Israel in the West Bank

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By PETER OBORNE*

Israeli settlers imposed a reign of terror. And they are supported by the Israeli army

It's the same story in every village in the hills south of Hebron. Israeli settlers confiscate livestock, destroy water tanks and solar panels, and demolish homes and olive groves that Palestinian farmers depend on for their livelihoods. Like the former Nazi SS troops, they arrive without warning, armed with M16 machine guns – which they usually use with immense joy – and beat the villagers with iron bars, sticks, their fists and the butts of their guns. They attack women and the elderly. They enter Palestinian homes, ripping off utensils and accessories, stealing money, destroying papers, knocking over furniture. They shoot to kill. Many wear military uniforms. They imposed a reign of terror. And they are supported by the Israeli army.

His message to the Palestinians is always the same: leave or be killed. And while the settlers are armed and act with impunity, the Palestinians are defenseless.

Accompanied by a guide, I arrived early one afternoon in the agricultural community of She'b Al-Butom, with 300 inhabitants. From there you can see the neighboring Israeli settlement of Avigay. Two Avigay “outposts” control both this village and the neighboring one, Mitzbeh. They are both surrounded. The beleaguered village is situated at the end of a long, rocky track, which our four-wheel-drive car nearly overcame. I was greeted by a traumatized child who grimaced. She was afraid of strangers, after what she had witnessed over the past few weeks.

A group of farmers served us tea. They said that shortly after October 7th, four armed settlers entered the village, causing minor damage, and left. For a few days, the settlers concentrated on peripheral properties, demolishing houses and destroying agricultural buildings, forcing the inhabitants to flee. Three days later, the settlers, all wearing military uniforms, returned. This time, they beat several villagers and looted their old mud-built houses. Last Friday night they returned and attacked the villagers again, including a 72-year-old man. Every time the settlers arrive, they tell the villagers to leave.

Local farmer Khalid Jibril reported: “They pointed a gun at my wife, beat me, stole my phone and pointed guns at the children.” Jibril, who uses a keffiyeh in his head, he added: “you just have to mention the soldiers to the children and they start to tremble”.

Repetition of the Nakba

For Palestinians, this all seems like a repeat of the 1948 Nakba, when 750 people were expelled from their homes, never to return. Like today, they were forced to leave amid massive violence.

As we emerged from the southern hills of Hebron, the settlers were already imposing deadlines. In Um Al-Khair, a small village flanked on all sides by Israeli settlers, villagers were told they must raise an Israeli flag by 19pm the night before, or face destruction. The day before, the settlers had burned down a farmer's house. When the victims called the police, they were told: “you are liars and we are going to arrest you”.

In nearby Tuwani, residents were told to leave. “Go to the city!” ― say the Israeli settlers. Local patriarch Hafez Hureini reacted: “No, never. Nothing will make me leave my house.”

Some villages have already given in to pressure. The community of 250 people of Khirbet Zanufah in the hills south of Hebron had to flee. According to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, 13 herding communities were evacuated in the last month.

The Israeli occupiers are working according to a plan and there is nothing secret about it.

Far-right parties

Late last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saved his skin by forming a coalition with two far-right political parties. The first was Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”), led by Itamar Ben Gvir, an avowed racist who, upon embarking on his political career in 2020, hung in his office a portrait of Baruch Goldstein – the mass murderer who carried out the massacre of 29 Palestinians in 1994 in Ibrahim Mosque in Hebron.

Ben Gvir is now in charge of policing the West Bank as Benjamin Netanyahu's Minister of National Security, a position through which he arranged for the distribution of assault rifles to “civilian security teams.” When he can, he personally oversees distribution.

Benjamin Netanyahu has also embraced the Religious Zionist Party, led by far-right firebrand Bezalel Smotrich. He gave Bezalel Smotrich the coveted position of finance minister, but Bezalel Smotrich sought an even more significant prize. Clause 21 of last December's coalition agreement gave Bezalel Smotrich “full responsibility” for Area C of the West Bank.

Area C is kept under Israeli military and civilian control in accordance with the 1993 Oslo Accords. It encompasses about 60% of the land area of ​​the West Bank, including the isolated villages in the hills south of Hebron. Approximately 350 Palestinians live in Area C, along with 500 Israeli settlers. The latter, under the terms of that Agreement and international law, are completely illegal.

