Israel’s first settlement in the West Bank, Kiryat Arba, was established in 1968 adjacent to the municipal boundaries of Hebron, and the city soon saw frequent confrontations between the Israeli settlers and its Palestinian inhabitants.
Due to its religious significance, Hebron became a stronghold for the religious extremists within the settler movement. Today, the city has four Israeli settlements in its center with approximately 500 residents. It has also been surrounded on all sides by four, much larger, Israeli settlements.
The settler community in central Hebron is notorious for its frequent assaults on Palestinian civilians. Protected by over 4000 soldiers, these attacks are considered part of an intentional effort to displace the local Palestinian population and expand the illegal Israeli settlements in the center of Hebron.
The falsified search effort and settler attacks
Just over a month ago, Israel focused all its resources on the Hebron area when three Israeli teenagers, Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrah, went missing from Gush Etzion junction, the entrance to an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
Although it was later revealed that the Israeli police, intelligence officials and the prime minister knew within a matter of hours of their disappearance that the three boys had been killed, Israeli authorities used the pretext of search efforts ostensibly aimed at locating the missing teenagers to launch “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” the largest military operation in the occupied West Bank in more than a decade.
Over an 18-day period, Israeli forces invaded refugee camps, villages and cities across the West Bank, arresting hundreds of Palestinians and raiding thousands of houses.
The coordinator of the Palestinian group Human Rights Defenders, activist Badia Dwaik, told Palestine Monitor that the West Bank’s largest city has seen an increase in violent settler attacks on Palestinian civilians and property since the bodies of the three Israeli teenagers, who lived in nearby settlements, were discovered in a shallow rocky grave just north of Hebron late June.
“After the news broke that the three bodies had been found, residents in the area began to fear Israel’s reaction. Clashes broke out between Palestinian youths and the Israeli army soon after the homes of Marwan al-Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eisheh [the two men suspected of abducting the Israeli teens] were exploded. It hasn’t been calm since.”
In the last week, Human Rights Defenders have documented a handful of attacks by settlers against Palestinian civilians; at least two of which resulted in the Israeli military’s arrest of Palestinians and not the Jewish attackers.
It has also been reported that an Israeli settler deliberately ran over an 8-year-old Palestinian girl in southern Hebron city early on Thursday. The exact nature of the incident, however, has yet to be confirmed.
Deaths at demonstrations
Before the dust had time to settle in the West Bank after “Operation Brother’s Keeper”, Israel re-directed its military assault to the Gaza Strip and launched “Operation Protective Edge”, its bloodiest assault to date.
Over the past four weeks, Israel has carried out continuous attacks on the besieged Strip resulting in the killing of at least 1,909 Palestinians, including 1,437 civilians, 448 of which have been children.
This military assault on Gaza has triggered a series of almost daily demonstrations across the West Bank, as Palestinians protest against the Israeli attacks, the slaughtering of Palestinians and the illegal closure of the Gaza Strip.
According to Al-Haq field documentation, since 8 July, the start of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge,” 17 Palestinians have been killed during clashes with the Israeli army in different cities throughout the occupied West Bank.
The recent murders of 22-year-old Ahmad Mohammad during a demonstration close to the Israeli settlement of Psagot near Ramallah, and 42-year-old Nadir Muhammad Saadi Idriss during a solidarity march in the Bab al-Zawiyeh region of Hebron, means the death toll now stands at 19. Both men were shot in the chest with live bullets.
A video, taken by Mamoun Wazwaz, and published by the Al-Usul video agency, shows the moment Idris, a father of seven, was hit by a sniper on Friday. While youth around him are throwing stones towards the Israeli soldiers some distance away, the video shows Idriss standing still the moment before the shot rings out and he collapses.
Badia Dwaik had known Idriss since 1988. “He was a Fatah supporter and a genuine protester - but not violent,” Dwaik emphasized. “He would help by just carrying injured people away. The day before he was killed, he had been helping to collect donations for people in Gaza.”
“He was then shot with live ammunition by an Israeli sniper, proving that the sniper was aiming to kill, not merely to wound,” Dwaik added.
Video evidence and impunity
The killing of Nadir Idris is only the latest act of violence to be caught on video. On 15 May, a security camera captured the fatal shootingsby Israeli snipers, a short time apart, of the two Palestinian teens, Nadim Nuwara and Muhammad Abu al-Thahir, in the occupied West Bank town of Beitunia.
A brutal attack by Israeli Border Police on 15-year-old Tariq Khdeir was also filmed in early July. American-born Tariq was arrested after he was severely beaten during clashes in the Shufat neighbourhood of Jerusalem.
The clashes began in the neighbourhood following news of the abduction and brutal killing of Tariq’s cousin, 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped and burned alive, in what we now know was a nationalistically-motivated revenge attack.
“The Israeli military is responsible not only for reckless and deliberate unlawful killings in Gaza, but also for unlawfully killing Palestinian protesters in the West Bank,” saidSarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“Because of the Israeli military’s long history of operating with virtual impunity, more unlawful killings are predictable unless Israel’s allies apply meaningful pressure.”