Teasing a Detonator
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After the Palestinian terror group Hamas killed about 1,400 Israelis on Oct. 7, Israeli settlers – sometimes wearing masks or reservist army uniforms – started breaking into Palestinian homes in Zanuta, a village in the West Bank, and attacking their occupants.
For years, Zanuta residents remained steadfast in their determination to stay in their homes. Now, however, given the war in Gaza, the simmering tensions in Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and the escalating violence they are being confronted with, they opted to depart.
“It is a new Nakba,” said Issa Ahmad Baghdad, referring to the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians when Israel was established in 1948, in an interview with the Guardian. “My family are going to Rafat. But we don’t know anyone there. We don’t know what to tell the children.”
Over the past month, Israeli settlers and the country’s security forces have become emboldened to increase attacks against Palestinians throughout the West Bank, according to KALW, a public radio station in San Francisco. More than 130 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank in the three weeks leading up to Nov. 7. Meanwhile, about 158 Palestinians died there in all of 2022 – the deadliest year for Palestinians in that part in two decades.
Before Oct. 7, analysts were worried about the West Bank, not Gaza, as the potential spark for an explosion of Israeli and Palestinian violence, wrote the Washington Post. Now, the Palestinian-administered territory is on the sidelines of a war raging in Gaza – but analysts warn it might not stay that way.
Instead, some believe it might be the source of the next explosion and a second front.
“Falling under the radar are events in the West Bank, arguably the most complex sphere of the ongoing conflict, and certainly one of the most consequential,” wrote Alex Lederman, a senior policy analyst for the Israel Policy Forum, in Time. He said the most obvious threat emerging from the West Bank from the Israeli perspective is Palestinian violence – including terror attacks against Israeli civilians, which had already killed more than 30 Israelis between January and September 2023.
But he added that there is a spike in attacks by Israelis against Palestinians and detailed a “sickening example” of settlers and security forces terrorizing Palestinians. The “provocations” against Palestinians in the territory are reaching a boiling point and could tip Israel into a multi-front military war, he said.
“A responsible Israeli government would approach Israel’s challenge in the West Bank as the two-front battle that it truly is: against Palestinian and Jewish violence alike,” he wrote. “But this problem transcends Israel’s current political reality.”
That reality includes around 700,000 settlers living in 150 settlements and 128 outposts that were built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, wrote Al Jazeera. Some moved to the West Bank to fulfill the goal of controlling territory in an expanded Jewish homeland. Others moved because the settlements have lower living costs, in part due to financial incentives that the government has offered them.
Daniella Weiss, who has been a leader of the Israeli settler movement for decades, says Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza should be resettled in countries such as Egypt and Turkey. “The world, especially the United States, thinks there is an option for a Palestinian state,” she told the New Yorker in an interview. “And, if we continue to build communities, then we block the option … we want to close the option for a Palestinian state, and the world wants to leave the option open. It’s a very simple thing to understand.”
However, the Nation noted that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are violations of international law. But since the new right-wing government took over in Israel last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been championing the settlers, even though, as the Economist noted, the settlers have been causing “mayhem” throughout the West Bank since Oct. 7.
This has alarmed some Israelis, particularly in the intelligence community, and also the White House, all of whom fear an escalation of violence in the near future that Israelis and Palestinians might be not able to contain, wrote the Times of Israel.
“It’s pouring gasoline on the fire,” said US President Joe Biden in late October of the settlers and their attacks on Palestinians. “It has to stop. They have to be held accountable. It has to stop now.”
Unfortunately, for the moment, the bloodshed, whether in Gaza or the West Bank, shows no signs of doing that.