Israeli settlers tore through the occupied West Bank on Sunday, violently attacking Palestinians and setting fire to their cars, houses, and businesses in what one rights group called a "pogrom" sanctioned by the far-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The settlers, who killed at least one Palestinian and injured hundreds more, launched their assault after a suspected Palestinian gunman fatally shot two Israeli settlers while they were driving in the West Bank.
Residents of the West Bank town of Huwara described the panic they felt Sunday as settlers attacked their vehicles and shops and hurled burning tires through the windows of their homes—all while Israeli soldiers looked on, doing nothing to stop the violence.
"I never thought about the house or all our stuff, I was only thinking about my children and how to save them from this nightmare," one resident toldMiddle East Eye. "We got out of the house and off to safety with the help of the ambulance crews who were also attacked while trying to evacuate us. Our lives are in danger and all this is happening while the Israeli soldiers stand around waiting only to protect the settlers."
The act of collective punishment by Israeli settlers, whose government-backed presence on occupied Palestinian land represents a violation of international law, drew outrage from human rights organizations, including the prominent Israeli group B'Tselem.
"The Jewish Supremacist regime carried out a pogrom in the villages around Nablus yesterday," the group wrote on Twitter early Monday. "This isn't 'loss of control.' This is exactly what Israeli control looks like. The settlers carry out the attack, the military secures it, the politicians back it. It's a synergy."
"The Huwara Pogrom was an extreme manifestation of a longstanding Israeli policy," B'Tselem added. "It was carried out by the state of Israel."
Smoke and flames rise from the West Bank town of Huwara. (Photo: Hisham K. K. Abu Shaqra/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
The settler attack came days after Israeli forces killed at least ten Palestinians in a raid on the West Bank city of Nablus, just north of Huwara.
Israeli forces have killed dozens of Palestinians since the start of the new year.
Just two days before the deadly Nablus raid, the U.S. backed a watered-down United Nations Security Council statement voicing opposition to "Israeli construction and expansion of settlements, confiscation of Palestinians' land, and the 'legalization' of settlement outposts, demolition of Palestinians' homes, and displacement of Palestinian civilians."
The statement marked the first time in six years that the U.S.—which has veto power in the body—allowed the U.N. Security Council to issue a statement critical of Israeli settlements. But observers warned the statement would do little to deter the far-right Israeli government, which appears bent on settlement expansion.
In a social media post on Sunday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price condemned the "violence" that took place in the West Bank, citing the "terrorist attack that killed two Israelis and settler violence, which resulted in the killing of one Palestinian, injuries to over 100 others, and the destruction of extensive property."
Responding to Price, Francesca Albanese—the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories—wrote, "I condemn Israel's 55-year-old settler-colonial occupation of Palestinian territory (and recent Israeli politicians' incitement to commit crimes) that is causing continuous violence/despicable loss of life."
"I also condemn the continuous misrepresentation of this violence and its root causes," Albanese added.
A Palestinian man stands amid torched cars near a house in Huwara. (Photo: Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP via Getty Images)
Netanyahu, meanwhile, merely asked settlers not to "take the law into your hands" and to let Israeli forces "carry out their work."
One Israeli lawmaker, Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli, echoed B'Tselem's condemnation of the Sunday assault as a "pogrom" and said the settlers "get their legitimacy from senior members of this government."
"This cancerous growth that threatens the country," Michaeli added, "must be excised as soon as possible before it leads us to utter ruin."
The Palestinian presidency similarly blamed far-right Israeli lawmakers—as well as members of the international community that continue to support the government—for enabling Sunday's assault.
"This terrorism and whoever stands behind it aims to destroy and thwart the international efforts exerted to try to get out of the current crisis," the statement reads. "We stand at a crossroads, either for the international community to assume its responsibilities, led by the United States of America, by obliging the Israeli government to stop its aggressions and stop the crimes of settlers immediately, or else the situation will enter into a circle of action and reaction."