As world focusses on Gaza, Israel’s onslaught on the West Bank continues

A larger plan seems to be unfolding in the West Bank, the annexation of which has been of central interest to ultra-right Zionist leaders since 1967.

Published : Nov 29, 2023 14:40 IST - 11 MINS READ

A bombed-out street after an Israeli raid at the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank on November 21.

A bombed-out street after an Israeli raid at the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank on November 21. | Photo Credit: ZAIN JAAFAR/AFP

On November 6, the Israeli army arrested Ahed Tamimi, a 22-year-old Palestinian activist, after a night raid of her family home at Nabi Saleh village in the north-west of Ramallah, West Bank. She was accused of “publishing an Instagram post” that called for the “slaughter” of Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Tamimi’s family, however, says she does not have an active Instagram account. Neither the post nor the account is now viewable.

LISTEN: With the world’s eyes on Gaza, Israel has slowly increased attacks and land grabs in the West Bank, the annexation of which has been of central interest to ultra-right Zionist leaders since 1967.

A week earlier, on October 29, the Israeli government arrested her father, Bassem Tamimi, an advocate for non-violent resistance in the West Bank, when he was trying to make his way to Jordan. He is being held in Ofer Prison under administrative detention for six months without charge or trial, which could be extended. According to the Palestinian prisoner rights group Addameer, the Israeli prison system is a “complex of monstrous machinery in form, laws, procedures, and policies… designed to liquidate and kill”.

According to her mother, Nariman Tamimi, Ahed is being held at Damon Prison (near Haifa) in Israel and was beaten. In 2017, Ahed went up to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers and began fighting them after one of them shot her 15-year-old cousin in the head at close range with a rubber-coated steel bullet. “Days earlier, I slapped an armed Israeli soldier in the face in front of my house, a slap that reverberated around the world,” she recounts in her autobiography titled They Called Me a Lioness.

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“It wasn’t the first time I hit one of them; nor was it the first time it was captured on film, but it was certainly the most noticed. In a state that controls every aspect of my life, I have become the object of widespread enmity. Some even want me dead for daring to insult the central symbol of their occupation. But what I did was a natural reaction to seeing belligerent foreign occupiers on my family’s land, an immoral army that nearly killed my cousin, and was now shooting at children from the entrance of my home. And now I must pay for what I did.”

Palestinians today are facing one of the most difficult phases since the Nakba of 1948, the forced and violent displacement of Palestinians from their homeland by Israeli settler colonialists.

Even as the world’s attention has been focussed on the bombardment of Gaza, since October 7 as many as 212 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied West Bank, according to UN officials. Hamas does not have a presence in the West Bank. As many as 2,850 West Bank Palestinians have been wounded, 1,800 have been abducted (with 750 of them in administrative detention), and settlers have destroyed thousands of olive trees.

During a demonstration calling for a boycott on Israeli products, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on November 13.

During a demonstration calling for a boycott on Israeli products, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on November 13. | Photo Credit: ZAIN JAAFAR/AFP

AP has reported that immediately after October 7, “towns were raided, curfews imposed, teenagers arrested, detainees beaten, and villages stormed by Jewish vigilantes”. News reports have pointed out that even before October 7, this year was the deadliest in the West Bank in over two decades, with Israelis killing 250 Palestinians.

A larger plan

It is part of a larger plan. The far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich “advocated for the creation of ‘sterile’ no-go areas prohibiting the presence of Palestinians in the vicinity of the settlements and major roads that lead to them”. Such realities create a “carceral geography” for Palestinians, where their lands are a place where confinement and coercive control are continuously exercised. The “spacio-cide” of Palestinians started shortly after 1967 and the subsequent occupation of the West Bank by Israeli forces. Israel declared the Palestinian territories a closed military zone. It established military rule through geographically dispersed military governorates, which later evolved into the Israeli Civil Administration in 1981.

This brutality through racial bureaucracy and discriminatory laws has generated a complex and chaotic sociopolitical and legal environment—what the scholar Maayan Ravid refers to as a “void of sovereignty around which a particular political modality of localised governmentality predominates”.

