With All Eyes on Gaza, Israeli Soldiers and Settlers Kill Dozens of West Bank Palestinians
"Many Israeli settlers have openly called for Palestinians to be wiped off the map," said one advocacy group. "Now, Israel is giving them the guns to achieve that vision."
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
While the world watches Israel's military pulverize Gaza amid anticipation of an imminent ground invasion of the besieged strip, Israeli soldiers and settlers—who are receiving thousands of assault rifles from the government—have killed dozens of Palestinians in the illegally occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem over the past week, officials there said on Friday.
At around 5:00 pm local time, the Palestinian Health Ministry said that 11 people were killed by Israeli occupation forces and settler-colonists in the West Bank and East Jerusalem so far on Friday, raising the death toll there to 46 and the number of wounded to over 700 since Hamas and other Gaza-based militants launched a massive cross-border attack on southern Israel last weekend, killing more than 1,300 Israeli soldiers and civilians.
In response, Israeli forces bombarded Gaza by air, land, and sea, killing at least 1,799 Palestinians—including at least 583 children—wounding at least 7,388 more, displacing hundreds of thousands, and cutting off water and power to the besieged strip's 2.3 million residents.
"Amidst the war and horrors in the south, away from the public eye, Israeli soldiers and settlers are engaging in deadly violence against Palestinians in the West Bank," the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din noted earlier this week. "The attacks are taking place within the villages themselves, on the roads, and in agricultural lands."
"Israeli settlers are shooting, injuring, setting fires, and damaging property and trees," the group added. "There is evidence that soldiers are allowing the violence to continue, sometimes joining in."
Some critics accused the Israeli government—and especially far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir—of enabling settler attacks by handing out thousands of military assault rifles to settlement residents.
"As it drops bomb after bomb on Palestinians in Gaza, Israel is giving 1000s of machine guns to extremist Israelis, including settlers in the Palestinian West Bank. There have already been reports of Israeli settlers using the weapons to attack every Palestinian they see," the California-based Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU) said on social media Thursday.
"The extremist settlers Israel is arming have spent years attacking Palestinian cities in lynch mobs, with full backing from the Israeli government," IMEU continued. "This year alone, they have killed Palestinian civilians and set fire to cars and homes with families inside."
"Many Israeli settlers have openly called for Palestinians to be wiped off the map. Now, Israel is giving them the guns to achieve that vision," the group added. "Israel is setting the stage for a genocide of Palestinians."
On Friday, Israeli settlers and soldiers attacked Palestinians protesting the assault on Gaza in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, killing three people, according to Agence France-Presse. Another Palestinian, a 13-year-old boy, was reportedly shot dead in Beit Furik, near Nablus.
Meanwhile, the Times of Israel reported that Israeli police on Friday shot and killed four Palestinians who allegedly detonated explosive devices in what the paper called an apparent attempt to breach the Israeli separation wall near Tulkarem.
Also on Friday, the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem published a video showing an Israeli settler ambushing and shooting an unarmed Palestinian man in the abdomen with an assault rifle at point-blank range near the West Bank village of At-Tuwani, south of Hebron. An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier seen standing nearby does not intervene. Instead, he escorts the shooter and another person away from the scene.
The Times of Israel reported the victim was severely injured, and that Israeli police know the identity of the shooter—a resident of a nearby illegal settlement—and will question him. However, as the newspaper noted, "assailants are rarely arrested, let alone prosecuted for their actions."
On Wednesday, a group of masked gunmen from the illegal Esh Kodesh settler outpost attacked the West Bank village of Qusra, south of Nablus. The attackers stormed the village in all-terrain vehicles, shooting indiscriminately and killing four Palestinians while wounding 11 others, including a 6-year-old girl. The settlers torched homes and other structures before fleeing.
The following day, Israeli settlers and troops opened fire on mourners and an ambulance carrying the victims of Wednesday's attack in Qusra, fatally wounding Ibrahim Wadi, 63, and his son, Ahmad Wadi, 26.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Thursday reported 49 settler attacks on West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians since October 7, including some in which IDF troops took part.
OCHA also said that 214 people from 35 Palestinian families from the Wadi as Seeq and Al Mu'arajat Bedouin communities fled their homes amid "systematic harassment and attacks by Israeli settlers," raising concerns of possible ethnic cleansing.
Additionally, the World Health Organization has documented 28 attacks on West Bank healthcare infrastructure or workers since October 7, including 20 assaults on medical professionals.
On Thursday, the Palestine-based International Middle East Media Centerreported Israeli occupation forces "stormed and ransacked dozens of homes across the West Bank" while abducting 42 Palestinians, many of them former political prisoners and at least one journalist.
Attacks by Israeli settlers and soldiers on West Bank Palestinians are nothing new. Prior to last weekend's attacks on Israel, at least 120 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank this year alone. There have been multiple deadly settler rampages this year that have been described by Israeli officials, rights groups, and others as "pogroms."
Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams.
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