Israeli violence against Palestinians, IDF skyrockets in West Bank

Despite the high number of attacks, only 113 arrests were made and 101 investigations were opened. There were only 28 indictments filed.

 SETTLERS HURL stones at Palestinians during the annual harvest season, near the settlement of Yitzhar in 2020.  (photo credit: NASSER ISHTAYEH/FLASH90)
SETTLERS HURL stones at Palestinians during the annual harvest season, near the settlement of Yitzhar in 2020.
(photo credit: NASSER ISHTAYEH/FLASH90)

There has been a significant rise in attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinians and IDF troops in the West Bank over the past year, more than double the amount from the previous year.

Over the past year, there have been 838 attacks against Palestinians, a rise of almost 88% from the previous year which saw 446 attacks and significantly higher than the 353 attacks in 2020 and 339 attacks in 2019.

The attacks included damage to property (including agriculture), the throwing of stones and Molotov Cocktails, physical assaults and more.

But despite the high number of attacks, only 113 arrests were made and 101 investigations were opened. There were only 28 indictments filed.

The most violent areas were the West Bank cities of Huwara, Yitzhar, Oz Eztion, Shilo Valley, Kochav Hashahar and the South Hebron Hills.

 Israeli soldiers stand while stationed outside a Palestinian shop in Huwara, the West Bank, May 26, 2022. (credit: RANEEN SAWAFTA/ REUTERS) Israeli soldiers stand while stationed outside a Palestinian shop in Huwara, the West Bank, May 26, 2022. (credit: RANEEN SAWAFTA/ REUTERS)

Huwara just south of Nablus straddles Route 60 – the main artery for both Israeli and Palestinian vehicles. The city has seen numerous highly publicized incidents, including in early October when the commander of the IDF’s 202nd Paratrooper Battalion and a soldier were wounded by settlers who pepper-sprayed them.

In mid-October settlers and right-wing extremists stoned Palestinian vehicles, homes and businesses in clear view of IDF soldiers.

In another incident, masked settlers attacked a group of Palestinians and volunteers harvesting olives near the village of Kisan near Bethlehem in Gush Etzion. One Israeli woman, aged 70, was beaten so severely that she was hospitalized.

In 2020, Yesh Din published figures that summarized 15 years of investigations into settler violence and found that 91% of files were closed without an indictment and of over 1,200 investigations there were only 100 indictments.

Though soldiers have the authority to confront, detain and arrest violent settlers, the Israel Police and Border Police are left to handle the incidents. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) is also involved with arrests and investigations of settlers suspected of violence.

Could minister Itamar Ben-Gvir change law enforcement in the West Bank?

Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned on Sunday that the demands by Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben-Gvir’s to have the power over the Civil Administration and law enforcement in the West Bank could “lead to the severance of coordination with the Palestinians and a security escalation.”

His “demands in the coalition negotiations to take powers from the Central Command stem at best from a lack of understanding and at worst from a desire to establish a private militia for Ben-Gvir,” he warned at the Israel Democracy Institute’s annual conference.

Ben-Gvir is set to become the national security minister and according to reports has received promises that the new government will allow him to control the Israeli Police and Border Police companies serving in the West Bank.

Calling on prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu to stop such a move, Gantz warned that “such security mistakes may cost human lives” and that it was a “lose-lose” situation.

“Such steps will help our enemies and endanger our soldiers and commanders in international courts because some will see them as elements of applying sovereignty without broad agreement and political coordination," he said, adding "they may also lead to the severance of coordination with the Palestinians and a security escalation. All this while harming the operational need, in short: lose-lose.”

The military has found that following terror attacks against Israelis, settlers tend to carry out revenge attack –sometimes violent – against local Palestinians, known as price tag attacks. Such attacks negatively affect the security situation in the area.

There has also been a high number of violent incidents against IDF troops by Jewish settlers, including in mid-November when a 17-year-old Israeli attacked a female soldier with a stick during the “Chayei Sarah” religious celebration in Hebron. The soldier, herself a resident of the area, was lightly injured.

Following the attack against the soldier, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that "assaulting an IDF soldier is a national disgrace. It harms Israel's security, the IDF and all who protect our lives. It is a serious criminal offense."

"Assaulting an IDF soldier is a national disgrace. It harms Israel's security, the IDF and all who protect our lives. It is a serious criminal offense."

Yair Lapid

Some 32,000 Jews came to the flashpoint city to pray and hundreds of them took part in violent disturbances against local residents in various locations in Hebron. Several Palestinians were wounded, including a 17-year-old girl who was lightly injured after stones were hurled at her.

The rise in violence against Palestinians and IDF troops comes as the military has noted the intense violence in the West Bank over the past year.

The military’s ongoing operations in the West Bank have been the deadliest since 2016, with 136 Palestinians killed in the past year-a significant increase from 73 in 2021 and 20 in 2020.

Along with the high number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, two soldiers and two officers have been killed during operations and another 15 civilians have been killed in attacks since Operation Break the Wave began in late March.

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.