The occupied Palestinian territories are undergoing one of the deadliest waves of violence with intensified Israeli raids in the West Bank. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and hundreds more injured in the near daily military operations there. In a related development, twin explosions rocked Jerusalem on Wednesday last week, targeting two bus stops, one in Ramat Shlomo and the other in Ramot in the northern parts of the city. Two Israelis were killed and 11 wounded.
The recent bomb attacks inside Israel presented an additional challenge to Israeli security and intelligence agencies, which are already baffled by the rise in lone wolf attacks that are difficult to predict and prevent.
The Israeli raids have focused mainly on Nablus and Jenin in the northern West Bank, where there has been a rise in Palestinian militias such as the Nablus Brigade and the Jenin Brigade, which Israel claims belongs to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the more recently formed Lions Brigade in Nablus. Israeli authorities claim that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has lost control of the two cities.
The number of unarmed Palestinians killed in Israeli operations has soared in recent months due to the absence of any judicial mechanism to hold the occupation forces to account for wrongfully and deliberately targeting civilians with lethal ammunition. In late October, UN Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland said that 2022 is on course to becoming the deadliest year for Palestinians in the occupied territories since the UN started monitoring fatalities in 2005.
According to the latest figures released by the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 206 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) operations since the beginning of the year. Of these, 154 were killed in IOF raids in the West Bank targeting militia groups or individuals suspected of planning an attack against Israelis. Not infrequently, the victim presented no threat whatsoever, as was the case with the autistic Palestinian teenage girl, Fulla Masalmeh, who died of a bullet wound to the head when Israeli soldiers fired at the car driving her home in the West Bank at night on 12 November.
The other 52 Palestinians were killed during the flare-up between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in August after Israel assassinated several PIJ military leaders in Gaza and the PIJ retaliated by firing missiles into Israel.
According to the latest report by the Defence for Children International (DCI), 29 Palestinian children have been killed in the West Bank and Jerusalem by the IOF since the beginning of the year. All were shot by lethal ammunition in the upper part of the body, which is proof of intent to kill, the report said.
While some of the children were killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers in parts of the West Bank, most were killed during raids in which Israeli forces used intensive fire to cover troop movements.
“The occupation forces have intensified raids and arrests across the West Bank, resulting in a rise in child deaths,” DCI-Palestine said. It called for impartial investigations into the incidents using lethal ammunition in ways that violate Israeli and international standards, and for prosecuting Israeli soldiers who target the upper portion of protestors’ bodies.
Mahmoud Al-Saadi, 17, was on his way to school in Jenin when he was blocked by an Israeli incursion into the Jenin refugee camp on November 18. As he turned around to go home, an Israeli soldier shot him in the abdomen. His parents said that their son had not been aware that Israeli forces had entered the city and that he presented no threat. Generally, Israeli forces infiltrate locations surreptitiously in order to maintain the element of surprise in their raids.
Mahmoud’s uncle, Ahmed, told Al-Ahram Weekly that his nephew has been shot by a type of ammunition that was internationally banned. It fragments on hitting the body, creating blade-like splinters that lacerate the organs, he explained. This is what happened to the young Al-Saadi who died after several days in the ICU from multiple internal wounds.
“He was fully focused on getting high marks on his secondary school exam this year so he could to go on to university,” his uncle said. “Now the shock of his death has devastated the lives of his parents and four sisters.”
The European Union has called for an investigation into the killing of the autistic Palestinian teenager, Fulla Maslameh.
“Israel, as party of the CRC, must ensure the rights of children, including ensuring their protection, care and dignity – and right to life. This incident should be swiftly investigated and accountability ensured,” the EU said in a statement. Describing the incident as “tragic”, it noted that the IOF appeared inclined to excessive use of lethal force in its operations in the West Bank.
A joint memorandum signed by 198 Palestinian and international organisations called on the Prosecutor of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Karim Khan to investigate Israeli crimes against Palestinians. The organisations urged the court to include crimes against humanity, such as apartheid, and to issue proactive statements to prosecute offenders in accordance with the Rome Statute in order to prevent further crimes.
The PA has indicated its intent to appeal to the ICJ to investigate Israeli officials responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Palestinians, whether as the result of the recurrent Israeli assaults against Gaza, the operations in the West Bank that often occasion what has been described as extrajudicial executions, or the targeting of journalists such as Al-Jazeera’s correspondent in the Occupied Territories Shireen Abu Akleh who was assassinated by a bullet in her head by the IOF in May while conducting field work. Israel and the US have used various forms of pressure to keep the PA from recourse to the ICJ.
Israel is unlikely to scale down its operations, especially as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nears the end of his negotiations to form the most far-right government in Israeli history. Epitomising the nature of that government is far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, who will take over as security minister. Ben-Gvir wants open-fire regulations to be relaxed, giving the Israeli police and army even greater leeway to use lethal force.
In his opinion, any Palestinian holding a stone should be shot.
Ben-Gvir is the leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party and was a member of the Kahanist movement, which has been designated a terrorist organisation. He is among those who threatened to assassinate former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin after he signed the Oslo accords in 1993.
Ben-Gvir who lives in a settlement built on Palestinian land in Khalil (Hebron) in the West Bank, believes that settlers should form armed units to protect themselves. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has warned that the forthcoming Israeli government “will promote the creation of militias which augurs further escalation of an already tense situation in the West Bank”.
The Palestinian presidency has called on the US administration to clarify its position on Israeli talks to form the next government which is likely to increasingly defy international law, the principles of the international community and Washington’s own stated positions against Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and in support of the two-state solution.
Israel claims the PA is unable to control the security situation in the West Bank and in Nablus and Jenin in particular. In March, the IOF launched the Wave Breaker operation targeting the recently emergent and previously unknown militias, such as the Lions Lair, which Israel holds responsible for gun attacks against Israeli settlers in the West Bank. The operation did not curb the lone wolf attacks carried out by Palestinian militants, such as the recent bombings at the bus stations in Jerusalem.
Israeli police have so far been unable to find a lead to the perpetrator.
A week before this, a Palestinian killed three Israelis and wounded three others in Ariel, an Israeli settlement in the West bank, using a knife and a car. The Israeli security establishment has come under mounting criticism for its inability to counter the rise in lone wolf attacks.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.