West Bank Palestinians face increased Israeli violence after Hamas attack

Twenty-nine Palestinians killed in occupied territory since Hamas attacked southern Israel on Saturday

Mourners attend the funeral of one of six Palestinians who were killed in clashes with Israeli settlers at Qusra village near Nablus, in the occupied West Bank, on Thursday. EPA
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Israeli military officers and settlers have increased their violence against Palestinian citizens in the occupied West Bank in response to Saturday’s surprise attack by Gaza-based Hamas, residents of the city of Nablus told The National.

At least 29 people have been killed in confrontations with the Israeli army and in violent attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian homes, they said.

Retaliatory attacks by Israelis are not uncommon in the West Bank, where groups of armed settlers often commit acts of severe violence against civilians.

“Their intent to exact revenge for Hamas’s attack is clear, but this isn’t anything new,” said Ahmed Al Bazz, a Nablus-based journalist and documentary filmmaker.

"Incidents like what happened in the West Bank town of Huwara earlier this year are quite common."

Since Saturday when Hamas launched its attack on Israeli territory, calls for violence against West Bank Palestinians have also increased on social media, Al Bazz told The National.

An Israeli-organised broadcast group on the instant messaging app Telegram is also being used to attack individual Palestinian activists in the West Bank.

Photos of the targets are shared on the group, as are calls to kill them on sight.

“Since Saturday, the calls online have taken a more aggressive tone. Now they are calling for the murder of any and all Arabs on sight,” Al Bazz continued.

Four Palestinians were shot dead on Wednesday night during an Israeli raid on the town of Qusra, south of Nablus, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

On Thursday, two were shot dead during a funeral procession for the victims of Wednesday’s attack.

Israeli military officers who were joined by armed settlers reportedly opened fire on the procession and caused deaths and injuries.

“Those killed today were an elderly man and his son,” said Faris Awda, a journalist based in Qusra.

"They were among a procession trying to return the bodies of the four killed yesterday to the village of Qusra where they are from. They were meant to be buried there."

The Israeli military has increased security in the West Bank, closing all military checkpoints and halting movement between different cities with the warning that it would be unyielding in its punishments of Palestinians who stepped out of line.

It has also become much more intolerant of protests anywhere in the West Bank.

"Anyone who challenges us in Judea and Samaria will be met with huge force," armed forces spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said this week, referring to Old Testament names for West Bank territories.

The Israeli military has also been giving settlers ammunition, according to Hany Dababsa, the head of the Palestinian Union of the Wounded, a government body that operates under the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

"All the settlers have been armed by the Zionist government and they are killing any Palestinian they see out on the street," Mr Dababsa told The National.

"They are indiscriminately shooting at women and children at schools near occupied areas."

Palestinian neighbourhoods in the West Bank that are near Israeli settlements have begun to organise watches to protect residents from settler violence.

"They can only do so much when they're armed with sticks and settlers are armed with M16s and MP5s," Mr Dababsa said.

Despite western threats to halt aid to the West Bank in response to Hamas’s attack on Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the governing body that has nominal control over the West Bank, has asserted that "Israel is our enemy and occupier, and it is our people's right to defend themselves”.

The authority is led by Fatah, a rival faction to Hamas that used to also have a presence in the Gaza Strip until it was expelled after a civil war in 2006.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry on Monday urged Israel not to give settlers more weapons as that would inflame the situation further.

Updated: October 12, 2023, 7:36 PM