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The other mass displacement: while eyes are on Gaza, settlers advance on West Bank herders

November 1, 2023 at 1:53 pm

Palestinians being forcibly displaced by settlers in Nablus on October 2023 [UN OCHA]

Shortly after armed Israeli settlers threatened to kill them if they did not leave, 24 Palestinian households totaling 141 people, half of whom are children, were displaced from Khirbat Zanuta in the southern West Bank.

On 28 October 2023, the families dismantled about 50 residential and animal structures and vacated the area with their 5,000 livestock. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has previously documented settler attacks in this community, most recently on 12, 21 and 26 October. About two thirds of the families that comprised this community are now displaced.

“On 26 October, settlers attacked us, destroying our homes, water tanks, solar panels, and cars,” said 43-year-old Abu Khaled from Khirbet Zanuta. “I felt the presence of death so tangibly as if I saw it with my own eyes. I was torn between staying in or leaving the place I love, where I belong, where I may die. On 28 October, I made the hardest decision in my life: to leave Zanuta and leave everything behind, as memories. I did this to protect my children.”

These experiences are not unique to Khirbat Zanuta. In 15 herding communities across the West Bank, at least 98 households comprising 828 people, including 313 children, have been displaced amid settler violence or increased movement restrictions since 7 October. Since then, Israeli settler violence has increased significantly, from an already high average of three incidents per day thus far in 2023 to a current average of seven per day.

In this period, OCHA has recorded 171 settler attacks against Palestinians, resulting in Palestinian casualties (26 incidents), damage to Palestinian properties (115 incidents), or both (30 incidents). Cases of harassment, trespass, and intimidation are not included in these statistics when they do not result in damage or casualties, although they too increase the pressure on Palestinians to leave.

On 9 October, 40 people were displaced from the herding community of Al Ganoub. Armed Israeli settlers had raided the community, threatening residents at gunpoint, saying they would kill them if they did not leave within an hour. Abu Jamal, 75, is one of those who were displaced. “Settlers set fire to our tent and stole my goats,” he told us. “They destroyed everything that had kept me here.” Another residential structure was also set on fire during this incident.Since 7 October, access restrictions, typically imposed by the Israeli occupation authorities, have intensified throughout the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. These are particularly severe in areas near illegal Israeli settlements and in the ‘Seam Zone,’ the Palestinian area isolated by Israel’s 712-kilometre-long illegal Separation Wall in the West Bank.Settlers too have imposed movement restrictions, blocking access roads to Palestinian communities. Such measures have limited Palestinians’ access to essential services and livelihoods. In some cases, settlers have also damaged water resources relied upon by herding communities, depriving them of a fundamental human necessity.Palestinian herding communities are often highly dependent on humanitarian assistance, including health and education services. However, since restrictions intensified, many of the services have had to stop.

READ: Shin Bet warns government about surge in settler violence in occupied West Bank

On 12 October, eight households, comprising 51 people, were displaced from Shihda WaHamlan herding community in Nablus, after settlers threatened them at gunpoint, saying they would kill them and set their tents on fire during the night. One of the family members, 52-year-old Abu Ismail, stated: “I had no choice but to leave everything behind to protect my children.”More than one in every three settler-related incidents since 7 October has involved settlers using firearms to threaten Palestinians, including by opening fire. In almost half the cases, Israeli forces accompanied or actively supported the attackers. Many of the latter incidents were followed by confrontations between Israeli forces and Palestinians, where three Palestinians were killed, and dozens injured. Eight Palestinians were killed by settlers directly, as of the end of October. Damage or destruction was caused to 24 residential structures, 40 structures used for farming, 67 vehicles and more than 400 trees and saplings.Settlements are illegal under international humanitarian law and, compounded by settler violence, they have for many years resulted in increased risks and heightened humanitarian needs among Palestinians.

concerns are high over families who have remained and continue to endure attacks by settlers. Mohamad Abu Seif (Abu Khalid), 90, has been living with his family in the herding community of Ein Shibli for over 40 years. While they have remained, they are exposed to repetitive threats and harassment by settlers. “They prevent us from grazing our sheep,” he told us.

He and his family are among five Palestinian households, comprising 33 people, who remain in this community. All of them are at risk of displacement as grazing areas diminish by the actions of Israeli settlers. Eight families, comprising 51 people, have already left this area since 7 October. While Abu Khalid is still there, he and his family have no assurances that they would be able to remain for much longer.

A version of this article was published by UN OCHA on 1 November 2023

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.