This “void of sovereignty” has suppressed the voices of several West Bank Palestinians, more so after October 7. This, in turn, has led to a strong surge of resistance. Fahed Qassemi flinched when he saw the manufacturer’s name on a piece of candy he was picking up for his 5-year-old daughter in a supermarket in Hebron. Like many Palestinians in West Bank who are now boycotting Israeli products, he decided to boycott the product. Seeing his response, his daughter too chose to boycott the candy. He wanted to share his experience on Meta (previously Facebook) but can no longer post publicly on the platform. Every night at dinner, his family talks about what they would do if Israel bombs their home. They have decided not to give up or run away. “Palestinians are not afraid. Our life has gone. We have nothing more to lose,” Fahed told me.

Also Read | Understanding the Israel-Palestine conflict 

Almost 60 per cent of West Bank Palestinians have also boycotted work, knowing full well that they might die of hunger, poverty, and thirst if the war continues. Israeli products from companies like Ahava, Keter, Strauss, Tivall, Osem, Eden Spring, and Sabra are being boycotted.

In 2016, I met a young Palestinian girl in Jericho who had never met her mother. She was born in her grandparents’ home in Jericho. After giving birth to her, the mother had to return to Jerusalem as her ID card was about to expire. After that, the mother and daughter have never met. It is illegal for Palestinians in the West Bank to travel from one city to another without a valid Israeli permit.

Even the dead are not at peace in Palestine. Recently, the site of the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh’s murder (by an Israeli soldier in 2022), located at the entrance to the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, was destroyed. The reason: it had turned into a memorial for Palestinians.

A wall dividing the Palestinian West Bank territory (top) and an Israeli settlement (below wall) in Al-Ram, West Bank.

A wall dividing the Palestinian West Bank territory (top) and an Israeli settlement (below wall) in Al-Ram, West Bank. | Photo Credit: DAN KITWOOD/Getty Images

On October 21, the Israeli military evicted Issa Amro, a Palestinian human rights defender, from his house in Tal Rumieda in Hebron. His fault was having two guests: a British national who works for Australian News; and Yehuda Shaul, the Israeli co-founder of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli veterans’ organisation.

Tal Rumieda has a metal factory run by Palestinians. The Israeli military closed it after the Ibrahimi mosque massacre in 1994. Now, the settlers are trying to fully take over this piece of private property.

The entire population of the West Bank village of Zanota is on the move. But they have no money, food, or water. In A’nizan in the South Hebron Hills, another Palestinian community is being forcibly uprooted by settler violence.

Palestinian children who travel to school via an Israeli checkpoint in the occupied West Bank are deliberately delayed by soldiers to make them late for classes. Israeli writers have spoken of Palestinian ambulances being deliberately held up at checkpoints for hours.

Ghada Sasa is a Palestinian PhD candidate who lives in the village of Madama, which is under Israeli occupation. On November 3, he rallied in solidarity with the people of Gaza. The Israeli army immediately invaded his village and began firing bullets and tear gas. “Two of my family members were shot in the feet. We don’t know if they can walk again,” Sasa said.

Owing to the terrorism of the Israeli army and settlers, people are afraid to leave their homes, let alone travel to Nablus, which is just five minutes away.

  • Ahed Tamimi, a 22-year-old Palestinian activist, was arrested by the Israeli army for an alleged Instagram post calling for the “slaughter” of Israeli settlers. Her father, Bassem Tamimi, a non-violent resistance advocate, was also arrested. Ahed’s family denies her having an active Instagram account.
  • Since October 7, the occupied West Bank has witnessed significant violence, with 212 Palestinians killed, 2,850 wounded, 1,800 abducted, and extensive damage. Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s proposal for “sterile” no-go areas adds to the coercive control on Palestinian lands.
  • There seems to be a broader plan involving the annexation of the West Bank, with 55 annexation Bills submitted to the Knesset. The situation includes arbitrary restrictions, boycotts, settler violence, and a continuation of the “Dahiya Doctrine” involving disproportionate military force.

