Israeli Police on Monday said that, in a joint operation with the Shin Bet security service, they had arrested a number of people suspected of attacking Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the West Bank. The details of the case, including the suspects’ identities, are under a gag order, but Kan TV reported that they include at least three Jewish Israelis, aged 18 to 19. They were reportedly suspected of rock-throwing against Palestinians, illegal possession of weapons, and membership in a terrorist organization.
The arrests come amid Palestinian claims of a systematic increase in attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, including targeting traffic on main roads, as well as damage to structures and agriculture.
Walid Assaf, the head of the Palestinian Authority’s Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission, said settlers’ attacks have been increasing rapidly over the past two months, with some targeting cars and closing roads.
More incidents had taken place so far this year than in the whole of 2020, Assaf told The Media Line.
“The Jewish terrorist organizations in settlements have clearly and intentionally intensified attacks against Palestinians, including attacking farmers in villages such as Qarawat Bani Hassan, where citizens were injured, and the same thing happens in other areas of the West Bank,” he said.
He added that the most recent occurred on Friday, when a settler ran over three Palestinians in the northern Jordan Valley.
The car drove at high speed over three young men from Ramallah, between the Ein al-Bayda and Bardala junctions, according to Palestinian reports, killing one and wounding two. The two injured men were transferred to Israel for treatment.
The Israeli police were investigating whether it was an accident or intentional.
Assaf said that settlers who attacked Palestinians were not held accountable, which encouraged them to continue and to escalate their actions.
The current period was critical and difficult because the previous American administration had been completely biased in favor of Israel and had accelerated settlement expansion and encouraged the Israeli government to annex parts of the West Bank, he stressed. “Therefore, they thought that they would annex the rest of the Palestinian lands,” Assaf added.
However, he said, after the “deal of the century” failed and President Donald Trump lost his re-election bid, Israel, losing hope of implementing its plan to annex land de jure, was trying to annex land de facto.
“To that end, Israel is practicing forced displacement of Palestinians, like what happened in Humsa al-Fouqa in the Jordan Valley, and establishing massive settlement outposts to control as much land as possible,” Assaf said.
On February 3, Israel demolished Khirbet Humsa al-Fouqa, a small Bedouin village, for the second time since November. The Israeli Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit said it had destroyed structures built illegally in a military live-fire zone.
Assaf added that since the beginning of 2021, the Israeli army had destroyed about 15,000 trees, which was equivalent to the number of trees it destroyed in the years 2019 and 2020.
“In addition, in the past month and a half, Israel demolished 187 Palestinian structures, which is 40% of what Israel demolished in 2019, and 25% of what was destroyed in 2020.”
The Palestinian Authority’s Prime Minister’s Office called last month on the new US administration to “condemn settlers attacks, which are taking place under the eyes of the occupation soldiers, and work to stop them immediately and take urgent measures to curb the lust for settlement expansion, which accelerated during the last moments of the Trump Administration, which legalized settlements and gave the green light.”
The Israeli Prime Minister Office’s declined to comment on the matter.
An Israel Police spokesman, responding to a request for comment, told The Media Line that “any complaint received by the police is checked, handled and investigated thoroughly and professionally in order to expose the truth. The Israeli police will continue working together with the security forces in Judea and Samaria, especially in friction areas, all in order to avoid violent events, to enforce the law and keep the safety of its residents.”
Yishai Fleisher, the spokesman of the Jewish community in Hebron, told The Media Line that the PA was interested in more violence in the West Bank because it did not feel relevant and important as more and more Palestinians tired of its corruption and wanted to move forward, realizing that Israel had become part of the region.
“Israel isn’t going anywhere, and the settlements as well are not going anywhere, but they will get bigger and stronger, and a lot of Arabs want opportunities for work and peace,” Fleisher said.
Nevertheless, he added, the West Bank was a tense, conflict-riven area, and that was why there were all kinds of attacks from both sides, “especially since many Palestinians were taught that they can get rid of Israel, and of course there are Jews who think Palestinians believe in jihad and that they are the enemy. There’s conflict and tension.”
Fleisher said they were moving toward coexistence, but sadly there had been a denial of Jewish rights.
“There are some elements within the PA, Hamas and the PLO that believe Jews have no rights in this land [the West Bank]. Therefore, clashes sometimes take place about land rights and travel rights, which is a sad reality,” Fleisher said.
Things will be solved, he said, once there is clarity about how to move forward, when people understand where they are and who they are and what rights they should have, “and that’s something that needs to be decided.”
Fleisher added that there was unrest within the Palestinian camp, because they still needed to decide on their path. “Do they want to go with the Hamas approach, or toward the Abraham Accords approach; they are very different directions. Do they want to fight Israel or coexist with it; these are very different things,” he said.
Palestinians were not sure whether to keep fighting with Israel and go for a third intifada, or to coexist with Israelis and get Israeli identification cards and peace. “They wonder which option will give them what they want in the end,” he said.
Many Arabs are tired of the PLO’s corruption and of Hamas’ jihadi approach and want coexistence, but they cannot say it out loud, Fleisher said.
On Saturday, settlers allegedly burned a car belonging to a Palestinian in Qusra, southeast of Nablus. Dozens of masked settlers reportedly stormed the village and threw stones at residents’ homes before they set the vehicle on fire.
Last month, according to Palestinian media, a Palestinian child was moderately wounded when Israeli settlers attacked a Palestinian car east of Ramallah, as part of a series of attacks, while other attacks by settlers were recorded in Al-Lubban ash-Sharqiya and Burin, both south of Nablus.