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Israeli security agencies concerned over rise in settler violence in West Bank

The number of Israeli settlers attacking Palestinians is on the rise, and the severity of the attacks is also increasing.
Israeli settlers walk with batons and axes.

With the huge wave of terrorism sweeping across the West Bank in the past few months, Israeli security forces are also worried about a discernible increase in the acts of retaliation committed by Jews against Arabs. According to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), from January to the end of November 2022, there have been 838 cases of “nationalist crimes” (as the IDF calls it) by Jews against Arabs.

What makes this especially disturbing is the fact that in all of 2021, 446 attacks were committed by Jews against Arabs, and even that was considered a high number. Many of the attacks in 2021 can be attributed to Operation Guardian of the Walls in May of that year, which exacerbated friction between Jews and Arabs.

By way of comparison, there were “only” 353 such cases of “nationalist crimes” in 2020. According to IDF data, the overwhelming majority of “nationalist crimes” last year occurred in the wake of serious attacks in which Jews were killed by Palestinian terrorists. The main points of friction for these troubling incidents were in the regions of the Yitzhar settlement, Palestinian Huwara village, the Valley of Shilo, Kochav HaShachar and Oz Tziyon settlements, and the Southern Mount Hebron area.

What surprised security forces over the past few months was not just the scope of these retaliatory incidents, but also the fact that these were not just so-called “Price Tag” attacks in which Jews vandalize and burn Arab property. More recently, the people reacting to these attacks, whether within the Green Line or in the West Bank, are settlers who are considered “normative” — in other words, settlers who are not identified by the authorities with the extreme right. Nevertheless, after an attack against Jews, they gather at major intersections to throw rocks at Palestinians.

That is what happened on Nov. 29, for instance, after Palestinians rioted against IDF forces. Settlers then blocked the road to a Palestinian car and started throwing rocks at it. The Palestinian driver tried to speak to the Israelis attacking his car and tell them there was a child and a pregnant woman inside. Nevertheless, the settlers began spraying pepper spray on the car. The Palestinian tried to escape but encountered an Israeli vehicle coming from another direction. The driver of the Israeli car thought that the Palestinian driver was trying to attack them, so she got out of the car, pulled out a gun and fired three shots at his vehicle, without injuring any of the passengers. The woman has since been detained by the police and her gun was confiscated.

Over the last year, 101 case files were opened for Jewish attacks on Arabs in the West Bank. Some 67 orders of administrative detention were issued, 113 Jews were arrested on suspicion of participating in nationalist crimes and 28 formal indictments were handed down. While senior Israeli defense officials are very disturbed by the phenomenon, they do not believe that this will lead to an escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinians. According to one senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity, “While this will not cause the situation to deteriorate, it certainly does not help an already tense situation.”

That being said, Israeli defense officials present data that shows a steady rise in acts of terrorism by Palestinians. In fact, the extent of these attacks is higher than at any time since the wave of stabbings and vehicular attacks in the winter of 2015-2016. This escalation is evidence of the weakness of the Palestinian authorities on the ground. This has led many Israeli officials to consider this a kind of low-intensity intifada.

While none of them will call it that yet, they agree that the violence is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. Even if the situation remains the way it is and does not get considerably worse, the IDF and other security forces will need a hefty presence in the West Bank. Most of these troops will be used to prevent Arab terrorism, but they will also be used to prevent acts of retaliation by Jews.

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