Qusra, Vestbreden (Aftenposten): In light of the war waged by Israel against Hamas, violence in the West Bank has escalated significantly. A human rights activist fears new massacres.
On Thursday morning, Abdel Azim Wadi (49 years old) drove his car first in a funeral procession on the road from a hospital in Nablus to the small village of Qusra in the West Bank.
Behind him drove ambulances carrying the bodies of four young Palestinians killed the day before by settlers – Jewish nationalists who had settled on Palestinian land to try to keep the Palestinians out.
Almost the entire village was scheduled to attend the funeral that day. In one of the cars behind Abdul Azim, his brother Ibrahim Wadi (62 years old) was driving the car with three of his sons.
As the funeral procession approached the village, five settlers suddenly appeared. They blocked the road with stones and tires. Abdul Azim jumped out of the car. Then the bullets started flying.
A few minutes later, Abdul Azim was on his way back to Nablus. Now his brother and nephew were in the ambulances. When they got to the hospital, they were dead.
It comes in the shadow of Gaza after the Hamas attack
It has been a nightmare week for Israelis and Palestinians.
It started with Hamas breaching the border fence into Gaza last Saturday and attacking about twenty Jewish towns.
More than 1,400 Israelis were killed in what is described as the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, including many children. At least 199 people were taken hostage in Gaza.
Israel threatened a brutal response. More than 300,000 Israeli soldiers are mobilized along the border with Gaza, in anticipation of what many fear will be a very bloody ground invasion. More than 2,700 Palestinians have been killed so far in Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip. Among them are at least 700 children.
While the world’s eyes were focused on southern Israel and Gaza, there was also grim development in the West Bank. At least 54 Palestinians were killed there last week, either by Jewish settlers or by Israeli soldiers and police.
2023 has already been the bloodiest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since the beginning of the 2000s. Now many fear it will get much worse.
Attack on the funeral procession
In Qusra alone, six Palestinians were killed last week. According to Palestinian authorities, as well as several residents Aftenposten spoke with, the murders were carried out by settlers from the nearby illegal Esh Kodesh outpost.
Things started on Wednesday, when a group of masked and armed settlers entered the village and began throwing stones at one of the houses. When a group of Palestinian youth arrived and threw stones, the settlers pulled out their weapons, according to residents.
Four men aged between 18 and 25 were killed. Fourteen others were injured, including a six-year-old girl who remains in hospital.
-We are terrified, we do not know what will happen now. “Tomorrow looks black,” says Abdel Azim Wadi.
He is now taking care of his two nephews, Yasser (14 years old) and Yassin (12 years old). Wadi says they were also in the funeral procession and have rarely spoken since the attack. The boys’ mother is still in shock.
As Wadi recounted the attack, Yassin broke down in tears and rushed out of the room. He is comforted by his cousins and cousin. Wadi’s eyes filled with tears.
-I try to be strong for the children. “But at night, I feel sad,” he says.
Fear of escalation
Israel is responsible for security in what is known as Area C, which covers more than 60% of the West Bank. Since the attack a week ago, the Israeli army has tightened its grip. Reinforcements were sent to checkpoints and many roads were closed.
– It was a difficult week, says Hani Odeh (68 years old), mayor of Qasra. He says many people cannot go to work because the roads are closed. Young people suffer from psychological problems after the attacks, according to Odeh.
The mayor is very concerned that violence will escalate further if Israel enters Gaza with ground forces. He fears that settlers will take advantage of the opportunity to expel the Palestinians and seize new areas of land in the West Bank. And the Israeli army will not stop them.
– During both attacks there were soldiers nearby. Odeh says: They could have stopped it, but they did nothing.
On Monday evening, the Israeli army did not respond to Aftenposten’s inquiries. Earlier this week, a spokesperson told the newspaper The Times of Israel To investigate the matter.
Fears of genocide-like acts
Last year, a number of human rights groups warned of a sharp deterioration in settlement violence in the West Bank. One of them is Dror Etkes of the Israeli human rights group Kerem Navot. He has followed the situation in the West Bank closely since 2012. He says the situation is more dangerous now than it has been in a long time.
It seems that we are in the most violent stage ever in the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis in this country, says Etkes.
My opinion is that we now face a very serious risk of genocide-like acts, with settlers committing massacres of Palestinians.
He also fears that more extreme and violent settlers will exploit this moment to secure larger territories.
– And this is exactly what we witnessed last week. The settlers’ paramilitary militias attack Palestinian population centers with the tacit approval of the army and police. Etkes says the goal is to deport the Palestinians.
He enjoys the support of the prominent Palestinian doctor and politician Mustafa Barghouti. He leads the Palestinian National Initiative Party, which describes itself as the third democratic alternative to Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Fatah, which rules the West Bank.
Barghouti believes that the situation in the Gaza Strip is directly related to the developments taking place in the West Bank this year.
– This began with the settlers, who, under the protection of the Israeli army, have been terrorizing Palestinian civilians for the past eight months. They burned homes and cars and killed several hundred Palestinian civilians, including 40 children. After what happened in Gaza, the aggression became worse, Barghouti says.
Israeli Dror Etkes says last week’s atrocities are “a deeply painful reminder that dehumanization is always mutual.”
– When people are dehumanized for many years, they eventually dehumanize the enemy. This dehumanization has led Hamas to commit the worst types of crimes imaginable.
Brutal surveillance images reveal Israel’s systematic violations against children in the West Bank. Watch the documentary “Two Children Every Day” here:
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