One month of Israel’s war: What’s happening to Palestinians outside Gaza?

The past month saw escalating Israeli violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, in Jerusalem and inside Israel.

A person holds a flag during clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians
A person holds a flag during clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians, as the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas continues, near Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, October 27, 2023 [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

Ramallah, occupied West Bank – Over the past month, the world’s attention has been almost exclusively focused on what is often described as the Israel-Hamas war.

More than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli army in the besieged Gaza Strip since October 7 by heavy aerial and artillery bombardments – more than 4,000 children and 2,550 women.

Some 24,800 others, including 10,000 children, have been injured, and 1.5 million people – some 60 percent of the population – have been forcibly displaced from their homes hoping to escape death, with many of them killed while sheltering in hospitals, schools and refugee camps.

But aside from attacks on the Gaza Strip, Israel and Israeli settlers have simultaneously intensified attacks against Palestinians beyond the enclave.

Here’s what to know about that:

Intensified killings

Under Israel’s 56-year military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israeli forces have regularly opened fire at unarmed Palestinians during daily raids and confrontations.

Matters on the ground were already tense in those areas well before October 7. In fact, the United Nations had declared 2022 the “deadliest” year for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2006. Israeli forces had killed 170 Palestinians in those areas in 2022, including more than 30 children, while more than 9,000 others were injured.

The number of Palestinians killed in 2023 has already significantly surpassed last year’s death toll.

Since January 1, Israeli forces and settlers have killed at least 371 people in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Nearly half of those – 163 people – were killed just in the past month. At least 43 of them were children.

More than 2,300 others have been wounded over the past month, including at least 244 children, with more than half of them injured in protests against the bombardment of Gaza.

Settler attacks and forced displacement

Deadly attacks by Israeli citizens living in hundreds of fortified illegal settlements and outposts in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem have severely increased since October 7.

Some 700,000 settlers live in the midst of and around Palestinian neighbourhoods and cities under heavy protection. The vast majority of illegal Israeli settlements have been built either fully or partially on private Palestinian land.

Settlers, many of whom are armed, have shot and killed at least eight Palestinians in those areas over the past month. They have been raiding Palestinian villages on a daily basis, assaulting residents and their properties, and have injured at least 64 people in the same period.

Since October 7, the UN has recorded 202 settler attacks against Palestinians, with 28 incidents resulting in Palestinian casualties, 141 incidents resulting in damage to property, and 33 incidents leading to both casualties and property damage.

“This reflects a daily average of seven incidents, compared with three since the beginning of the year,” the UN said. “Over one-third of these incidents included threats with firearms, including shootings”. The UN noted that “in nearly half of all incidents, Israeli forces were either accompanying or actively supporting the attackers.”

The increase in settler violence since October 7 has directly led to the forced displacement of at least 905 Palestinians from their homes such as in the South Hebron Hills, and in Wadi al-Seeq near Ramallah.

According to the UN, that figure comprises 111 households, and includes 356 children.

On October 13, several days after Hamas’s attack, Israel’s Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir began to distribute thousands of assault rifles to Israelis, with priority to settlers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and to Israelis living alongside Palestinians in “mixed cities” inside Israel such as Lydda and Ramle.

The latest settler killing of a Palestinian took place on October 29, when settlers shot dead 40-year-old Bilal Saleh while he was harvesting the olive trees on his land in the village of al-Sawiya south of Nablus city.

Earlier in October, settlers attacked the village of Qusra, also in Nablus, killing three residents. During their funeral the next day, settlers attacked the village once more, killing three more Palestinians, including a father and his son.

Arrests and conditions for prisoners

Another main major development since October 7 is the sharp increase in the number of Palestinians arrested by Israeli forces. In two weeks, Israel had more than doubled the number of Palestinians in its custody. Around 3,200 Palestinian labourers from Gaza who were arrested inside Israel early in the war were released by Israel last week.