The coalition agreement nominally made Bezalel Smotrich – who describe yourself as a “fascist homophobe” – the commander of the so-called “civil administration” of the West Bank.

Military law

“Civil administration” is, for its part, an Orwellian term. While illegal Israeli settlers enjoy full rights as citizens, Palestinians are governed by Israeli military law. At best, they are subject to arbitrary trials by Israel's military authorities. However, with Bezalel Smotrich in charge, just like in a Nazi ghetto, they no longer had any rights.

The “civil administration” headed by Bezalel Smotrich grants him total control over almost every aspect of Palestinian life. Bezalel Smotrich and Ben Gvir have the West Bank as their playground. His plans were never secret. They are defined quite explicitly in the founding principles of the current government's coalition agreement, which states that “the Jewish people have the exclusive and indisputable right to all parts of the land of Israel.” In other words, this means the complete annexation of the occupied West Bank, contradicting even the British and American positions in support of a “two-state solution”.

Long before October 7, Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich had already advocated the “extermination” of the Palestinian city of Howara, the place where Israeli settlers carried out an pogrom against the Palestinians and worked tirelessly to put those ideas into practice. Now, their position allows them to sponsor a full-scale attack by the colonists. Once again, the message to the Palestinians is simple: leave or you will die.

“Wait for the big Nakba”

Residents of the West Bank village of Deir Istiya received warning letters stating: “you wanted war, now wait for the great Nakba.” To this was added the order for them to flee to Jordan.

I traveled by bus to this village, in the hills above the ancient Palestinian city of Nablus, to meet Faraz Diab, head of the municipality. He told me that a group on the Telegram network called “Nazi Hunters” is threateningly circulating his data, including his photo. “They should be arrested,” he says, but there is little chance of that happening.

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA stated on November 6 that since October 7, 147 Palestinians, including 44 children, have been killed by Israeli military forces in the West Bank (i.e. outside Gaza), with eight more, including one child, killed by settlers. It adds: “Since October 7, at least 111 Palestinian families, comprising 905 people, including 356 children, have been displaced, due to Israeli settler violence and access restrictions.”

"You have to leave!"

In addition to the human tragedy, this is a global disaster. Farmers, herders and nomadic Bedouin tribes have lived in the hills and rugged valleys of the West Bank since time immemorial. They have been there long before any Israelis, especially those imported from the last 50 years. If they are forced to abandon their old way of life, their history, literature and songs will go with them. Their livelihoods are based on the land and the annual cycle, as herders move from summer pastures in the hills to winter pastures in the now closed Jordan Valley.

Many won't. Last Friday, says Khalid Jibril, the settlers issued an ultimatum. “You must leave, or we will kill you. And we will kill your children too, just as we did to the children of Gaza.”

Khalid Jibril was once beaten by Israeli settlers. He told them: “our children are no different from the children of Gaza. If that's what you want, come and do! We’re not leaving.”

For Israel's settler movement, with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) at its side, this is its moment. The forced transfer of an occupied people is a war crime, but I can find no more than the usual “call” to Israel, by the UK government, to “hold those responsible to account”.

This silence is interesting. In normal times, Diane Corner, the British consul general in Jerusalem, issues strong, if powerless, condemnations of settler violence. But as the attacks began to turn into a reign of terror across the West Bank, she had nothing left to say.

I reached out to Ms. Diane Corner via Twitter, explaining that I was preparing a story about settler atrocities, including forced transfers, across the West Bank. It is also notable that in normal times the British consul has been quick to condemn such atrocities. I asked her why she had remained silent. While the Declassified UK was preparing this article for publication, there was no response. In her absence, I imagine that Diana Corner, a decent and well-informed woman, was ordered to keep her mouth shut by a British government that pledged its “unequivocal” support for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel.

*Peter Oborne is a journalist. Author, among other books, of The assault on truth: Boris Johnson and the emergence of a new moral barbarism (Simon & Schuster). [https://amzn.to/3QzbF8m]

Translation: Ricardo Cavalcanti-Schiel.

Originally published on the portal Declassified UK.


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