From Bethlehem (9 km south of Jerusalem) towards Ramallah, the road winds through the arid hills of the West Bank. This December 4, the Palestinian driver points towards a town with houses crowded together. “This is Kedar. Further on, you will see Ma’aleh Adumim! » Colonies. Tensions linked to these installations of Israeli citizens on Palestinian land, illegal under international law, have increased in intensity since the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7 and Israel’s response in the Gaza Strip. The number of Palestinians killed by settlers continues to grow. The development of “settlement facilities” is a priority of the Netanyahu government, and the war gives him the opportunity to drive the point home.
The day before, a 38-year-old Palestinian father of six was killed by a settler in Qarawat Bani Hassan, near Nablus. In the southern West Bank, in the Hebron Hills, “army-backed settlers chased five Palestinian herder communities from their homes, entering their homes night and day, destroying water tanks and water systems. solar energy, stealing livestock, and sometimes threatening to kill residents if they did not leave,” the Israeli organization B’Tselem reported in mid-November.
The settlement of Jewish settlers in Palestinian territory began following the 1967 Six-Day War, which led to the occupation of the West Bank by the Israeli army. Since then, their population has grown steadily. According to the United Nations, around 700,000 settlers (including 230,000 in East Jerusalem) live in 250 settlements. The majority is no more religious than other Jewish citizens. “In a good half of the colonies,” notes an observer, “the inhabitants, attracted there by advantageous rents, are not even aware of living in an unduly appropriated territory. The violence is the work of ultranationalist religious activists, installed in strategic sites, in contact with Palestinian populations: around Nablus, Ramallah, Taibeh, in the Jordan Valley… » Benyamin Netanyahu, whose government includes supremacists and ultraorthodox, be careful not to slow them down.
The return of “Greater Israel”
In the Christian village of Taybeh, for example, incidents have been increasing in recent years. At the end of October, settlers attacked farmers who came to harvest their olives. “They injured an elderly man and his wife, but the soldiers let them do it,” protests Sanad Sahelia, director of the local web radio. The town is surrounded by settlements emblematic of the movement to conquer Palestinian territory. Rimonim was created in 1977 on village land, and Ofra was the first settlement established by the ultranationalist Gush Emunim movement in 1975, after a standoff with the Labor government of the time.
From his first years in power, in 1996-1999, as in 2009-2021, Netanyahu allowed “outposts”, wild colonies, illegal even under Israeli law, to flourish. He was part of his political family. Already in 1977, the Likud government program stated the principle of Greater Israel dear to religious nationalists: “The right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is eternal and incontestable (…) Consequently, Judea and Samaria will not be transferred to any foreign authority whatsoever; between the sea and the Jordan there will be only one space of Israeli sovereignty. » The expression “between the sea (Mediterranean) and the Jordan” is intended to designate the land of Israel according to the Bible, where “Judea and Samaria” corresponds to the West Bank. In fact, there is no shortage of Orthodox rabbis to justify the project: in the eyes of Isaac Ginsburg, who teaches in the settlement of Yitshar, in the north of the West Bank, the presence of non-Jews in Greater Israel is not tolerable only if they accept Jewish domination. For Zalman Baruch Melamed, from the settlement of Beit El, “the mitzvah (prescription) to colonize the land of Israel is equal to all the commandments combined.”
Under these conditions, it is not the war that will slow down the arrival of new settlers. The Israeli organization Peace Now has documented since October 7 “an unprecedented increase in illegal construction and the unauthorized creation of nine new roads, many of which lead to outposts.” At the same time, “more than 1,000 French families opened an immigration file in Israel, or 430% more compared to the same period last year,” welcomes the Jewish Agency. The perspective presented to these new arrivals is, however, that of a struggle, armed if necessary. Exploiting the trauma of the Hamas attack, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, one of the government’s most extremist members, eased restrictions on civilian access to weapons. On December 4, he welcomed the submission of more than 260,000 new applications for firearms since October 7.
The call of the West
Meanwhile, Western countries are expressing their concern. Attacks by “extremist settlers” amount to “pouring gasoline” on the already burning fires in the Middle East, US President Joe Biden warned before reaffirming his commitment to a two-state solution, like the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Catherine Colonna, on a visit to the field in December. On the 15th of the same month, Australia and Canada joined twelve European countries, including France, to denounce “Israel’s inability to protect Palestinians and pursue settlers”, a situation which “threatens the prospects for lasting peace. But the plan to occupy Greater Israel is on the rise. According to a Canal 12 poll carried out on November 15, 44% of Israelis are in favor of the reconstruction of the colonies dismantled in Gaza in 2005, 39% are against. Never has the idea of a Palestinian state seemed more hypothetical.
A heavy toll
From October 7 to December 22
293 Palestinians, including 76 children, were killed by Israeli forces. Eight others, including a child, were killed by Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Seven Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks. Since then, the attacks have continued.
During this period, the United Nations recorded nearly 33 incidents per week between settlers and Palestinians, an increase of 50% compared to the period from January 1 to October 6. More than a third of these incidents included threats with firearms, including shootings.
In almost half of all incidents, Israeli forces accompanied or actively supported the attackers.