IN A statement calling for peace, the Church of England House of Bishops specifically mentioned rising violence in the West Bank, calling “for the Israeli Government to protect the population of the Occupied Territories and arrest anyone threatening them, without fear or favour”.
The Bishops’ comment is indicative of growing concern about the situation of Palestinians in the West Bank: as the world’s attention is fixed on the Gaza Strip, violence by Israeli settlers is reportedly on the rise.
On Sunday, 31 Israeli human-rights organisations released a joint statement calling on the international community to “act urgently to stop the state-backed wave of settler violence which has led, and is leading to, the forcible transfer of Palestinian communities in the West Bank”.
The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which monitors casualties across Israel and Palestine, reported on Sunday that 124 people had been killed in the West Bank since 7 October, all but one of them Palestinian.
The report says that almost half of the fatalities occurred after Israeli search-and-arrest operations, and about ten per cent were attributable to confrontations with Israelis living in illegal settlements in the West Bank.
OCHA also report that almost 1000 Palestinians have been displaced from their homes in the West Bank in that period, including more than 800 in Area C, which, under international law, is part of the Palestinian territories, but which is administered by the Israel Defence Forces, and the site of about 230 illegal Israeli settlements.
The deputy head of OCHA, Andrea De Domenico, told the New York Times: “We’ve observed more incidents where armed settlers have threatened Palestinians. . . In several areas, Palestinians have been ordered to leave under the threat of firearms.”
Reports by NGOs working in the West Bank suggest that some Palestinian villages in Area C have been completely emptied, as residents have either been forced out by armed settlers, in some cases seemingly backed by the IDF, or have fled out of fear of violence.
OCHA’s report includes details of specific incidents, including one that occurred on 30 October in a herding community in southern Hebron, where settlers broke in and set fire to a “donor-funded residential structure”.
The director of the West Bank Protection Consortium (WBPC), Allegra Pacheco, said on Wednesday that “the pace and tempo of these attacks [by settlers] have escalated to an unprecedented level. The international community must do everything it can to hold Israel to account. The time to act was yesterday, but the next best time is now.”
The WBPC is supported by the humanitarian-aid department of the European Commission, and 11 countries, including the UK.
Community Peacemaker Teams (CPT), a human-rights monitoring organisation previously known as Christian Peacemaker Teams, works in Hebron and the surrounding areas, and has reported an increase in tensions and violence from settlers and Israeli forces (Diary, 25 August).
“Even in normal times, safety was a concern, but the situation has become even riskier,” an update says, which cite increased harassment by the Israelis who man the checkpoints, and increased and unpredictable checkpoint closure.
Along with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which also operates in Hebron and does similar work (Interview, 14 July), CPT has instructed its foreign volunteers to leave the West Bank, and so is being run solely by local staff members.
They write of the psychological effects of the conflict in an environment at once removed from the fighting but deeply implicated in it, both politically and emotionally: “Inside the Old City of Hebron, families continue to experience the daily trauma of living in close proximity to military outposts that protect the illegal settlements in the town.
“Yesterday, a family shared with us the anxiety of their six-year-old boy, who asks constantly, ‘Why?’ He questions and struggles to understand, as we all do, why Gaza is being bombed, families, homes, schools and hospitals decimated. He wonders if his house will be destroyed as so many homes are. He asks anxiously before he goes to sleep, ‘Will my house be bombed tonight?’”