by The Guardian, OtherNews

The scale and sheer horror of the war in Gaza has rightly captured the world’s attention. But surging violence in the occupied West Bank should sound the alarm too. Last year was the bloodiest since 2005. This year is worse. Volker Türk, the UN human rights chief, has called the situation “potentially explosive”, warning of the intensification of violence and severe discrimination against Palestinians. According to UN data, more than 450 have been killed by Israeli security forces or settlers this year, the majority following the Hamas massacre on 7 October. Twenty-eight Israelis in the West Bank have been killed by Palestinians in 2023.

Raids on the Jenin refugee camp continued on Thursday, with a densely packed population living in fear and with access to healthcare severely affected, according to charities. Such operations have repeatedly led to the deaths of civilians – including children and the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch warned of “systematic impunity” for the killing of Palestinian children. The new wave of armed resistance has emerged in recent years amid the failure of Palestinian political leadership, anger over security force abuses and settler violence, despair at the unending occupation and the shrinking prospect of a two-state solution as illegal settlements expand.

In the last two months, thousands of Palestinians have been arrested – including, on Thursday, two key members of the West Bank’s Freedom Theatre – with a record number held without charge or trial, and growing reports of humiliation and abuse of detainees. Meanwhile, settler violence has forced out multiple communities, and Palestinians face hunger as well as humiliation and danger. Hundreds of thousands have reportedly lost their jobs or had their wages frozen after Israel cancelled their work permits and severely restricted crossings. The Palestinian Authority is no longer receiving the import taxes on which it depends. Even the olive harvest is rotting on trees.

The announcement of UK and US sanctions on violent settlers is welcome. But the real issue is an extremist government that not only enables but encourages extremism. Benjamin Netanyahu handed significant powers over the West Bank to the Finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, who seeks to lay the ground for a doubling of settlers, and who claimed that there is “no such thing” as a Palestinian people. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the National Security minister and a man with a conviction for racist incitement, has handed out firearms to settler “security squads”. (The Biden administration is reportedly now delaying a deal for 20,000 rifles.)

What is happening now in the West Bank is critical to the future of all Palestinians. What’s left of the Palestinian Authority’s credibility, already in tatters, would surely not survive economic collapse. The Israeli ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, said “absolutely no” to a two-state solution this week. The sentiment is no surprise – her boss has committed to annexing parts of the West Bank and reportedly told legislators last summer that Palestinian hopes of a sovereign state “must be eliminated” – but her blunt contempt for the question was shocking.

What does Mr Netanyahu’s government then envisage for Palestinians? It rejects claims that it wants to force them out of Gaza. The alternative would appear to be permanent second-class status within a single state. The Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and a UN rapporteur have said that Palestinians are already subject to a form of apartheid. International talk of the two-state solution has long been vaguely aspirational at best and at worst a cover for inaction as it slipped further from view. It looks more hypothetical than ever now. Yet given the alternatives, it must become a spur to diplomatic action.

To learn more, read our Israel/Palestine conflict factsheet

On the cover image, The Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank ©Tupungato/