Photo: An Israeli settlement in the West Bank under construction in 2017 - Ronan Shenhav/Flickr
The bloody war between Hamas and Israel has now been going on for more than 5 weeks and there is no end in sight. Reporting on the conflict currently focuses mainly on Gaza. Yet it is important to look closely at the West Bank as well. On the one hand, because the war in Gaza has caused already high tensions here have risen further, on the other hand, because the situation in the West Bank is fuelling the conflict in Gaza.
In recent months, even before Hamas' terrorist attack on 7 October, tensions in the West Bank have risen dramatically. A major cause of this has been the formation of a new Israeli government, which is heavily influenced by far-right parties. Among others, far-right National Security Minister Ben Gvir is a hardliner. Ben Gvir, himself a settler, makes no secret of the fact that he believes the West Bank should be part of Israel and praised in the past settlers who attacked Palestinians. Settlers are supported by the current government and additionally armed since October 7. Settlers can commit serious violence without being tried for it.
The unrest is not of today, but the result of decades of colonisation policy of Israel, with Palestinians' habitat being increasingly restricted and with Palestinians being heavily oppressed and treated as second-class citizens. This created a very tense situation that also regularly resulted in deaths and injuries. In recent weeks, the conflict has escalated and more than 185 people killed and more than 2,500 people injured in the West Bank. This is a gross violation of international law and therefore the Netherlands should push for further research from the International Criminal Court (ICC). This article will provide further background on these developments.
As mentioned, there is quite a lot previous history to take into account. After the founding of Israel in 1948, the West Bank was claimed by Jordan. When Jordan, together with Egypt and Syria, attacked Israel in 1967 and was defeated in the Six-Day War, Israel occupied the West Bank. During the occupation, which is still ongoing, settlements were established in the 1970s and 1980s on land originally inhabited by Palestinian families who had fled the war. Initially, these settlements were mainly intended as a security buffer between Israel and the Palestinian territories, but over time Israeli settlements were built all over the West Bank. The settlements have continued to expand over the years and new settlements are still being established today by Israeli settlers. As a result, the habitat for Palestinians is becoming smaller and more unsafe, and large groups of Palestinians have been displaced from their land and homes in recent years. This is a gross violation of international law and must be dealt with severely.
International law is clearly
According to the UN at least 488 Palestinians have been expelled from seven communities in including 263 children since 2022. Area C is an area which covers about 60% of the West Bank and is under Israeli army control. They felt forced by violence and intimidation to leave the area. Under international law, any form of 'forced displacement' banned and need not only be violent. Threats of violence or psychological oppression or abuse of power are also prohibited. Of these factors, according to various UN experts exist in the West Bank and this creates a strong sense of insecurity among the Palestinian population. First of all, Palestinians can feel do not move freely across the West Bank. To travel, they are required to apply for a travel permit from the Israeli government. This process is lengthy and non-transparent and often leaves people in limbo for a long time, or unable to travel at all, for no apparent reason. It hinders the development of the economy and people are trapped in the area where they live. These restrictions apply only to Palestinians; Israelis and foreigners can move freely without permits. Alongside this, violent oppression is also increasingly common. In the first six months of 2023, before the 7 October attacks, there were 591 attacks of Israeli settlers recorded. In these, six Palestinians were killed and more than 200 injured, a 39 per cent increase from 2022.
Settler aggression increases
An example of such aggression is the attack of Israeli settlers on the Palestinian village of Umm Safa on 24 June 2023. Five days in a row, groups of about 100 armed Israeli settlers stormed the village here, setting fire to houses and cars. The Israeli army was present but did not intervene, arresting only one attacker. This example is indicative of the situation in the West Bank. Settlers are given free rein by the Israeli army and expanded their territory with extreme violence. In the process, settlers face zero risk of prosecution. From research by Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organisation that monitors settler violence, found that only seven per cent of suspects are charged and of these, only three per cent are actually convicted.
With a large proportion of Israeli troops stationed around Gaza, the Israeli government has decided to allow settlers equipped with heavy weapons and uniforms.
Israel has thus set a dangerous precedent, with Israeli settlers with impunity Palestinians can attack and kill them. Israeli security forces are there, but do virtually nothing and instead protect the settlers. Since the outbreak of war, there have already been 122 Palestinian deaths from fighting with the Israeli army and armed settlers. More than 800 Palestinians have also been displaced. Settler groups Attack Palestinian villages, torture the residents and take their homes, also looting their belongings, cars and livestock.
This situation is unsustainable. With the active arming of settlers in the West Bank, a peaceful solution for the West Bank is further out of sight. Moreover, there is much criticism of Israel from the international community. Significantly, the ambassadors of the United States and Germany, staunch allies of Israel, have told the Israeli government called to curb settler violence. The Netherlands should also urge the Israeli government to stop this and in addition ask the International Criminal Court to continue doing research to attacks and occupation.