Amman (Special to Informed Comment; Feature) – I booked annual leave in early November to travel for a family visit in the occupied West Bank in Palestine. Although initially I thought it might be possible to enter the West Bank despite the ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza, it turned out that while the world is rightly focused on Gaza, Israel has intensified its restrictions amid a crackdown in the West Bank
Palestinians in the West Bank tell me that since the start of the assault on Gaza, Israel hasn’t allowed in most of the Palestinians trying to enter the West Bank via King Hussein bridge. This entryway is the Palestinian West Bank’s only connection to the outside world, and from there they can travel to the international airport in Amman, Jordan.
Palestinians must leave through Jordan because Israel does not allow the Palestinians to have an airport. Palestinians from Gaza must use Cairo’s airport, assuming they are allowed to enter or leave the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing. My friends from Gaza who managed that expensive journey told me that normally the journey should take 7 hours but because of security measures it takes Palestinians three to seven days of travel through the harsh Sinai desert.
In addition to the restrictions on entering the West Bank, there are also restrictions on travelling within the West Bank. Roads between towns are cut off by Israel via checkpoints.
Travel restrictions are not the worst thing Israel is imposing. Since October 7 at least 136 Palestinians, including 43 children, have been killed by the Israeli army and by Israeli illegal squatters in the West Bank. This is a sharp rise in the death rate amongst Palestinians compared with the rest of the year. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 200 Palestinians had been killed by Israel from the beginning of the year through October 5, and 2023 had already seen one of the higher death tolls in recent years.
Furthermore, as in Gaza but on smaller scale, Israeli army raids also target the infrastructure. For example, the Israeli army raid on the Nour Shams refugee camp near Tulkarem in the north of the West Bank not only killed 13 Palestinians (including five children) but also wrought vast destruction on the roads and infrastructure of the refugee camp as a result of the Israeli army tactic of using bulldozers. Fathi Hamid who is a resident of the refugee camp said “we were at home and we heard an explosion and when opened the door to see what happened, we found nine Palestinians dead including my son. Other residents came to help but they couldn’t take anyone to hospital as the area was besieged by the Israeli army.”
On the British Channel 4, a reporter interviewed a Palestinian girl from Nour Shams who witnessed her 16 years old brother Taha shot dead by the Israeli army. He had wanted to become a doctor when he grew up. Her father was also shot when rushed to help his son. During the interview she showed the sad events which they filmed from the window.
As if Israeli army brutality is not bad enough, Israeli extremist squatters have also intensified their violence against the Palestinians especially after the far right Israeli National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, handed out guns to the settlers, with 150,000 firearms distributed so far. For example in the village of Qusra in the Nablus area, an Israeli squatter walked towards a Palestinian man and his son as they waited to join the funeral of four other Palestinians who were killed earlier by Israeli squatters and shot them dead before the watching eyes of Israeli soldiers. Mohammad Jawdat, an eye witness said: “A settler approached them and opened fire from a handgun then when people rushed to the site, the occupation army, who was standing by, opened fire at the crowd to disperse us.”
Extremist views are unfortunately not confined to far, far right figures such as Ben-Gvir. The president of Israel, Isaac Herzog, who is also a member of the Labor party, prepared the ground for collective punishment to be inflicted on the entire Palestinian people as he accused them all of being responsible for the actions of Hamas when he said “It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. This rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved, it’s absolutely not true. They could’ve risen up, they could have fought against that evil regime.” Some 50 percent of the population of Gaza consists of minors, and most adults are unarmed civilians unable to take on the Hamas Party-Militia.
In the Palestinian West Bank, Israeli squatters have gone beyond scattered attacks to threaten the Palestinians with ethnic cleansing. This happened in the village of Deir Istya In Salfit district where the Israeli squatters posted leaflets on the villagers’ vehicles telling them to leave to Jordan and if they failed to do so they would face another Nakba (catastrophe, as befell them in 1948) and would be forced out of their homeland violently. This long-term dream of the Israeli Right has already begun being implemented, as inhabitants of some hamlets have already been forced out of their homes. While the world is transfixed by Israel’s aerial destruction of Gaza, another sort of population transfer has begun in the West Bank.