2023 ‘most violent’ year for West Bank settler attacks, watchdog says

Yesh Din says 10 Palestinians killed, dozens of homes torched; in two months after Oct. 7 massacre, 242 incidents reported; UN office counts over 1,200 throughout year

Cars burned by settlers during riots in Huwara, in the West Bank, near Nablus, February 27, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
File: Cars burned by settlers during riots in Huwara, in the West Bank, near Nablus, February 27, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Israeli settlers killed at least 10 Palestinians and torched dozens of homes in the West Bank in 2023, making it the “most violent” year on record for settler attacks, an Israeli watchdog said Monday.

Numerous West Bank attacks were carried out by large groups of settlers, with the violence spiking after Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel, said Yesh Din, a human rights group.

“At least 10 Palestinians were killed by settlers and dozens of homes and vehicles were set on fire” last year, it said. “2023 was the most violent year in settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank in both the number of incidents and their severity.”

The West Bank has been under Israeli military rule since the 1967 Six Day War, while the Palestinian Authority has ruled parts of the territory since 1994. Tensions have escalated there since the outbreak of fighting between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas terror group, which took power in the enclave in 2007.

About 490,000 settlers live among approximately three million Palestinians in the West Bank, in settlements that are considered illegal under international law.

Yesh Din began monitoring settler violence against Palestinians in 2006.

IDF soldiers scuffle with settlers from the Einav settlement trying to storm the town of Deir Sharaf in the Nablus governorate of the West Bank on November 2, 2023, after an Israeli was killed when his car came under fire. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

“The first two months since October 7 were particularly violent, with Yesh Din documenting 242 settler violence incidents,” the group said, referring to the day when Hamas launched its devastating onslaught on Israel from the Gaza Strip.

“In these incidents, hundreds of Israelis raided Palestinian villages, setting fire to dozens of homes and vehicles,” the watchdog said.

The report correlated with data released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which counted 1,225 incidents of settler violence in 2023.

According to OCHA, between October 7 and December 30, at least 198 Palestinian households of 1,208 people, among them 586 children, have been displaced due to settler violence and military restrictions.

This accounts for 78% of the 1,539 people, including 756 children who have been displaced in such incidents in 2023.

The OHCA said that there was a daily average of three settler-related incidents in the first eight months of 2023 compared to the two-per-day average in 2022 — the highest rate since the beginning of records in 2006.

File: A Palestinian man inspects the damage to a store in the village of Huwara in the West Bank on October 6, 2023, after an overnight attack by Israeli settlers. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

‘Lack of trust’

At least 317 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces and settlers in the West Bank since the Gaza war began, according to the Palestinian Authority health ministry.

Based on military estimates, the vast majority of them were shot during clashes amid arrest raids, and many of them, according to data seen by The Times of Israel, were armed with either a firearm or an explosive device.

The IDF is aware of at least three cases of uninvolved Palestinians being killed by troops recently, and a handful of cases of settlers killing Palestinians, which are still under investigation.

Yesh Din refuted claims by the military and police that there had been a decrease in settler violence in recent months, saying those numbers reflected a drop in complaints filed to Israeli authorities.

According to the data, from January to September 57.5% of victims did not file a complaint, compared to the same period in 2022, when only 40% gave up that right.

Since the current right-wing Israeli government came to power in December 2022, more Palestinians have expressed a “lack of trust” in Israeli law enforcement authorities in the West Bank, it said.

“Settler violence is the policy of the Israeli government,” the watchdog charged about the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which includes settlers and ultra-nationalist hardliners.

In this handout photo from the military, Israeli troops are seen in the Palestinian town of Huwara in the northern West Bank, October 6, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Last month the United States said it would refuse visas for extremist Israeli settlers who attack Palestinians, stepping up pressure to curb the wave of violence in the West Bank.

There have also been a number of deadly terror attacks in which four Israelis have been killed in the West Bank and Israel since October 7. On that day, some 3,000 terrorists burst through the Gaza border into Israel in a Hamas-led onslaught, murdering at least 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and seizing some 240 hostages.

Israel responded with an aerial campaign and subsequent ground operation with the goal of destroying Hamas and ending its 16-year rule over Gaza and securing the release of the hostages.

The Israel Defense Forces has continued to operate throughout the West Bank and police have been on high alert in Israel, in light of concerns about a possible escalation of violence.

Israeli troops have arrested some 2,400 wanted Palestinians across the West Bank, including more than 1,200 affiliated with Hamas, since the massacre.

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