Israeli escalation in the West Bank

Mohamed Abu Shaar , Friday 20 Jan 2023

Israel has been escalating its military actions in the West Bank against a background of growing difficulties for its extreme-right government.

Israeli escalation in the West Bank
Palestinians carry the bodies of Ezzeddin Hamamrah, 24, and Amjad Khleleyah, 23, draped in the flag of the Islamic Jihad militant group, during their funeral in the West Bank village of Gaba, near Jenin (photo: AP)


The Israeli army is continuing its policy of killing Palestinians in the West Bank through daily incursions and raids of towns and cities. Since the new year, 14 Palestinians have been killed, including four children, according to statistics from the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

The violence is occurring against a background of political difficulties for the government of right wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

One child, Omar Khamour, 14, was killed by Israeli bullets when the Israeli army raided the Al-Deheisha Refugee Camp in Bethlehem.

His family said he did not represent any danger to the Israeli soldiers who raided the town. He was looking out from the balcony of the family house to watch the Israeli invasion of the camp when he was shot by an Israeli soldier. The Israeli army claimed it was undertaking a “preemptive operation” in the city to prevent attacks on Israel.

On Saturday, three other Palestinians were shot dead by the Israeli army as it invaded Gabaa in Jenin in the northern region of the West Bank. Israeli soldiers shot at a vehicle transporting two young Palestinian men in the city.

The Israeli army took advantage of a series of attacks against Israelis at the beginning of last year to launch Operation Break the Wave in March 2022. This included attacks on Palestinian groups that have recently become active in the West Bank, which Israel views as under its control as far as security is concerned.

The operation killed more than 230 Palestinians last year, mostly in the city of Jenin where the Israeli army focused its attacks after an armed group affiliated with the Islamic Jihad group called the Jenin Brigade began operations.

The Israeli army also heavily targeted the city of Nablus in the north of the West Bank after the armed group Den of Lions appeared in refugee camps there.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has begun to take action on the Arab and global levels in response to Israel’s repeated aggressions against Palestinians. In December, it went to the UN, with the support of the Arab countries, to request the legal opinion of the International Court of Justice on Israel’s occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Monday that “it is necessary to transform international positions into actions that provide protection for the Palestinian people and force the Israeli government and its various arms to abide by international law and the principles of human rights.”

“So far, the international reaction has not risen to the level of what the Palestinian people are exposed to under Netanyahu’s extreme right wing government, which continues to spill blood and threatens to lead to an explosion.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohamed Shtayyeh told a cabinet meeting that “we are waiting with serious concern for [the Israeli parliament] the Knesset to adopt more racist laws that perpetuate the occupation and annexation and strip the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”

He was referring to a Knesset meeting on 10 January that unanimously approved the first reading of a draft law extending emergency rule inside Israeli settlements and on the West Bank for the next five years. Israel’s penal code and some civil laws are being applied to include Israelis living in the West Bank.

As Palestinians continue their diplomatic campaign in response, Cairo on Tuesday hosted a three-way summit meeting between President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

“The three-way Palestinian, Egyptian, and Jordanian summit is vital in confronting current challenges,” said Palestinian Ambassador to Cairo Diyab Al-Loh. “It comes as part of forming an Arab vision and strategy that will be presented to the Arab governments and then to the international community in order to form a broad international front of support,” Al-Loh was quoted as saying by the Palestinian News Agency.

“The three-way summit comes at a time when the political system in Israel is witnessing a serious upheaval since it is now governed by extremist religious doctrines,” Al-Loh said. “New laws are being drafted or adopted to serve Zionist schemes that contradict international law and the Geneva IV Agreement.”

He added that the summit meeting would call on the international community to take immediate action to save the peace process.

The Palestinian actions have been met with warnings by Israel that it will expand the confrontations in the West Bank. Former Israeli chief of staff Gadi Eizenkott warned that escalation in the Palestinian arena would be coming soon.

“We are closer to confrontation today and more than at any other time since the end of the Second Intifada,” Eizenkott told Israel’s Channel 14 television. “We must make every effort to prevent, thwart, and weaken it.”

An analysis published in the Jerusalem Post newspaper said that “measures taken by the Israeli government against the Palestinians can be seen as a catastrophe because Netanyahu’s government is putting Palestinians and Israelis on a collision course.”

The escalation in the West Bank comes at a time of turmoil for Netanyahu’s right-wing cabinet only weeks after it came to power due to what it claims are “reforms” being undertaken in some key arenas including the judiciary.

On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of several Israeli cities at the behest of the opposition parties in Israel to protest against the proposed reforms to the judiciary by Netanyahu’s government.

The opposition believes the reforms aim to strengthen Netanyahu’s legal position in the face of corruption charges.

The Israeli media reported that the largest protests reached 100,000 strong in Tel Aviv, with thousands more in Haifa and in front of Israeli President Yitzhak Herzog’s home in the Occupied City of Jerusalem.

After the demonstrations, Herzog said that “the country is in the midst of a deep conflict that is tearing it apart.” He said he was “trying to prevent a historic legal crisis and continued divisions among the Israeli public”.

Netahanyhu, on the other hand, said that the majority of Israelis supported the judicial reforms that Minister of Justice Yariv Levin will promote in the Knesset. He argued that his government has a mandate from the Israeli people to carry them out.

Former prime minister and leader of the opposition Yair Lapid suggested a referendum on the judicial reforms, which he described as “the destruction of the judicial system.”

Palestinian observers are concerned that Netanyahu will try to stage a distraction from his domestic political woes by escalating confrontations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, tensions have been rising in Jerusalem owing to schemes pursued by Netanyahu’s partners in government against the city.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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