Violence and settler aggression in the first week of the Gaza War

Periods of heightened security tension and military operations, where public attention is entirely focused on the combat zones, present an opportunity for settlers to establish facts on the ground. For example, during the peak of violence in the Second Intifada in 2002-2003, settlers established 43 new outposts. The Evyatar outpost was established in May 2021, among others.

A preliminary analysis of events in the first week since the ruthless and severe attack by Hamas in Gaza and the killing of thousands of Israelis reveals an alarming trend of increased settler violence. There are concerns about violent revenge actions and the expulsion of Palestinian communities.

Mass Armament

The extent of the ruthless violence by Hamas and the lack of protection for communities in the Gaza envelope increased the need for isolated settlements across the country, as well as in the settlements in the West Bank, to feel more secure than before. The National Security Minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, announced on Tuesday the distribution of 10,000 weapons to civilian emergency response teams in various settlements throughout the country.

See here a video showing the weapon distribution.

Furthermore, the Israeli police announced their intention to ease the process of obtaining gun-carrying licenses. Alongside this, there have been calls, and not only on social media, to deal lethally with anyone suspected. The head of the Regional Council in the Benjamin area (a council comprising more than 50 settlements) declared that the rules of engagement in the West Bank have changed, and now “one should shoot at anyone approaching a settlement to cause harm.” We don’t have specific information about whether such an order exists (rules of engagement are under the jurisdiction of the police and the military, not the councils’ heads), but the official public statements suggest an overall approach and mindset within the settler community.

On Thursday, 12/10/23, the head of the Samaria Regional Council boasted that the council had purchased hundreds of weapons using donations collected abroad.

Recruiting Security for Outposts and Agricultural Outposts

Since the beginning of the week, following the Hamas attack, there has been a noticeable attempt to recruit security for dozens of small agricultural outposts in social media and different media channels.

There have been calls for volunteers to come and enhance the security of the numerous outposts scattered in the West Bank. These are typically inhabited by one family and a few volunteers, who are situated on hundreds or even thousands of dunams around Palestinian towns. In order to safeguard these outposts and estates, settlers are currently making an effort to reinforce their security.

Attacks, Violence, and Expulsion of Palestinian Communities

Since the beginning of the week, there have been dozens of violent incidents by settlers against Palestinians across the West Bank. In the most severe incident in the village of Qusra (South of Nablus), four Palestinians were killed, and nine were injured after settlers entered the village and opened fire. Soldiers of the IDF were also present at the incident, and it is still not clear whether the deaths were caused by settler fire or by the IDF. The day after the incident, during the funeral of the victims, settlers called on people to come and stop the funeral procession. Indeed, the funeral procession was attacked on its way to Qusra, and a Palestinian father and his son were killed. Again, it is unknown whether the gunfire came from settlers or the IDF.

In another incident on 12/10/23, settlers entered the village of Jit near Qalqilya, fired at residents, and abducted one Palestinian into the Gilad Farm outpost (the abducted man was later released by the IDF).

On the same day, a mother and her son were killed in Deir Jarir, which is near the Ofra settlement, and the fire hit the roof without clarity on who fired and why.

On Friday, 13/10/23, settlers entered the village of At-Tuwani in the southern Hebron hills, and one of the settlers, who is apparently a new recruit to the army, shot a Palestinian in the abdomen from close range.

The shooting appears unprovoked. In addition to these incidents of shootings, dozens of incidents were documented where settlers entered small Palestinian communities, threatened residents, stole property, harmed livestock, set fire to vehicles, vandalized property, and demanded that residents evacuate.

Buildings in Al-Ganoub eastern to Pnei Kedem Settlement  were set on fire, and property in Kh. Ar-Ratheem near the Asae’l outpost was damaged. There were also petrol bomb attacks in East Jerusalem and more. Wadi As-Seeq has experienced many settler attacks, and the residents, along with Israeli activists who came to protect them, fled the area.

On Sunday, 15/10/23, settlers wearing uniforms (apparently conscripts who were called up for military service and deployed to protect the settlements) accompanied the demolition of Palestinian property in Un-Fagarah near the Avigail outpost in the southern Hebron hills.

The spirit of some of the messages circulating among settlers these days can be learned from this one, which was disseminated by settlers in the Nablus area in both Arabic and Hebrew, accompanied by an image of armed settlers:

“To the rats and the moles of Shchem (Nablus),

We know your intention to approach our settlements.

We await you with a large crowd, with weapons and determination and with all the means at our disposal.

We have no red lines, nor mercy. Whoever comes near us will suffer greatly, without hesitation.

The descendants of King David are waiting for you with a thousand eyes in every area of Shechem and the hilltops. Beware.”

Another more specific message from a group calling themselves “Fighting for Life” instructed residents of Huwara not to approach the street (which street is unclear), and those who do so on foot or in vehicles will face the death penalty.

Peace Now: “The IDF and the police must do everything possible to stop the escalating violence. During the past week, settler violence has intensified and reached new peaks. Meanwhile, Palestinians are experiencing a lack of security forces and protection from Israeli authorities. It seems that the first week of the war in Gaza is marked by security chaos. The bodies of law and order on the West Bank do not prevent violence and, at times, even align with settler demands. Revenge and harm to the innocent do not constitute a policy. If the legal authorities and the IDF do not take action, the West Bank will become a war zone. Like in any cycle of violence, the price will be paid by all residents, Israelis, and Palestinians.”