Arbitrary restrictions

Arbitrary restrictions are imposed on Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. For instance, Israel has new restrictions on entering Al-Aqsa Mosque, which go against human rights and international law. Arabs in Jerusalem with Jerusalem IDs have to pay $1,000 a month to the Israeli government for national insurance and as income tax and municipal taxes.

On November 4, the Palestinian journalist Hamza’s great aunt who lived in Jerusalem died. Nobody from his family could attend the funeral because they live in the West Bank and are not allowed into Jerusalem.

This “silent” annexation of the West Bank is not new but a long-term strategy carefully planned and under execution long before October 7. Fifty-five annexation Bills have been submitted to the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). Merav Amir, Senior Lecturer at Queen’s University, Belfast, points out that Israeli political figures have published six detailed annexation plans from 2010 to 2020. Amir’s research covers an extensive review of the discussions around annexation in the Israeli media and the materials produced by and through the advocacy of the annexation lobby Ribonut (meaning “sovereignty” in Hebrew). In April 2020, Benyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, declared that he would “soon” carry out an annexation of parts of the West Bank.

Annexation plans

The West Bank and its annexation have been of central interest to ultra-right Zionist leaders since 1967. The second Oslo Interim Agreement (Oslo II), signed in 1995, divided the West Bank into three administrative areas: A, B, and C. The Palestinian Authority (PA) was given control of the civil and military administration of Area A, which includes Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho, and 80 per cent of Hebron.

In Area B, which includes 440 Palestinian villages, the PA runs the civil administration while other functions remain under Israel’s military control.

Area C, which comprises 60 per cent of the West Bank and where almost all the Jewish settlements have come up (all illegal according to international law), is under full Israeli control. The full annexation of Area C will allow Israel to preserve its hold over 60 per cent of West Bank land without applying formal Israeli sovereignty over West Bank Palestinians.

Adi Mintz, for instance, who served as the head of the Yesha Council (the settlers’ umbrella organisation), stated in his plan that annexation of Area C would allow Israel “to reassume full security control” of the territory.

In his plan, Yoav Kish, a leading politician in the Likud party, said that the two-state solution would facilitate “a terrorist state in the heart of the Land of Israel”—which the annexation of Area C would prevent.

Area C encompasses almost all the agricultural lands, quarries, water resources, and land reserves of the West Bank. Proposals for partial annexation have therefore been designed deliberately to maximise land grab by Israel while evading the demographic repercussions of full annexation. This means, to borrow the famous words of Levi Eshkol, the third Prime Minister of Israel, keeping the dowry (the land) but not the bride (the Palestinians).

At the Jenin refugee camp  in the occupied West Bank on November 10.

At the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank on November 10. | Photo Credit: ARIS MESSINIS/AFP

After October 7, the Israeli military is once again deploying the “Dahiya Doctrine”, which dictates the use of overwhelming and disproportionate military force and the targeting of government and civilian infrastructure, both in the West Bank and Gaza. The doctrine is named after the Dahiya neighbourhood of Beirut, a stronghold of Hezbollah, which Israel destroyed during its assault on Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Breaking the Silence, an organisation of veteran soldiers who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada, along with other Israeli human rights partners, have called on the international community to stop the ongoing forcible transfer of lands in the West Bank.

Also Read | Do Palestinians have the right to resist? The unequivocal answer is yes

International law works on the principle of opinion juris sive necessatis, which refers to the belief that when states follow a certain practice, such as abiding to the principles of international law, they are doing so out of a sense of obligation. The supremacy of international law is also codified into Article 27 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. But Israel continues to ignore Article 27.

As the world watches, the Gaza genocide and the illegal land grab in West Bank goes on, with Israel dismissing all protests and opposition as being “anti-Semitism” or “pro-terrorism”.

Palestinian enclaves continue to wallow in the perpetual temporariness of anticipation (Griffiths and Joronen 2021), relegating Palestinian self-determination to, as noted by Dipesh Chakrabarty, the “waiting room of history”.

Shubhda Chaudhary is Editor at Centre for India West Asia Dialogue, a think tank based in New Delhi. She specialises in West Asian politics and has field experience in the West Bank, Egypt, Oman, and Jordan.

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