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Monday, June 24, 2024

Dozens of Palestinians are killed in Gaza conflict spillover, inflaming West Bank tensions

In recent times, the occupied West Bank has become a crucible of violence and tension, as settlers and Palestinians find themselves caught in the crossfire of a long-standing conflict. Amidst this turmoil, the heart-wrenching story of Ibrahim Wadi, 62, and his son Ahmad, 24, who were en route to a funeral for four Palestinians shot dead by Israeli settlers, unfolds a tragic narrative that has gripped the international community’s attention.

Escalating Violence in Qusra

On the fateful day of their journey, the Wadi family was traveling through the small village of Qusra, just south of Nablus. This village has recently become a focal point of violence, a place where tensions have reached a boiling point. It was there that Ibrahim and Ahmad became the victims of an attack by armed settlers.

Family members have confirmed the horrifying sequence of events that transpired. The wounded father and son were rushed to a nearby hospital but, tragically, succumbed to their injuries shortly after. Their story is not an isolated incident, as, since October 7, at least 61 people, including children, have lost their lives in the occupied West Bank, while over 1,250 others have been injured. This unsettling toll is attributed to the aftermath of Hamas’ unprecedented and surprising assault on Israel.

The consequences of this conflict ripple beyond the West Bank. In Israel, over 1,400 people, primarily civilians, have lost their lives, with approximately 199 individuals believed to be held hostage within Gaza. In retaliation, Israel announced a “complete siege” of the enclave, which was marked by widespread airstrikes across the Gaza Strip, resulting in at least 3,478 casualties. The threat of a ground invasion looms large, intensifying the sense of urgency.

Settler Incursions and the Perceived Israeli Protection

Hani Odeh, the mayor of Qusra, has emphasized the distressing fact that settlers can roam freely within the village under the protection of Israeli police. He had taken the proactive step of informing a member of COGAT, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, about his plans to attend the funeral with Ahmad and Ibrahim.

The Israeli official advised them to take an alternative route to avoid the settlers in the area, a seemingly prudent measure. However, the new path was unexpectedly congested with settlers who, ultimately, became assailants, resulting in the tragic deaths of the father and son. Odeh’s eyewitness account of the incident reveals a sense of helplessness, with Israeli soldiers patrolling the streets but taking no action to disperse the settlers.

Despite these alarming developments, COGAT and the IDF have yet to respond to Odeh’s claims. Brig. Gen. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s spokesperson, has declared the military’s high alert status in the occupied territory, emphasizing their preparedness to confront any challenges with substantial force.

Fearful Lives in the West Bank

In the midst of these escalating hostilities, residents of the West Bank find themselves living in fear. The specter of violence, both from Israeli forces and settler reprisals, looms large. This atmosphere of tension has been exacerbated by a surge in settler attacks over the past year, including one particularly brutal incident described as a “pogrom” by an Israeli military commander.

The West Bank had already been simmering with tension before the conflict with Hamas. Following a wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis in the previous year, Israel initiated regular incursions and raids into the West Bank to target what they identified as militant strongholds. Tragically, these actions led to a record number of casualties among both Palestinians and Israelis, a level of violence unseen for at least a decade.

In the aftermath of the recent violence in Qusra, home to around 7,000 people, the scars of the conflict are still raw. The walls of homes and buildings are adorned with photographs commemorating the six individuals who lost their lives. The aftermath is characterized by a palpable sense of desolation, with torched cars, broken water pumps, and damaged electricity lines surrounding the area.

On October 11, an apartment building in Qusra became a site of tragedy when it was attacked by armed settlers. The initial attack prompted calls for help from residents, leading to a deadly confrontation. Musa’ab Abu Raidi, 19, Obaida Abu Srour, 18, Hassan Muhannad, 22, and Moath Odesa, 29, were the unfortunate victims of this violence. Within the apartment building, Rabeea, 19, and her 12-year-old brother, Abdulrahman, watched in terror as the attack unfolded. While they were fortunate to escape with their lives, their older brother and his 6-year-old daughter were injured and required hospitalization, along with several others affected by the violence.

The trauma of these experiences is profound, leaving scars that extend beyond physical injuries. The fear is pervasive, with residents describing sleepless nights and an overwhelming sense of insecurity. For Rabeea and Abdulrahman, the recent violence has evoked painful memories, as their family had experienced the tragedy of their father being shot dead by Israeli settlers seven years ago. Forced to relocate to Qusra in search of safety, they now find themselves compelled to leave once more, too fearful to remain in their home.

The Complex Reality of the West Bank

The West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967, has witnessed the construction of Israeli settlements under military protection. While these settlements are considered illegal under international law by most of the world, successive Israeli governments have continued to support them, viewing the West Bank as “disputed territory.”

The situation has become even more contentious in recent times, following the election of a right-wing Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The ongoing violence between settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank has intensified, leading to a worrisome pattern of settler-related incidents.

As of mid-September, the United Nations reported 798 such incidents in the occupied territory, resulting in 216 Palestinians being injured. During the same period, Israeli forces were responsible for the deaths of 179 Palestinians in the West Bank. While the IDF maintains that most of these individuals were terror suspects or engaged in violent activities against its troops during raids, evidence to substantiate these claims is not always readily available.

Settlers have faced accusations of carrying out acts of violence against Palestinians, including killings, physical assaults, property damage, and harassment. These actions are believed to be part of a broader strategy to drive Palestinians from their homes and, ultimately, from the occupied West Bank.

In response to international criticism, Prime Minister Netanyahu issued instructions to Jewish settlers, urging them not to claim land in the West Bank without the Israeli government’s consent. However, his government has, under his leadership, approved a record number of housing units in West Bank settlements. Ministers within the far-right government, notably National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, both settlers themselves, have faced allegations of inciting violence against Palestinians since coming into power.

The Impact on Palestinian Lives

In the wake of Hamas’ attack on October 7, Palestinians have faced tight restrictions on their movement within the West Bank and between the West Bank and Israel. Israeli military forces have imposed a full closure of checkpoints and roadblocks, resulting in profound disruptions to the daily lives of Palestinians. These restrictions have hindered travel for work, school, medical treatment, and other essential activities.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in a call with US President Joe Biden, has sought an end to settler attacks in Palestinian cities, villages, and refugee camps in the West Bank. He also emphasized the need to prevent civilian casualties on both sides. The call for peace and security amidst this turmoil underscores the urgent need for resolution.

The Resilience of the Wadi Family

At the home of Ibrahim and Ahmad, their family, comprising wives, daughters, and sisters, is in mourning. Their grief is palpable, as they grapple with the profound loss of their loved ones. Khitam Wadi, Ibrahim’s wife and Ahmad’s mother, conveys a message of strength and determination, honoring her husband’s memory as a defender of the land.

The younger women in the family, while experiencing pain, demonstrate an unwavering resolve to remain in their home, reflecting on the lessons imparted by their father. For Aseel, Ahmad’s sister and Ibrahim’s daughter, this is more than a residence; it’s their homeland, a place where they have learned to love and cherish their land.

The plight of the Wadi family encapsulates the complex reality of life in the occupied West Bank, where violence and conflict are constants, and the resilience of its people stands as a testament to the enduring hope for a peaceful and secure future.

In the face of ongoing challenges and tragedy, it is essential to shed light on the human stories that often go unnoticed in the broader narrative of geopolitical conflicts. The Wadi family’s journey is a stark reminder of the urgent need for peace, reconciliation, and a path towards a more stable and secure future in the West Bank.

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