Palestinian death toll rises as Israel steps up West Bank raids

Tally makes it the deadliest year in the occupied territory since 2016

Mourners in Tubas in the occupied West Bank attend the funeral of Palestinian Salah Sawafta, 58, who was killed in an Israeli raid in August. Reuters
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At least 85 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank in 2022, as Israeli security forces carry out nightly raids in cities, towns and villages.

The toll from the Palestinian Health Ministry includes Palestinians who were responsible for deadly attacks inside Israel.

It makes this year the deadliest in the occupied territory since 2016.

The Israeli military said the vast majority were militants or stone-throwers who endangered its soldiers.

The toll also includes several civilians, including a journalist and a lawyer who was said to have accidentally driven into a battle zone, as well as local youths who took to the streets in response to the invasion of their neighbourhoods.

The length and frequency of the raids has put a focus on Israel’s tactics in the West Bank, where nearly 3 million Palestinians live under a decades-long occupation and Palestinians view the military’s presence as a humiliation and a threat.

Israeli troops have regularly operated across the West Bank since Israel captured the territory in 1967.

Israel said it was dismantling militant networks that threaten its citizens and makes every effort to avoid harming civilians.

Palestinians said the raids are aimed at maintaining Israel’s 55-year military rule over territories they want for a future state.

Tally includes high-profile journalist

Israel stepped up the operations in the spring after a series of deadly attacks by Palestinians against Israelis killed 17 people. Some were carried out by militants from the West Bank. There have been no deadly attacks since May, but the military operations have continued.

With four months of 2022 remaining, the 85 deaths is the highest number since 2016 when 91 Palestinians were killed, according to yearly data compiled by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

The ministry’s tally includes Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian-American journalist who was shot dead in May while reporting on an Israeli raid in the West Bank town of Jenin.

It also includes a 58-year-old man who was shot in the head outside a bakery in August.

The dead include 17 teenagers under the age of 18, as well as six women, according to the ministry. Israel said teenagers and women are often involved in violence, while critics accuse the army of using excessive force in many cases.

Israel is also holding more than 600 Palestinians without charge or trial in what is known as administrative detention — the highest in six years.

Amir Avivi, a retired Israeli general who now heads the Israel Defence and Security Forum, said the heightened pace of operations is the result of the recent wave of attacks and the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to tackle militants in the areas under its jurisdiction.

The Palestinian Authority faces a crisis of legitimacy largely as a result of its co-operation with Israel on security. Palestinian officials said they will not help police the occupation, especially if there is no hope that doing so will lead to independence.

Human rights groups said that while some Israeli missions are aimed at combating specific threats, others are intended as a show of force, or to protect the growing population of settlers.

Mock arrests

Ori Givati, head of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli group opposed to the occupation that gathers testimonies of former Israeli soldiers, said some soldiers recall carrying out mock arrests, in which fully armed soldiers raid a home in the middle of the night for training purposes.

Mr Givati said so-called “stimulus and response” operations are common. Israeli troops roll through Palestinian areas, sometimes with lights and speakers on, hoping to lure stone-throwers or gunmen into the streets so they can arrest or confront them.

He said he took part in the operations when he served in the West Bank.

“The way we occupy the Palestinians is by creating more friction, making our presence felt,” Mr Givati said. “We invade their towns, their cities, their homes.”

In a statement, the army denied the allegations, saying it acts “solely against threats and terrorist operatives who pose a security threat” in Israel and the West Bank.

Israel said it investigates all cases in which Israeli troops are suspected of killing civilians.

Updated: August 29, 2022, 8:12 AM
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