The cost of Israeli settlements

Mohamed Abu Shaar , Friday 25 Aug 2023

Three Israelis were killed in two separate incidents within two days.

Israeli settlements
Israeli settlers are seen at the outpost of Eviatar near the northern West Bank town of Nablus, Monday, June 21, 2021. Settlers established the outpost last month and say it is now home to dozens of families. Palestinians say it is built on private land and fear it will grow and merge with other large settlements nearby. AP

 

The first of two incidents involving the killing of Israelis in the West Bank this week took place in Hawara, Nablus, in the northern West Bank, while the second was near the Hebron governorate in the south. This makes 2023 the bloodiest for Israelis since the Second Intifada of September 2000.

Two Israelis — a man and his son — were shot on Saturday at a car wash near the town of Hawara. The assailant is at large, and the Israeli army continues to look for him.

On Monday, an Israeli woman was killed and another wounded when their car was shot at near the Kiryat Arba settlement, Hebron. The Israeli army surrounded the city in search of the perpetrator who fled the scene.

This brings the death toll of Israelis killed by gunfire in the West Bank and in Israeli cities to 36 since the start of 2023, compared to 31 deaths altogether in 2022.

These attacks have sparked widespread Israeli ire against the government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, since it is their policies that resulted in retaliatory actions by Palestinians.

Yehuda Fox, the commander of the Israeli army in the West Bank, described escalation in the West Bank as follows: “Israel is facing a wave of terrorism, the likes of which we have not known for a long time.” The Israeli cabinet and security council will meet on Sunday to discuss responses to attacks against Israelis.

According to Israeli reports, Ben-Gvir, who called for this meeting to be held as soon as possible, will propose new measures to end the violence, including closing roads in the West Bank, denying work permits to Palestinians in Israel, and stepping up operations targeting militant cells in the West Bank.

The Israel Broadcasting Authority quoted officials in the Palestinian Authority (PA) as saying: “There are concerns that Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich will take advantage of the escalation in the West Bank, to further damage the PA and accelerate its collapse.”

Israel called on the US to put greater pressure on the PA to play its role in pursuing armed groups in the West Bank, as reported by Israeli Channel 13 on meetings between Israeli and US security officials.

Almost daily, the Israeli army carries out incursions into West Bank cities as part of what it claims are operations to hunt down wanted persons and members of armed Palestinian formations.

According to statistics of the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 2023 is one of the bloodiest years for Palestinians. Since the beginning of the year, Israeli army invasions have claimed 216 Palestinian martyrs, including 31 children, 11 women, and eight elderly people. Some 6,000 people were also injured, either by live or metal bullets, or due to asphyxiation caused by inhalation of tear gas used by the Israeli army.

While some Israelis are calling for broad military action in the West Bank, similar to the operation carried out by the army in Jenin in early July, others are demanding that Palestinian armed factions in the Gaza Strip must be targeted in response to attacks in the West Bank.

Israel accuses Hamas and Islamic Jihad of forming a combined military contingent in the West Bank, which they support with funds and military expertise to attack Israeli targets. The military capabilities of these armed formations have developed, and they are primarily active in Jenin and Nablus in the northern West Bank, closer to areas controlled by Israel.

Avigdor Lieberman, former defence minister and leader of Yisrael Beiteinu Party, demanded the return to assassinating Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials in the Gaza Strip, in response to operations in the West Bank and Israel.

The Israeli army has repeatedly targeted officials from armed Palestinian factions in Gaza, most recently in May when it killed three prominent officials in Islamic Jihad. This was the first move in a series of confrontations that lasted several days, during which Islamic Jihad launched hundreds of rockets into Israel, and Israel killed more of the group’s prominent military officials.

Israel also assassinated several Islamic Jihad military leaders in August 2022.

Despite the declared detente in the Gaza Strip, the triggers for military escalation remain in place. On Sunday and Monday, the Israeli army said it used surface-to-air interceptor missiles to shoot down drones over Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. Drones are a serious security concern for Israel, which believes that Palestinian factions continue to try to manufacture and develop the unmanned aircraft. There is also a possibility that factions close to Iran are receiving technology for manufacturing, especially after the success and effectiveness of drones in the Russian-Ukrainian war.

On Saturday, armed factions in Gaza fired dozens of rockets, including long-range ones, towards the sea as part of military exercises. At the same time, Pales-tinian prisoners in Israeli prisons took steps to protest their treatment.

Two days later, on Monday, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets on the border east of Gaza City, as part of demonstrations rallied by Hamas to mark the anniversary of the burning of Al-Aqsa Mosque. This was the largest mobilisation on the border in months. Some Israelis believe Hamas, which is facing immense economic pressure in the Gaza Strip where it has ruled for 17 years, may push for agitating the security situation with Israel to force Tel Aviv to make concessions to alleviate its financial crisis.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 24 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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