Picture: Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Taken on July 4, 2023 – Israeli soldiers fire tear gas canisters from an armoured vehicle during an ongoing military operation in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on July 4, 2023. While international attention has largely been turned to Gaza since Israel’s bombardment began there, Israeli military forces and settlers have increased their attacks and killing of Palestinians in Westbank, the writer says.
By Julia Conley
“Settlers all over the West Bank see this war as a golden opportunity to torment Palestinians from small communities who are literally defenceless.” – Human rights campaigner
An airstrike at Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank on Sunday represented what health officials called a “dangerous escalation” of the Israeli military’s attacks on the Palestinian territory, where civilians have been under assault since Israel began a sustained air campaign to retaliate for a surprise Hamas attack on October 7.
At least two people were killed when an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) warplane struck a mosque in densely populated Jenin at about 3:00 am local time Sunday. At least three others were injured, and the mosque sustained major damage.
Israeli authorities claimed it had targeted an underground “terror compound” where Hamas was operating, but The New York Times and Middle East Eye both reported that the claim could not be independently verified.
“Israeli forces are increasingly and brazenly killing Palestinian children throughout the West Bank.”
International attention has largely been turned to Gaza since Israel’s bombardment began, with the IDF killing at least 5,087 people in the blockaded enclave since Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant declared a “complete siege” there.
In the West Bank, at least 91 people — including 29 children — have been killed in attacks by Israeli soldiers and settlers since October 7, while the IDF has further restricted the movement of people in the region, where residents regularly face dozens of checkpoints and roadblocks when trying to travel through the territory.
Israeli authorities have closed checkpoints and imposed stringent restrictions on travel across the West Bank’s border with Jordan.
IDF soldiers and Israeli settlers have also raided towns and refugee camps including Nour Shams, where soldiers killed 13 Palestinians, including five children, last Thursday in a 24-hour siege.
On Monday, residents of Jalazone refugee camp told Reuters that Israeli soldiers had killed at least two people and made “widespread arrests” in an overnight raid.
“Here at Jalazone refugee camp, the Israeli army carries out raids three to four times a week,” Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, head of the services committee for the camp, told Al Jazeera.
At least 35 people in the camp, which is north of the central city of Ramallah, have been detained since October 7.
Among those killed over the weekend was 15-year-old Mohammad Qasem Mohammad Abu Zer, who was shot in the chest by a sniper in the village of Zawata. The boy joined other young people in throwing stones at Israeli military vehicles as the IDF entered their town and surrounded their neighbour’s house.
Two other young people who approached Abu Zer after the shooting — including his 18-year-old brother, Jamil, were also shot by Israeli snipers.
“Israeli forces are increasingly and brazenly killing Palestinian children throughout the West Bank,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, accountability programme director at Defence for Children International — Palestine. “At this moment, there is absolutely no check on Israeli aggression as the international community enables war crimes through the provision of weapons and financial and diplomatic support to ensure Israeli forces and officers enjoy impunity regardless of the gravity of crimes.”
Violence by settlers has also risen by 40 percent in the West Bank in the last two weeks, MEE reported.
Three Palestinians in the village of Wadi al-Seeq, 10 miles east of Ramallah, told Haaretz last week that they and a group of pro-Palestinian rights Israeli activists were apprehended by armed settlers and IDF soldiers on October 12 when they were trying to evacuate the town. They were taken to an abandoned building where the soldiers beat and abused them for several hours, with one reporting he was sexually assaulted.
Villagers in the West Bank told the BBC on Saturday that Israeli settlers are “taking advantage” of the international focus on the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza “by entering villages and expelling, and even killing, Palestinian civilians”, with the settlers often accompanied by IDF forces.
The Israeli human rights group Israeli B’Tselem told the outlet it has documented “a concerted and organised effort by settlers to use the fact that the entire international and local attention is focused on Gaza and the north of Israel to try to seize land in the West Bank”, carrying out a long-term goal of the Israeli government.
“Settlers all over the West Bank see this war as a golden opportunity to torment Palestinians from small communities who are literally defenceless,” said Sarit Michaeli, international advocacy lead for B’Tselem, recently.
Last week, Israeli National Security Minister Itar Ben Gvir said the government would purchase 10,000 rifles to arm Israeli civilians, including settlers in the West Bank.
Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams
This article was first published on Common Dreams