“Constant terror” in the West Bank as 2023 ends

A man leans over and kisses the face of a man wrapped in a flg on a stretcher

Palestinians mourn Aziz Abd al-Rahim Akhlail in the village of Beit Ummar in the southern occupied West Bank on 17 December.

Mamoun Wazwaz APA images

Israel is subjecting Palestinians in the occupied West Bank to a state of “constant terror,” a report released by the United Nations Human Rights Office has warned.

As Israel’s ongoing genocide of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip carries on without interruption, 2023 has been the deadliest year in the occupied West Bank since UN monitoring group OCHA began recording casualties in 2005.

With over 120 Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces in the area this year, children’s agency UNICEF has also described 2023 as the “deadliest year on record” for Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Volker Türk, the UN human rights chief, warned of the “extremely troubling” surge in Israeli violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.

“The intensity of the violence and repression is something that has not been seen in years,” he said.

More than 500 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the occupied West Bank during 2023. That’s three times the number of Palestinians killed in the area last year.

Over 60 percent of Israeli killings in the occupied West Bank occurred since 7 October, when a Hamas military operation in Israel’s southern colonies dealt the army establishment a bloody nose and Israel launched a genocidal campaign of killing, destruction and forcible displacement in the Gaza Strip.

In fact, even before Israel’s state and settler violence sharply increased on 7 October, this year was already the deadliest UN monitoring group OCHA has ever recorded.

Since then, Israeli troops have killed nearly 300 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, and an additional eight were killed by settlers. Israeli forces have injured nearly 4,000 Palestinians in the West Bank, with more than 580 of them being children.

Settler attacks

While focus has been on the Gaza Strip, settlers have gunned for a second Nakba in the occupied West Bank.

This year marked “a growth in illegal construction by settlers unprecedented since the second intifada,” the UN human rights office said, citing research by Israeli organizations.

Some 370 Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians have been recorded since 7 October, which include attacks on property and people.

“In many incidents, settlers were accompanied by [Israeli forces], or were themselves wearing [Israeli forces’] uniforms, and carrying army rifles,” the UN human rights report said.

Israeli settlers killed at least eight Palestinians in three different incidents this year.

Israeli settlers have carried out organized attacks against Palestinian herding communities to drive them off their land. Israeli settlers threaten Palestinians at gunpoint, vandalize their property, hamper their access to water, ruin their trees, damage their vehicles, steal their belongings and intimidate and physically attack them.

This is “aimed at terrorizing them to leave their homes and lands,” the UN human rights office report said.

Israeli settlers and access restrictions enforced by Israeli occupation forces have driven over 1,200 Palestinians out of their homes and communities since 7 October.

That’s almost 200 households in 15 different herding and Bedouin communities, and it represents nearly 80 percent of all forcible displacement of Palestinians in the area since the beginning of the year.

More than half of the displacements occurred on three days in October.

“Since 7 October, settlers, with the political backing of key ministers, are taking advantage of a generally permissive environment to accelerate displacement of Palestinians from their land,” the UN human rights office said.

Israel’s accelerated campaign of forcible displacement in the West Bank cannot be viewed as separate from the mass displacement of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Both are part and parcel of the single organizing principle of the state of Israel: “removing Palestinians from their homeland so they may be replaced by foreign Jewish settlers,” as Maureen Clare Murphy writes in The Electronic Intifada.

It is a continuation of the Nakba, when Zionist paramilitary forces, which later formed the Israeli army, ethnically cleansed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their lands to make way for the state of Israel in 1948.

Even before 7 October, there had been concern that the Israeli government had been aligned with “the goals of the Israeli settler movement to expand long-term control over the occupied West Bank, in practice, to further integrate these areas within the territory of the State of Israel.”

The UN human rights office estimated the number of Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, at 700,000.

All of Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Syria’s Golan Heights are illegal under international law and are considered a war crime.

Aerial bombardments

Since 7 October, the Israeli military intensified aerial bombardment against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

“Israeli forces are now routinely using weaponized aerial drones to carry out attacks against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, accountability program director at Defense for Children International - Palestine.

The UN human rights office said Israel used unmanned air vehicles and other airstrikes on at least 12 occasions, marking a sharp escalation in what the UN office called “unlawful use of military tactics and weapons of war.”

Israeli drone strikes in the occupied West Bank have killed 14 Palestinian children in 2023, while Israel has used a US-made Apache helicopter to fire missiles that killed four children. An Israeli warplane airstrike killed one additional child in the West Bank during that time.


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.