One morning in 2016, a Palestinian economist who was also one of the leaders of his agricultural village in the West Bank, saw that there were clashes between children and Israeli soldiers. The small children threw stones at the soldiers who entered the village playground and he knew that the incident could end in their arrest or injury. He advanced to the scene with his hands raised in the air, yelling at the children to stop and go home. The children left and then he tried to leave as well, when one of the soldiers shot a rubber bullet at the centre of his forehead.
A scar remained, but he recovered from the injury.
Like many in his village, he was repeatedly arrested and attacked by both soldiers and settlers, but he felt a responsibility and whenever there was an incident in the village, he would go there. When there was clash with soldiers and settlers who entered the village, he used to arrive at the scene and to try to calm both sides, keep the Palestinian residents away and call on the settlers and soldiers to leave as well.
Sometimes, the soldiers and their officers who came to his village were themselves settlers who lived in the settlements and outposts in the area. Those had come up after a forcible takeover of his village’s lands.
After the attack and atrocities by Hamas, on October 7, a huge wave of public and political legitimacy for revenge was created in Israel, which the settlers took advantage of to speed up the ethnic cleansing they are carrying out in the West Bank. This is done through increasing physical violence and also by repeated “visits” of armed settlers in the Palestinians’ homes and communities. There, the settlers order them to evacuate immediately and threat that if they don’t do it on their own, they would evict them forcibly.
Since October 7, large numbers of Palestinians were killed by settlers and soldiers in the West Bank and many of them were civilians. One of them is the Palestinian economist who was shot in his forehead in 2016 by the soldiers and was shot to death by settlers during the funeral procession of other residents from his village who were killed earlier – also by settlers.
Whenever there was a serious incident in the village, he would call me to ask if I could help but in most cases I was not able to do anything as a lawyer. After reports began to be published on social media that some Palestinians were killed during a funeral procession in the village and he did not call me, I called one of his friends, another Palestinian from this village who I helped when he was himself shot by soldiers and seriously injured a few years ago. Right away, when he answered his phone, he said, “Yes, it’s him. The settlers killed him”.
This story is not unique, many Palestinians are victims of multiple attacks by settlers and soldiers, and there is often an overlap between them. If the soldiers are not settlers themselves, they often act in coordination and under the instructions of the settlers. Even if a Palestinian is not involved in politics or one of the armed groups, by the very fact of being a Palestinian his life is like a game of Russian Roulette. If he leaves his house to work, to the field, to study or to visit friends, he takes a gamble, but staying locked in the house is also a risk because the soldiers or the settlers or both can get there too.
In response to the rise in violence in the West Bank, President Biden could have added to the US sanctions list members of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government and coalition in the Knesset who openly support genocide, terrorism and full apartheid, or senior Israeli officials who approve the demolition of Palestinian homes and the establishment of new buildings in the settlements, or prevent the use of American weapons by specific Israeli military and special units that commit war crimes in the West Bank, including torture and extra judicial killings, or add their commanders to the sanctions list.
Instead, the Biden administration is delaying a shipment of more than 27,000 guns to Israel. This is intended for the police, which is under the full control of the far-right minister Itamar Ben Gvir. This is because of the fear that the guns will reach violent settlers.
This decision is expected to have zero effect on Israel. Israeli companies are among the leading manufacturers of rifles, machine guns and pistols in the world. For example, during the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly and illegal “war on drugs”, between 2016 and 2022, the Israeli government and companies sold his police at least 40,000 rifles, machine guns and pistols. This is a cheap military equipment that the Israeli government has no problem purchasing from local Israeli companies, although it is more convenient for Israel to receive it freely from the US as part of its aid funds. Some of the Israeli police and the military forces already use Israeli manufactured rifles and pistoles. If necessary, Israel can also obtain the Israeli guns from the factories that produce them abroad such as in Vietnam.
One can imagine a conversation between President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
President Biden: Bibi, the progressives call me “genocide Joe”, I have to look tough with you.
Netanyahu: Don’t worry, cut the guns to Ben Gvir but continue with the deliveries of bombs for Gaza.