The West Bank tinderbox

Mohamed Abou Shaar, Tuesday 24 Oct 2023

The Israeli Occupying Forces in the West Bank have been raiding Palestinian towns and villages and arresting and jailing hundreds of people since the outbreak of the war on Gaza, writes Mohamed Abou Shaar

The West Bank tinderbox


The Occupied West Bank has been a tinderbox since the outbreak of the Gaza war on 7 October. Violence has surged as Israeli forces raided several West Bank towns and villages, suppressed demonstrations, and arrested and jailed hundreds.

Over a hundred Palestinians have been killed, over 1,900 have been wounded, and over 1,200 have been arrested in the Israeli Army raids in different parts of the West Bank since 7 October, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Israel claims that the arrests target Hamas leaders and members in response to the Hamas attack against Israel from Gaza on 7 October. Among those arrested are Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Assembly Aziz Dweik and a senior Hamas official, Hassan Yousef.

On Monday evening, the Palestinian Ministry of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs announced that an administrative detainee, Omar Hamza Hassan Daraghmeh, had died in the Megiddo Prison under mysterious circumstances. Daraghmeh, along with his son, was arrested on 9 October and placed under administrative detention for six months. Hamas has accused Israel of assassinating him in prison.

The massive raid and arrest campaign launched by the Israeli Occupation Forces has fueled tensions and anger in the West Bank, where demonstrators rally daily to protest against the crimes being perpetrated by the Israeli Occupation against Palestinians in Gaza.

Several gunmen opened fire against Israeli forces at military checkpoints and positions in response to calls for revenge against the Israeli Occupation forces, especially in Jenin, Nablus, and areas in the northern West Bank.

In what Israeli officials claim was a pre-emptive operation, the Israeli Armed Forces launched a large-scale raid against the Nur Shams Refugee Camp near the West Bank city of Tulkarm. An explosive-laden drone was used to strike a group of Palestinians whom the Israeli authorities described as “militants.”

This was one of the rare instances in which Israeli forces have used drones in their raids in the West Bank. Twelve civilians died during the attack against the Camp, including five children, according to the Palestinian News Agency WAFA. An Israeli policeman was shot dead in the vicinity by Palestinian gunmen.

The recently formed Tulkarm Brigade has been making its mark in the Palestinian response to the Israeli raid against the Nur Shams Camp. Like the Jenin and Nablus Brigades, it is a formation of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the West Bank and is at the forefront of the rise in anti-Israeli militant activity of a scale unseen in 20 years.

On Sunday, Israeli aircraft struck the Al-Ansar Mosque in Jenin killing two Palestinians. Israel has been carrying out extensive military operations against the Nur Shams Refugee Camp since July.

Israel fears that the conflict in Gaza will spill over into the West Bank, adding another front to the one in the south and the northern front along the Israeli border with Lebanon where there have been daily artillery skirmishes between the Israeli Army and the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah.

Israel is particularly sensitive to escalation in the West Bank, which is situated in the soft flank of the Israeli security ring because of its geographical proximity and the possibility that militants could infiltrate into Israel among the tens of thousands of Palestinian workers who commute between the West Bank and Israel daily.

The Israeli authorities claim that Hamas and PIJ are trying to foster violence in the West Bank by inducing young men to join the militant groups. They are also concerned by the possibility of “lone wolf” attacks by Palestinians who may not necessarily be affiliated with a militant organisation but who are driven by the desire to take revenge for Israeli actions in Gaza and the West Bank.

“The Israelis don’t want the West Bank to ignite because they know that this front is a year-round tinderbox that could explode at any moment,” political analyst Iyad Gouda told the Weekly.

The Israeli strategy was to “clip the nails” of the Palestinian militant factions in the West Bank but, he added, “this policy has failed miserably. Israel believes that it can rely on military force alone to resolve the conflicts in the Palestinian towns and villages located right in the middle of the Israeli settlements and in parts of central Israel. This has made the cost of direct confrontation very high.”

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry has warned that Israel is using the war in Gaza to advance its expansionist colonialist designs and to annex more territory in the West Bank. In a statement released on Monday, the Ministry said that “carrying out these pre-planned schemes will make it difficult to speak about peace and the principle of the two-state solution.”

The Ministry also drew attention to the crimes being perpetrated by armed Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank. Since the beginning of the year, there has been a sharp rise in Jewish settler attacks against Palestinian people, homes, fields, and holy sites in the Occupied Territories. Since 7 October, the settler violence has increased further.

Palestinian analysts say that the West Bank has been forced into a confrontational position with Israel due to the lack of a horizon for de-escalation and the restoration of calm and to the mounting pressures of Israeli crimes against the Occupied West Bank and Jerusalem and Gaza.

There is growing Palestinian anger at the process that the Palestinian Authority (PA) claims will bring peace with Israel and at the PA’s inability to serve as a unifying political vehicle for the Palestinian people, especially given the ongoing rift between the Fatah faction and Hamas.

A sign of this discontent occurred in the aftermath of the Israeli strike against the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza last week. The demonstrations that took place in Ramallah and Hebron to condemn that crime turned into clashes with the Palestinian Security Services when a group of demonstrators tried to march on the PA presidential headquarters.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 26 October, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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