Settlers gunning for second Nakba in the West Bank

Silhouette of a man against a backdrop of smoke

A Palestinian puts out a fire following a settler attack that killed three Palestinians, and a fourth killed by a soldier, in Qusra, a village near the northern West Bank city of Nablus, on 11 October.

Wahaj Bani Moufleh ActiveStills

“You wanted war, so wait for the Great Nakba.”

This is what leaflets dispersed last week by Jewish settlers in a northern occupied West Bank village read.

Israeli settlers are making good on their promise of another Nakba or catastrophe, when 800,000 Palestinians were expelled by Zionist militias or fled their towns and villages in 1948, in a massive ethnic cleansing campaign to make way for the nascent state of Israel.

Since 7 October, when Hamas delivered Israel’s military and strategic establishment a bloody nose, prompting Israel to launch a campaign of mass murder in Gaza, Israeli settlers have been organizing attacks against Palestinian herding communities to drive them off their land.

Israeli settlers and access restrictions enforced by Israeli occupation military forces have driven nearly 800 Palestinians out of their homes and communities since 7 October, according to UN monitoring group OCHA.

That’s almost 100 households in 15 different herding and Bedouin communities.

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.

Settlers even hung dolls splattered with red, resembling blood, near a Palestinian children’s school west of Jericho in the occupied West Bank’s Jordan Valley, to intimidate and threaten them.

This forces Palestinian communities, which are comprised largely of families and children, to leave their areas in fear of deadly attacks.

“Many more are in danger of being forced to flee in the coming days if immediate action is not taken,” Israeli human rights groups said on Sunday, in a statement co-signed by more than 30 organizations.

They sounded the alarm over what they described as a “state-backed wave of settler violence which has led, and is leading to, the forcible transfer of Palestinian communities in the West Bank.”

The Israeli government actively supports settler attacks against Palestinians and does nothing to stop them, the human rights groups said.

“Government ministers and other officials are backing the violence and in many cases the military is present or even participates in the violence, including in incidents where settlers have killed Palestinians,” the groups added.

Israel’s national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has been distributing weapons to Israeli civilians, including those who live in Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Settlers carried out nearly 170 attacks against Palestinians since 7 October, as per by OCHA. These figures include injuries against Palestinians as well as property damage.

More than one-third of attacks involve settlers threatening Palestinians with firearms, including shooting, OCHA said.

During half of these attacks, Israeli occupation forces escorted settlers or actively participated in attacks.

“This is how the state exploits the fighting in Gaza to promote forcible transfer in the West Bank,” B’Tselem said in the context of one incident.

At least seven Palestinians were killed by settlers, who have been deputized by Israel’s top leadership to carry out pogroms.

The South Hebron Hills

A big focus of forcible displacement has been the herding communities in the South Hebron Hills.

Nearly 4,000 Palestinians live in farming and herding communities in the South Hebron Hills, which lies in so-called Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank that remains under full Israeli military control and includes Israel’s largest settlements.

Israel enforces a near-total ban on Palestinian construction in Area C, forcing Palestinians to build without permits and live in constant fear that their homes would be demolished by Israeli bulldozers.

The Israeli army also employs what appears to be a policy of “non-enforcement” against settler violence in those areas. Israeli settlers are treated as civilians under Israeli law, while Palestinians are subjugated to oppressive military rule.

Settlers also attack Palestinian communities with near-total impunity, and often with the help and escort of occupation forces.

This is part of Israel’s relentless effort to change the demographics in the area to ensure a Jewish majority. Israel, working hand in glove with its settlers, push Palestinians off their land to establish facts on the ground and ultimately annex those areas.

“Threatened at gunpoint”

On Saturday evening, settlers threatened Palestinian families in the community of Khirbet Tuba, which lies about two kilometers from the village of al-Tuwani in Masafer Yatta in the South Hebron Hills.

Settlers stormed the home of a Palestinian family, trashed their belongings and ordered them to leave. Settlers threatened a 15-year-old boy at gunpoint when he tried to document the attack.

They then returned masked at dawn, stole the boy’s phone and the family’s sheep, and damaged a water pipe belonging to them.

Over the weekend, more than 250 Palestinians living in Khirbet Zanuta, a dwelling south of Hebron in the southern occupied West Bank, have reportedly been forcibly displaced after repeated attacks, harassment and threats by Israeli settlers.
An attack by armed settlers forced a family of 16 to leave another community in the southern Hebron Hills on 21 October. Settlers vandalized a residential structure, animal shelter and solar panel belonging to the family in Khirbet al-Ratheem.

“We were threatened at gunpoint after they vandalized our properties,” Abu Safi, a 76-year-old family member, told OCHA.

“Leaving was the only option for me to protect my family.”

In one incident settlers were dressed in the clothing of Israeli army reservists and shot live ammunition at Palestinians:
The Israeli human rights groups said that there had been multiple incidents where settlers attacked Palestinian communities “while wearing military uniform and using government-issued weapons.”
On 9 October, Israeli settlers threatened Palestinians in the community of al-Ganoub in southern Hebron “that they would be killed if they did not leave within an hour,” according to OCHA.

Israeli settlers set fire to two residential structures with all the families’ belongings inside and stole their livestock. Five households, made up of 40 Palestinians, were forced to leave their homes.

“My tent and my goats were what kept me here,” 75-year-old Abu Jamal from the community told OCHA.

“After settlers set fire to our tent and stole my goats, they destroyed everything that kept me here.”

On 12 October, armed settlers threatened a herding community in Nablus at gunpoint, forcibly displacing more than 50 people.

Settlers threatened the community that their tents would be set on fire and they would be killed. Abu Ismail, 52, told OCHA he “had no choice but to leave everything behind to protect my children.”

Armed settlers attacked, threatened and intimidated Palestinian residents of Wadi al-Siq, a Bedouin community in the occupied West Bank, until they left. After settlers expelled the community, they stormed the local school and looted what was left behind.

More than 120 Palestinians have additionally been forcibly displaced in the occupied West Bank after Israeli forces demolished their homes under the guise of a lack of a building permit, or on punitive terms.

Under the policy of punitive demolitions, Israel destroys the family homes of Palestinians who it accuses of carrying out attacks on Israelis. Entire families are often left without shelter as a result of the policy, making it a form of collective punishment.

The rise in settler violence comes as Israeli fire claimed the lives of at least 115 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since 7 October.

Thirty-six Palestinian children have been killed in the occupied West Bank during that time, according to documentation collected by DCIP.

Olive harvest

With the annual olive harvest beginning in October, settlers have been stealing olives and damaging trees across the occupied West Bank.

Settlers also attacked Palestinian farmers trying to harvest their olives.

“​​Palestinian farmers are particularly vulnerable at this time, during the annual olive harvest season, because if they are unable to pick their olives they will lose a year’s income,” according to the Israeli human rights groups cited above.

Settler attacks have become a predictable part of the olive harvest season, and a serious threat to Palestinian lives and livelihoods.

On Saturday, Jewish settlers shot and killed a Palestinian farmer as he was harvesting olives on his land in the al-Sawiya town in the northern occupied West Bank south of Nablus.


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.