Surge in West Bank settler violence injures Palestinians, including children, rights group says

According to an Israeli human rights group, 14 Palestinians – including at least two children – were recently injured in the occupied West Bank.

Yesh Din, who is documenting attacks on Palestinians and trying to end Israeli occupation, said a large number of crossings in the West Bank were blocked by settlers and stones thrown at Palestinian vehicles on Thursday evening.

Jad Alaa Sawfta, a 5-year-old from the city of Tubas in the West Bank, was injured around 10 p.m. Local time (3:00 p.m. CET) Thursday at the Givat Asaf intersection near the city of Ramallah, the administrative base of the Palestinians in the West Bank. The group shared a photo of the boy who appeared to have scratches on his cheek and lower lip.

On January 17, an 11-year-old Palestinian girl also suffered facial injuries thrown by Israeli settlers, according to Yesh Din.

These recent incidents came amid an increase in settler violence following the death of a young settler suspected of throwing stones at Palestinians in a police chase in the West Bank on December 21.

Israeli police use water cannons to disperse Jewish settler youth in the West Bank during a protest against Israeli police following the death of Ahuvia Sandak in Jerusalem on January 2.Ariel Schalit / AP file

The settlers are angry at what they see as bad treatment by the Israeli police and the death of settler Ahuvia Sandak, said Lior Amihai, executive director of Yesh DinIn reality, settlers often benefited from a lack of law enforcement.

Amihai said the group has documented nearly 50 cases of settler violence against Palestinians since Sandak’s death, in which 14 Palestinians were injured. He said the group could not compare that number with previous data as it did not track all incidents of settler violence.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on Thursday condemned the attacks in the West Bank and urged President Joe Biden’s administration to do the same.

An Israeli police spokeswoman said she was used at friction points in the West Bank to prevent violence and enforce the law. A number of cases related to disorderly behavior and violence against Palestinians and security forces were opened last month, she said.

A police investigation into the incident in which the child was injured has not yet been completed.

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In a statement to NBC News, an Israel Defense Forces spokesman said his troops “are not ready to witness violence,” adding that they are “constantly working to maintain stability in the region.”

The IDF forwarded questions about the incident to the police on Thursday.

A spokesman for the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization representing Jewish settlements in the West Bank, declined to comment.

Another prominent Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, also said there has been a recent surge in settler attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank, but they are continuing to work to determine the number of incidents.

Both groups said the violence was a continuation of a decades-long campaign against Palestinians in the disputed area that Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and that the Palestinians want as part of a future state. They say the Israeli authorities allowed settlers to attack their Palestinian neighbors.

“Nobody tries to stop these attacks in advance while they are happening,” said Yael Stein, director of research at B’Tselem. “This reality is no coincidence, but part of Israel’s deliberate policy of privatizing violence that serves its purpose: taking over Palestinian land and resources through displacement of the Palestinians.”

Palestinians are also regularly accused of violence against settlers, including throwing stones, ramming cars and stab wounds. But Stein said if that happens, the military will take action, arrest and try suspects.

“It’s not symmetrical,” she said.

The rise in violence came with an increase in Israeli plans for more settlement houses in the West Bank.

On Wednesday, Israel issued tenders for more than 2,500 settlement houses in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in addition to hundreds announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week from the Israeli human rights group Peace Now said.

According to Peace Now, there are more than 440,000 settlers in the West Bank in settlements that are considered illegal by the majority of the international community, along with more than 2.7 million Palestinians.

In 2019, under the Trump administration, the United States reversed its decades-long position that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal.

As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden said The New York Times “Israeli leaders should stop the expansion of the West Bank settlements.”

Lawahez Jabari contributed.

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