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'Not Just Gaza': IDF Killings in West Bank Surge to Unprecedented Levels

"These killings are taking place at a level without recent precedent in an environment in which Israeli forces have no need to fear that their government will hold them accountable," said a Human Rights Watch researcher.

IDF raid on Tulkarem in the West Bank, May 4 -- image via X

By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams

The Israeli military is unlawfully killing civilians in the occupied West Bank at an unprecedented rate, according to a Human Rights Watch report released Wednesday as Israel moved forward with its ground assault on the overcrowded Gaza city of Rafah.

"It's not just Gaza," Omar Shakir, HRW's Israel and Palestine director, wrote on social media, pointing to the new report's finding that Israeli forces killed more than twice the number of Palestinians in the West Bank in 2023 than in any year since 2005, when the United Nations began its data collection.

Figures cited by HRW show that the rate of killings in the West Bank was even higher during the first quarter of 2024. In 2023, Israeli forces killed 492 Palestinians in the West Bank, including 120 children. During just the first three months of 2024, the Israeli military killed 131 Palestinians in the occupied territory.

HRW noted that in numerous cases since 2022, "Israeli security forces have unlawfully used lethal force in fatal shootings of Palestinians, including deliberately executing Palestinians who posed no apparent security threat."

In one incident examined by HRW, Israeli forces fatally shot 15-year-old Taha Mahamid and his father, Ibrahim, at the entrance of a West Bank refugee camp. Israel's military then impeded ambulances as they tried to reach Taha and Ibrahim.

The Israeli military did not acknowledge its killing of Taha and his father.

"Residents said that Israeli forces had a practice of taking positions in and atop buildings in the camp to provide cover for troops to enter," HRW said. "There was no apparent basis for shooting Taha and Ibrahim Mahamid, Human Rights Watch found. They posed no imminent threat to life or serious injury, making their killings unlawful."

Richard Weir, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement Wednesday that "Israeli security forces are not just unlawfully killing Palestinians in Gaza, but have been killing Palestinians without a legal basis in the West Bank, including deliberately executing Palestinians who posed no apparent threat."

"These killings are taking place at a level without recent precedent in an environment in which Israeli forces have no need to fear that their government will hold them accountable," said Weir. "The Israeli government's permissive and discriminatory practices on the use of force and endemic impunity are one facet of the apartheid and structural violence Palestinians face every day. The unlawful killings in the West Bank will continue so long as the Israeli authorities' systemic repression of Palestinians continues."

Since Israel launched its latest assault on Gaza following a deadly Hamas-led attack in October, violence against Palestinians in the West Bank has surged, with both settlers and soldiers targeting civilians and effectively wiping entire communities "off the map."

HRW's new report observes that in recent years, Israeli officials—including some who are now key members of the far-right Netanyahu government—"have encouraged soldiers and police to kill Palestinians suspected of attacking Israelis, even when they are no longer a threat."

"In October 2022, Itamar Ben-Gvir, now the national security minister, said while running for election that it should be legal to use lethal force against anyone throwing stones," the group noted.

The U.S., Israel's top ally and arms supplier, has done little in response to deadly violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. In March, the Biden administration sanctioned a handful of extremist settlers.

The Biden State Department recently concluded that at least five Israeli military units are responsible for gross human rights violations but has thus far declined to sanction them, allowing the units to continue receiving U.S. aid.

"Repeated unlawful killings and endemic impunity are among the inhumane acts that make up the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution that Israeli authorities commit against Palestinians," HRW said Wednesday. "Governments should suspend arms and other military support to Israel because of the risk of complicity in grave abuses in Palestine, take action to ensure accountability including supporting the International Criminal Court's probe into serious crimes committed in Palestine, and impose targeted sanctions against those responsible for grave abuses."

Jake Johnson is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams.

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