Under cover of Gaza war, settlers working to fulfil state goal of Judaizing Area C

12:00 Oct 19 2023 Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT) الأراضي الفلسطينية West Bank

Under cover of Gaza war, settlers working to fulfil state goal of Judaizing Area C
Palestinian evacuation scene. Source: Btselem

The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (Btselem)
19 October 2023

Since the war in Gaza began, violence against Palestinians has shot up in the West Bank. In just ten days, soldiers and settlers have killed 62 Palestinians and injured dozens. Israel has put up roadblocks throughout the West Bank, closed off main roads to Palestinians and significantly restricted their movement.

Israel has also ramped up efforts to drive Palestinian communities and single-family farms out of their homes and land, cynically exploiting the war to promote its political agenda of taking over more land in the West Bank.

To further this goal, state-backed settler violence against Palestinians has risen in both frequency and intensity, with soldiers and police officers fully backing the assailants and often participating in the attacks. Events on the ground indicate that under cover of war, settlers are carrying out such assaults virtually unchecked, with no one trying to stop them before, during, or after the fact.

The transfer efforts are concentrated in eastern slopes of the mountain range east of Ramallah, in the Jordan Valley and in the South Hebron Hills. B’Tselem has received reports of settlers entering Palestinian communities, sometimes armed and often escorted by soldiers, and attacking residents, in some cases threatening them at gunpoint or firing at them. Residents report the assailants also damaged property, including destroying structures, stealing livestock and crops, felling trees, vandalizing water tanks, slashing pipes and smashing solar panels. Settlers also blocked agricultural roads that serve the residents, preventing them from accessing their land. In several cases, settlers and soldiers together ordered residents to leave their homes and lands by a specified time, threatening to harm them otherwise.

Meanwhile, settler networks on social media are awash with incitement and vitriol against Palestinians, including explicit threats to inflict lethal harm on their persons and property. The targeted communities are aware of this rhetoric and know, from experience, that the danger is not merely theoretical but real.

The communities have no choice left. Fearing for their lives, and with no way to generate income or obtain food and water, over the past week 8 entire communities - home to 87 families numbering 472 people, of them 136 minors - have left their homes. In 6 additional communities, where only part of the population departed, 11 families left their homes, numbering 80 people, 37of them minors. In all, 98 families, numbering 552 people including 173 minors, left their homes since Oct 7th. Six other Palestinian communities, numbering more than 450 people, have left their homes in the last two years.

It may appear as though settlers show up at Palestinian communities and start attacking them on their own initiative. In fact, these actions are part of Israel’s well-known, longstanding policy to make life so miserable for dozens of Palestinian communities in the West Bank that the residents eventually leave, seemingly of their own accord. Israel then proceeds to take over the land and use it for its own purposes – mainly building and expanding settlements. This policy has radically intensified under the current government, whose members fully support and even encourage the violent attacks.

This unlawful policy constitutes forcible transfer of residents in an occupied territory. Such transfer is prohibited under any circumstance by international law, which Israel is obligated – and has undertaken – to respect. The fact that soldiers are not physically forcing residents out of their homes is irrelevant: creating a coercive environment that leaves residents no choice but to forsake their homes is enough.

These communities have been left to their fate with no one to protect them. Any attempt they make at self-defense is met with violence by soldiers and settlers. Given the circumstances, the international community is obligated to use its leverage to stop the forcible transfer of these residents and put a stop to the violence against them.

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