Destroyed car in West Bank

A destroyed car is pictured after Jewish settlers set fire to Palestinian homes and vehicles in the occupied West Bank on April 14, 2024.

(Photo: Nedal Eshtayah/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Israeli Settlers, Soldiers 'Wiping Palestinian Communities Off the Map' in the West Bank

"While the attention of the world is focused on Gaza, abuses in the West Bank, fueled by decades of impunity and complacency among Israel's allies, are soaring."

Israeli soldiers have either passively watched or participated in the uprooting of at least seven communities in the West Bank since October of last year, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday in a new report documenting surging settler violence in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The rights group interviewed dozens of eyewitnesses and examined video footage showing harassment and other abuse of Palestinians in the West Bank "by men in Israeli military uniforms carrying M16 assault rifles."

Following the Hamas-led October 7 attack on southern Israel, the Israeli military drafted more than 5,000 settlers into "regional defense" units in the West Bank, Haaretzreported earlier this year. The Israeli newspaper noted that "alongside this large-scale mobilization, the [Israel Defense Forces] has distributed some 7,000 weapons to the battalions as well as to settlers who were not recruited into the army but received them as civilians whom the army considers eligible to carry military arms."

HRW's investigation found that "armed settlers, with the active participation of army units, repeatedly cut off road access and raided Palestinian communities, detained, assaulted, and tortured residents, chased them out of their homes and off their lands at gunpoint or coerced them to leave with death threats, and blocked them from taking their belongings."

"Israeli settlers and soldiers are literally wiping Palestinian communities off the map," said Omar Shakir, HRW's Israel and Palestine director.

"While the attention of the world is focused on Gaza, abuses in the West Bank, fueled by decades of impunity and complacency among Israel’s allies, are soaring."

The new report comes days after Israeli settlers—escorted by IDF soldiers—went on their latest destructive and deadly rampage in the West Bank, killing at least two Palestinians, injuring dozens, and setting homes and vehicles ablaze. At least 20 households were displaced after Israeli settlers burned down their homes.

The wave of settler violence came after a missing 14-year-old Israeli boy was found dead in the area around the West Bank city of Ramallah. The Israeli military said the boy was killed in a "terrorist attack."

Since October 7, according to the United Nations, Israeli settlers have launched more than 720 attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, displacing at least 206 households comprised of 1,244 people—including 603 children. Israeli soldiers in uniform have been present at many of the attacks.

"Settlers and soldiers have displaced entire Palestinian communities, destroying every home, with the apparent backing of higher Israeli authorities," Bill Van Esveld, associate children's rights director at HRW, said in a statement Wednesday. "While the attention of the world is focused on Gaza, abuses in the West Bank, fueled by decades of impunity and complacency among Israel's allies, are soaring."

HRW's new report examines five West Bank communities that have come under attack by Israeli settlers, including one in which uniformed Israeli men armed with assault rifles entered tents and destroyed or stole people's belongings, abused residents, and threatened to kill them if they didn't leave the area.

"One man in uniform kicked me in the back of my neck," a Palestinian mother told HRW. "They said, 'Go to the valley, and if you come back, we will kill you.'"

None of the families forcibly evicted from the five communities examined in the HRW report have been allowed to return home.

"Palestinian children have seen their families brutalized, and their homes and schools destroyed, and the Israeli authorities are ultimately to blame," Van Esveld said Wednesday. "Senior state officials are fueling or failing to prevent these attacks, and Israel's allies are not doing enough to stop that."

Following the latest wave of settler violence in the West Bank this past weekend, a coalition of human rights organizations said in a joint statement Wednesday that "the international community must swiftly and decisively pressure the government of Israel to halt these attacks and urgently de-escalate the situation."

"With international attention centered on Gaza, the government of Israel has not only allowed settler violence to spiral but also persisted in the expansion of Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land and unlawfully seized Palestinian territory by designating it as 'state land,' blatantly violating international law," the groups noted. "Concerted efforts are needed to tackle the root cause of settler violence by permanently dismantling settlement outposts and ensuring the safe return of displaced Palestinians to their lands."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.