Many of those who were already inside the prisons, or were newly detained, have been assaulted by Israeli forces, according to prisoner testimonies and rights groups. At least two prisoners lost their lives in Israeli custody shortly after they were arrested since October 7. A third, a Palestinian worker from Gaza who had cancer, was announced dead by Wafa news agency on Monday.

“The prisoners are undergoing the harshest beatings and torture in Israeli prisons at the moment,” Qadura Fares, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners Society, told Al Jazeera.

“More often than not, six or seven guards beat one prisoner all over his body, using sticks, handcuffs, their boots – whatever they have. Some of the prisoners have suffered broken bones and teeth as a result,” he said.

“The arrest campaign is part of the Israeli aggression waged on the Palestinian people. These arrests are not specific to people who are suspected of being security threats. It is obvious that this is an act of revenge,” said Fares.

Several videos have also emerged in recent weeks of Israeli soldiers beating, stepping on, abusing and humiliating detained Palestinians who have been blindfolded, handcuffed, and stripped of their clothing, either partially or entirely. Many social media users said the scenes brought back memories of the torture by United States forces in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in 2003.

Policies against Palestinians inside Israel

Palestinians in Israel, many of whom work and live alongside Israelis, are facing a crackdown over the remotest expressions of solidarity with Gaza, with residents arrested, fired from their jobs and suspended from universities.

“If someone posts a line from the Quran or a message praying for Gaza, they are accused of incitement and reported to police, often by their own colleagues,” Fida Shehadeh, a former member of the Lydda municipality, told Al Jazeera. “People are afraid.”

On October 19, the Israeli police chief, Kobi Shabtai, threatened to deport Palestinians inside Israel to Gaza for identifying with the rest of their people.

Shehadeh, who is currently part of an emergency coalition of lawyers in Lydda and Ramle, said at least 172 Palestinians inside Israel have been arrested since October 7, including Nazareth-based singer and popular icon Dalal Abu Amneh – over a Facebook post.

“They [Israel] introduced an amendment to the labour law to prevent Palestinians who have been fired from their jobs over social media posts from collecting their end-of-service funds,” said Shehadeh.

The other main issue plaguing Palestinians inside Israel is the proliferation of weapons among Israeli civilians.

“We are now existing in an environment that is filled with weapons. I’m sitting in a play area with my nephew while speaking to you and there’s an Israeli woman sitting with an M16 rifle,” Shehadeh told Al Jazeera.

“Israeli authorities have set up rooms – through the police and the army – for Israelis to have easy access to weapons. You take your weapon and go – the state gives it to you and you have to return it by end of day,” she explained.

According to Shehadeh, these rooms have “already been set up in all ‘mixed cities’ such as Lydda, and also in Nahariya and Netanya – places where Palestinians work.”

Palestinian Authority

The government in the occupied West Bank has not had any influence in calling for the end of the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip, Ramallah-based analyst Ismat Mansour said.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is unpopular amongst Palestinians, and widely seen as corrupt and a partner in collaboration with Israel on security matters, which includes arresting Palestinians for dissent or any resistance activities.

The PA has already indicated that it is discussing with the United States possible scenarios for a post-Hamas Gaza.

“The US is trying to create a new situation post-war thinking that Israel will be successful in eradicating Hamas from the Gaza Strip,” Mansour said, referring to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday.

“It is banking on there being a political vacuum, and wants to get ahead of it in line with its own interests in the region.”

Despite the PA on paper condemning the war in Gaza and calling for it to stop, its acquiescence to the US can only be seen as being complicit with what the US and Israel want, Mansour said.

However, the Israeli aggression, which is not against Hamas but against the entire Palestinian people, is not over yet, he argued.

“In the case that Hamas will no longer rule Gaza, that doesn’t mean that Hamas as a movement will be gone. Any plans for the future of the Gaza Strip must take into account the presence of Hamas and its influence, and what role it can play,” he noted, saying that Hamas as a movement cannot be crushed.

“The role of the PA is supposed to be defending the Palestinian people,” Mansour said. “Unfortunately, it has only acted as a normalising partner with Israel and is content to be merely an observer, which is a shameful position.”

Source: Al Jazeera