Adjust size of text


Follow us and continue the conversation

Your saved articles

You haven't saved any articles

What are you looking for?

As tensions spread to West Bank, settler violence surges

Ben Lynfield
Print this
Violence, including settler attacks, surge in West Bank

Published: 17 October 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

More than 50 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since last week’s Hamas attack, about eight at the hands of settlers.

With Israel still in shock over the Hamas massacres and attention riveted to its response in Gaza, West Bank settlers are stepping up violence against Palestinians, forcing some from herding communities to flee for their lives, according to Israeli peace activists who monitor the West Bank.

“Settler attacks are much bigger and more violent,” senior Peace Now staffer Hagit Ofran told The Jewish Independent. “They are doing a transfer; it’s not a mass transfer but if they are allowed to do it, it will become a mass transfer.”

She said the greatest settler pressure on Palestinians is in the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hills. The 200 residents of Wadi Siq village fled after settler violence on Thursday, according to peace activists. Residents of other communities also relocated amid violence, threats and growing fear, they said.

But it is not only settlers who are raging. Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are watching in outrage at the images of dead men, women and children from devastating Israeli airstrikes that ministers say are aimed at eradicating Hamas.

“Everyone is angry,” Mahmoud Muna, whose family owns a bookshop on East Jerusalem’s main thoroughfare, Salah al-Din Street, told The Jewish Independent Media. “I don’t know if Israel is so disconnected to think that Palestinians are not one. We relate to people suffering in Gaza and feel hopelessness that we cannot help. It’s massacre and genocide on live TV and we feel useless.”

"We relate to people suffering in Gaza and feel hopelessness that we cannot help."

Mahmoud Muna, East Jerusalem bookshop owner

Muna said people are losing their jobs because it is unsafe for them to go to West Jerusalem and the rest of Israel. “In terms of economic life, it’s like the coronavirus days. Business is almost dead, schools are closed. The police are very aggressive. It worries me that we are not far from the bursting point in Jerusalem.”

According to the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry, 57 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by gunfire from the army and settlers since Hamas invaded southern Israel on October 7 in the most devastating and deadly day in Israeli history.

It is not clear how many of those died in clashes or initiated violence. Haaretz quoted Israeli security sources as saying eight Palestinians had died at the hands of settlers.

The Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies reported that on Friday, security forces thwarted a potential attack by apprehending a Palestinian near Qalqilya who was armed with a Carlo-type improvised submachine gun and a knife.

"The map is being redrawn. They are trying to get people to flee."

Rabbi Arik Ascherman

What has been occurring in the West Bank since the Hamas attack has gone unnoticed by the world but veteran peace activist and reform Rabbi Arik Ascherman says it is nothing less than a redrawing of the area’s map by settlers stoking fear among the herders.

“Israel and the international community won’t distinguish between Palestinian terrorists and terrified Palestinians,” said Ascherman, who heads the Torat Zedek (Torah of Justice) human rights organisation. “The map is being redrawn. They are trying to get people to flee.”

A turning point, Ascherman said, came last Thursday when settlers joined by soldiers attacked Wadi Siq. “They swarmed in, went from house to house, they were terribly violent, the soldiers beat our volunteers,” Ascherman said.

Ascherman, who has a well-established record of non-violence, was jailed for two days last week on what he says were false allegations of assaulting soldiers. He said that to the north of Wadi Siq, the residents of Rashash hamlet fled in fear and that the inhabitants of Marajat in the Jordan Valley were fleeing after coming under settler attack.

The IDF spokesman’s office declined to respond to queries for this article or to a request for comment from Haaretz, which on Sunday posted an alarming Hebrew language article featuring Palestinian accounts of having to flee because of settler violence.

But Noam Arnon, spokesman for settlers in Hebron, told The Jewish Independent: “I assume that now there is less tolerance for Palestinian provocations and more responses to provocations because of the war situation.

“It is clear that the provocations of the Palestinians are part of the Holocaust war, of the ISIS war and therefore there is less tolerance and more response.”

He said that before this war, dozens of settler cars were stoned every day by Palestinians, even though this was not reported. “Maybe now we are seeing a response,” he said.

Asked if he thought Palestinians were on course for mass expulsion and flight, Arnon said: “I don’t know what will happen. In 1948 it happened and you have to learn the history.”

Elsewhere in the West Bank there has been a spate of deadly shootings of Palestinians but it is not clear in some instances if they were carried out by settlers or soldiers. In the gravest incident, four Palestinians were killed and nine injured after settlers entered Qusra village south of Nablus, according to Peace Now.

"Now there is less tolerance for Palestinian provocations and more responses to provocations because of the war situation."

Noam Arnon, spokesman for Hebron settlers

In another incident, last Thursday, settlers entered Jit village near Qalqilya, fired at residents, and abducted a Palestinian to the Gilad Farm outpost, Peace Now said. The abducted man was later released by the army. The same day, a mother and her son were killed in Deir Jarir, near Ramallah, in unclear circumstances.

On Sunday, a young Palestinian was shot dead during clashes in Beita near Nablus. An educator from Beita told The Jewish Independent Media: “The situation will deteriorate, there will be more and more clashes, everyone is depressed and waiting for regional war.”

He said Palestinians in the West Bank are “calling on Fatah to protect people and form groups in the villages. You can’t just stay waiting for the settlers to come and kill you.”

“The heat is getting worse. Things are going to explode, maybe if Hezbollah gets in the war or if Israel invades Gaza. The West Bank is seething,” the educator said.

Peace Now says the West Bank is about to become a “war zone” unless Israeli authorities put the brakes on settler violence, something they have not seriously done in the past, according to critics.

“It seems that the first week of the war in Gaza is marked by security chaos. The bodies of law and order in the West Bank do not prevent violence and at times even align with settler demands,” Peace Now said. “Revenge and harm to the innocent do not constitute a policy.”

Settlers Are Trying to Drag Israel Into War in the West Bank (Haaretz)
Deadly violence surges in West Bank as war rages in Gaza region (Times of Israel)

Deadly violence surges in West Bank as war rages in Gaza region (Times of Israel)
IDF reports at least 10 attempted terror attacks in area since Hamas launched devastating assault; PA says 55 West Bank Palestinians killed in clashes, raids over past week,

Haaretz Editorial | Settlers Are Trying to Drag Israel Into War in the West Bank (Haaretz)  
As Israelis closely monitor the risk of the opening of a northern front in the war, there are those who are deliberately encouraging the opening of an eastern front.

Photo: Screenshot from the shooting of a Palestinian in the West Bank on Friday, October 13 (B'Tselem)

Photo: Mourners carry the bodies of two Palestinians shot dead by settlers during a funeral in the town of Qasra, south of Nablus (Nasser Ishtayeh / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

About the author

Ben Lynfield

Ben Lynfield covered Israeli and Palestinian politics for The Independent and served as Middle Eastern affairs correspondent at the Jerusalem Post. He writes for publications in the region and has contributed to the Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy and the New Statesman.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

Enter site