Mohammed Wadi, who is mourning the deaths of his father and brother, claims that armed Israeli settlers from outposts overlooking his olive-growing West Bank hamlet no longer aim low when shooting at Palestinian neighbors. “Now, they shoot to kill,” he explained.
Violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which was already at a more than 15-year high this year, skyrocketed when Israel launched a new assault in the separate enclave of Gaza in response to the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas unleashing the bloodiest day in Israeli history on Oct. 7.
Days later, on Oct. 12, Wadi’s father and brother were shot dead when armed Israeli settlers and soldiers stopped a funeral cortege for three other Palestinians killed by settlers the day before, two Reuters witnesses and three other people present said. It was one of the more than 170 attacks on Palestinians involving settlers recorded by the U.N. since the Hamas rampage.
“Arabs and Jews used to throw stones at each other. Settlers my age now all seem to have automatic weapons,” said Wadi, 29, in the olive-growing village of Qusra. And while a decade ago armed settlers would fire their weapons to scare or injure villagers during confrontations, increasingly, shootings were deadly, he said.
Reuters could not definitively establish who shot the Wadis. Palestinian officials who investigated the funeral killings said the gunfire appeared to come from settlers rather than soldiers, a view supported by the three other people present.
Shira Liebman, head of the Yesha Council, the main West Bank settlers organisation, told Reuters that settlers were not involved in the killings and were not targeting Palestinians.
Israel’s hard-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, one of at least two senior government ministers living in the settlements, said he had ordered the purchase of 10,000 rifles to arm Israeli civilians, including settlers, after Hamas’ attack.
Ben-Gvir’s office did not respond to a request for comment about whether guns had already been distributed in the West Bank. He said on Twitter on Oct. 11 that 900 assault rifles had been handed out in areas to the north of the West Bank, close to Lebanon, and that thousands more would soon be distributed.
Vigilante-style settler attacks have killed 29 people this year according to the U.N. Humanitarian Affairs Office, OCHA. At least eight of those were since Oct 7. alone, worrying ordinary Palestinians, Israeli security experts and Western officials.
Washington has condemned settler attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank while the European Union on Tuesday denounced “settler terrorism” that risked a “dangerous escalation of the conflict.”
Daily settler attacks have more than doubled, the U.N. figures show, since Hamas, which controls the coastal enclave of Gaza to Israel’s southwest, killed 1,400 Israelis and took more than 200 hostage. Israel has since bombed and invaded Gaza, killing nearly 9,000 Palestinians.
While Hamas tightly controls besieged Gaza, the West Bank is a complex patchwork of hillside cities, Israeli settlements and army checkpoints that split Palestinian communities.
Hamas cited Israeli actions in the West Bank, core to a would-be Palestinian state, in waging its killing spree.