While the world focuses on the Hamas massacre in southern Israel and Israel’s massive bombing of the Gaza Strip, settlers in the occupied West Bank are taking advantage of the chaos to attack and expel Palestinians from a number of small villages.
Israeli soldiers and settlers have killed 51 Palestinians in the West Bank since Saturday, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah. At least two villages, Al-Qanub and Wadi Al-Sik, have been entirely depopulated as a result of the violence by Israeli settlers.
A Palestinian in At-Tuwani, a village in the Masafer Yatta region of the South Hebron Hills, is in critical condition after a settler, accompanied by an Israeli soldier, invaded the community on Friday and shot him at point blank range. The attack was documented by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
Throughout the West Bank, Palestinian residents are witnessing an increased presence of armed settlers around their villages, more military roadblocks, and tightened movement restrictions. “At this time we are actually living under siege. Most of the villages in the West Bank are closed in mounds of dirt and it is impossible to get out,” said a resident of the village of Qaryut. “There are settlers everywhere. Every time we approach houses near a settlement, they shoot at us. They are taking advantage of the security situation in Gaza, to take revenge on the West Bank. Because no one is looking at the West Bank now.”
On Wednesday, in the village of Qusra near Nablus, three Palestinians — Moa’th Odeh, Musab Abu Rida, and Obida Abu Sarur — were shot dead, while a 6-year-old girl was wounded in the upper body. It is unclear who opened fire on them. The attack began with masked settlers shooting at houses in the village, according to three eyewitnesses and medical personnel who treated the wounded at the scene. Video footage shows six masked men, armed with pistols and M-16 rifles, opening fire inside the village. Later that day, according to eyewitnesses, another resident, 13-year-old Hassan Abu Sarur, was also shot dead when soldiers entered after the settlers withdrew from the village.
Along with the incident in Qusra, settlers have attacked at least 18 Palestinian villages throughout the West Bank since Hamas’ assault on Saturday, according to Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group. The army announced that, due to the security situation, the police will distribute M-16 rifles to settlers in the West Bank. Media organizations affiliated with extremist settler groups in the area called on settlers to prepare to “conquer the villages near you” and to “destroy anyone who joins the enemy.”