yesterday for the first time since the Hamas attack, criticising Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In his view, he is no longer able to lead the government, and public opinion no longer trusts him.

These views are reflected in the polls. The latest one published on 14 November shows that only 4 per cent of Israeli Jews see the current prime minister as a "reliable source" of information about the war and support his leadership.

Interviewed by Israeli Channel 12, the centrist leader said that "this government is not functioning. We need a change in the government. Netanyahu cannot continue being the prime minister of the State of Israel."

Lapid then added that "what we need is a government of national rehabilitation”, which he is willing to join, led by Likud as the majority party, with no elections but on the condition that Netanyahu is not the prime minister.

(Photo from B’Tselem’s Facebook page)

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