Exploiting Gaza war, settlers ramp up West Bank attacks

Palestinian children walk past earth mounds that the Israeli army erected as blockades at the entrance to Qusra village, south of Nablus, in the West Bank.

Nasser Ishtayeh SOPA Images / ZUMA Press Wire

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank live under the constant threat of Israeli settler violence.

Yet, under the cover of Israel’s war on Gaza, settlers have intensified their attacks on West Bank towns and residents, killing at least 115 Palestinians, including 33 children, since 7 October.

On the afternoon of 11 October, Israeli settlers went on a shooting rampage on the outskirts of the West Bank village of Qusra, south of Nablus, killing three Palestinians: Moath Odeh, Mosab Abu Rida and Obida Abu Sarour.

According to at least two village residents interviewed by The Electronic Intifada, the armed Israeli settlers shot at Palestinian homes, and the Palestinians went out to defend their property.

The Israeli army watched on as the settlers shot Palestinians, and the army did not try to stop the shootings, according to Abdel Azim Wadi, an anti-settlement activist who lives in Qusra.

But, when the Palestinians came out to defend their village, the soldiers opened fire on them. The youth Hassan Abu Sarur was killed by gunfire.

It is unclear whether the gunfire came from soldiers or settlers.

Abdel Azim Wadi, a former head of Qusra’s village council, told The Electronic Intifada that the settlers were clearly armed and fired directly at a family’s home from an approximate distance of 200 meters away.

The next day, as Qusra prepared to mourn the dead, armed settlers opened fire on the funeral.

Qusra residents Ibrahim Wadi, 63, and his son Muhammad, 25, were waiting inside their vehicle, near the town of al-Sawiya, for the ambulances carrying the bodies to arrive from Salfit Governmental Hospital.

A group of settlers arrived and shot at the vehicle and prevented the ambulance from entering Qusra. Ibrahim and Muhammad were killed.

“A shocking scene and very sad moments for the town,” Abdel Azim Wadi – who witnessed the killing – said. “The worst of it is that we weren’t able to bury them due to the ongoing settlers’ attacks, and it was delayed until the evening.”

Attacks from outposts

Since 7 October, nearly a thousand Palestinians have been forcibly displaced from their homes in the West Bank.

It’s estimated that, as of 2022, there are at least 700,000 Israeli settlers illegally living in 279 settlements throughout the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

According to the UN, “147 of these settlements [are] outposts, illegal even under Israeli domestic law.”

Near Qusra, the Israeli settlement of Migdalim was established in 1984 on about 44 acres of land confiscated from Qusra.

As of 2021, 543 settlers occupied Migdalim.

According to Abdel Azim Wadi, the settlers launch their attacks on Qusra from nearby outposts, such as Adei Ad, Esh Kodesh, and Kida.

He said the settlers smash the windows of Palestinian homes, set fire to agricultural crops and beat citizens.

“We were like corpses”

On 12 October, Muhammad Matar, an official of the Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission of the Palestinian Authority, was on a work visit with his two colleagues to the Wadi al-Siq area, east of Ramallah, where Palestinian Bedouin communities are subjected to repeated attacks with the aim of deportation.

When they were departing Wadi al-Siq, a car with settlers in it blocked their way. They tried to escape in their vehicle, but it pursued them and squeezed them into a narrow area.

The settlers forced the officials to get out of the vehicle, and then eight hours of brutal violence began.

Matar told The Electronic Intifada that the armed settlers forced them to take off their clothes, then tied them up and placed them in the open for two hours, during which time they stole their stuff, including the vehicle and their personal belongings.

The three were tied with iron wire in a sheep barn in the Wadi al-Siq Bedouin community. The soldiers completed what the settlers had started and kept them for six hours of torture and beatings.

“We remained on the ground, handcuffed and blindfolded, for two hours, during which the settlers severely beat us, urinated on us, and insulted us,” he said.

“They put knives inside our belongings and accused us of trying to stab them.”

The settlers put out cigarettes on the backs of Matar and his bound colleagues, and beat them with sticks on every part of their bodies, until an Israeli patrol from the border guards and Shin Bet (secret police) came.

“We felt a little relieved when the Israeli soldiers came because we thought they would untie us, but they kept us shackled and began interrogating us on the charge of attempted stabbing that the settlers fabricated before our eyes,” he said.

“We felt like we were in Guantanamo Bay detention camp,” he said. “I wasn’t sure that I would ever return home that day.”

“After confirming that we didn’t intend to carry out a stabbing attack, they untied us at 6:30 PM. Then they called the Palestinian ambulance to take us. We all suffered from deep bruises, wounds, and fractures. I have a deep wound in my head as a result of the beating. We were like corpses. We could not move at all.”

Matar and his colleagues are trying to file a complaint against the settlers and the Israeli army, although he isn’t sure that it will be taken seriously or that they will be brought to trial.

Organized violence

Anti-settlement activist Bashar al-Qaryouti, who is based in the town of Qaryout, south of Nablus, said that the attacks taking place in the West Bank by settler gangs are an organized and coordinated policy with the Israeli occupation army.

He describes the Israeli army checkpoints and the giant earth barriers constructed by settlers in the West Bank as creating prison-like conditions for Palestinians.

Such barriers “prevent the villages from supporting each other and confronting gangs of settlers who are preparing to take revenge on us in all locations in the West Bank,” he said.

The current situation is the most difficult in years.

Al-Qaryouti said that the settlers are the ones in charge and that, with the Israeli army’s protection, they are able to commit horrendous crimes throughout the West Bank.

Fayha’ Shalash is a journalist based in Ramallah.