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West Bank Story


This as-told-to essay is an account from Nasser Nawaj’ah—a West Bank resident and field researcher for B’Tselem, a human rights organization in Israel—of the ongoing attacks by Israeli settlers amid the war in Gaza. It’s been transcribed, translated from Arabic, and edited by Aymann Ismail.

The settlers look like soldiers. They come at night, but sometimes during the day, wearing army uniforms. They execute operations against Palestinians, beating us, taking our phones and smashing them to prevent us from documenting their terror. The settlers steal things from our homes and take our money. And in the end, their message is always the same: “You have 24 hours to flee, or we will shoot you.”

The threat is terrifying. And they’ve already succeeded in forcing the expulsion of six Palestinian villages off their lands so far.

All my life, I’ve been a resident of the Susya village, a small Palestinian village. We’re in Area C in the West Bank, in the shadow of what is happening in Gaza. The settlers see this as an opportunity to take control and claim parts of Area C as their own through terrorism and violence. We know who these settlers are. They’re criminals, and they should be arrested. But at the moment, they have become the law. They administer the law. They are the army, and they do whatever they want.

Over the last three years, settler violence steadily increased day after day. Those of us who live in villages near the settlements know these settlers, especially the violent ones who assault and try to expel us. Four days ago, they came to my village at night. They forcibly entered my neighbor’s home and detained all the men and held them at gunpoint. Then they took them outside the house, and with an M16 gun pointed to the head of the house owner, they told him he had two options, and there wasn’t a third: “Leave or die.”

Things have never been scarier for us. We tried to call the Israeli police to tell them what their citizens are doing to us. They told us we are in a state of war, and that they are powerless to do anything. But even last year, my home was raided in the night by the IDF. They blindfolded and arrested me, terrifying my family, only to release me later without charge but with a stern warning: Stop “causing all the trouble in the area.” Since the beginning of the war to the south, settler violence has increased, but for us, it did not begin on Oct. 7.

Israeli authorities were here on Oct. 16 when a settler entered our village with a bulldozer. He used it to destroy and block the main road into Susya. In total, he blocked 16 roads, and since then, for three weeks now, my village has been under a complete siege. We don’t have water or medical services and supplies. People are unable to get medicine. There are people with chronic diseases, like diabetes and high blood pressure and such, who are now going without their life-dependent medicines. No children have been able to attend any of the schools in our area because of the settler terrorism and their closure of the roads.

The same day they destroyed our roads with the bulldozer, the settlers also destroyed an entire grove of olive trees, and they destroyed three water wells, the only source of drinking water for the Palestinians. They also destroyed our solar panels, knowing that our village isn’t connected to electrical services except by solar panel. Most Palestinian villages in Area C are like this. My people are living in poverty because of this very difficult siege imposed upon us by the occupation. They are waging a war on Palestinians in every aspect of our lives. And they do this, all of this, under the protection of the army and with the knowledge of the police.

None of us are able to so much as disagree with the settlers, let alone fight back, because killing a Palestinian today is very, very easy. If anyone so much as objects to the settlers, they will shoot them immediately. The settlers tell us there is no law because we are at war, and that our land is now forbidden to us, and that it now belongs to Israel. And if we stay, we will die.

This is a separate though obviously related issue to what is happening in Gaza:

A former United Nations human rights official who quit over its policy towards Israel and its military operations in Gaza told CNN that the “root causes of the problem” have not been addressed.

The former official also alleged that Israel was carrying out a “genocide.” 

“The international community has used this mantra of a two-state solution as an excuse for not addressing the fundamental root causes of the problem,” Craig Mokhiber, a former director at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told CNN’s Becky Anderson in an interview on Thursday.

Mokhiber said there’s “certainly nothing left for a sustainable Palestinian state” and that there is no hope of an Israeli government reverting to the 1967 borders. 

“What we’ve seen is this promise of a two-state solution as a smokescreen behind which we’ve seen continued dispossession, persecution, gross violations, and now as I have alleged, genocide happening as well,” he said.

Mokhiber, who said he lived in Gaza working on human rights for the UN in the 1990s, noted in a letter to the UN’s human rights chief that Gaza is a textbook case of genocide. 

He accused the United States, the United Kingdom, and European countries of giving political and diplomatic cover for Israel’s atrocities, and he echoed that sentiment in his interview with CNN. 

He said up until this point, there had been a “roar” demanding accountability for alleged war crimes perpetrated by Hamas in their attack on October 7 — which he said was the correct response.

He added, what we’ve heard “at best is a whisper” demanding accountability for “Israeli war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide” before October 7 and “too much of a whisper” demanding accountability from Israel since.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said Wednesday that both Hamas and Israel have committed war crimes since the war broke out last month. 

“The atrocities perpetrated by Palestinian armed groups on 7 October were heinous, brutal and shocking, they were war crimes — as is the continued holding of hostages,” Türk said, adding, “The collective punishment by Israel of Palestinian civilians amounts also to a war crime, as does the unlawful forcible evacuation of civilians.”

Rashida Tlaib committed the gravest crime any American politician can commit in regard to this issue, which is to tell the truth. This by the way is not a defense of Tlaib’s statements, which were pragmatically speaking highly impolitic, given that the alternative to Joe Biden is Donald Trump, who in this and every other way is much worse than Biden.

But she told the truth about what is happening to her people, and that as always is unendurable.

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