Edited by Sam Thielman
BLESSEDLY, the pause in Israeli military operations in Gaza for hostage releases, set to expire on Monday, has now been extended by two more days. While it appears that Israel violated the ceasefire in at least one major instance—more on that after the paywall, so please buy a subscription—we said in Wednesday's edition to watch the West Bank during the pause, so let's turn there first.
Whatever the quasi-ceasefire in Gaza, over the weekend, Israeli forces conducted raids in the West Bank that resulted in the shooting deaths of at least eight people. Five of them died at the hands of the Israeli military at a raid in the much-beleaguered city/refugee camp of Jenin, per the BBC, that left six others wounded. Al Jazeera, citing the Palestinian Ministry of Health, reports that one of those killed was a child. Two of the names of those killed are Ammar Abu al-Wafa, 21 years old, and Jenin's Ahmad Abu al-Heija, 17 years old, and I'm afraid I don't know the names of the others. The IDF, per Haaretz, took 21 "wanted individuals" prisoner. On Monday morning, Al Jazeera reported that subsequent overnight raids Sunday in the West Bank resulted in another 60 people detained.
On Saturday, the Palestine Red Crescent tweeted a video of Israeli armored vehicles blocking the path of one of its ambulances in Jenin. They said Israeli forces were also "besieging both Jenin Governmental Hospital and Ibn Sina Hospital," much as they did in northern Gaza before the not-quite-a-ceasefire. Al Jazeera's West Bank correspondent Zein Basravi noted: "For every Palestinian prisoner [the Israelis] release, there seems to be a continued disregard for the freedoms of Palestinians they continue to detain, a continuous disregard for Palestinian life as they continue to kill people in very violent and endless raids in the occupied West Bank."
Denying access to hospitals appears to fit a recent tactical pattern for the Israelis in Jenin. An IDF operation on Nov. 16, about a week and a half ago, surrounded Ibn Sina and three other city hospitals, blocking access to medical services, while firing a missile from an overhead drone. It should be noted that unlike in Gaza, the IDF doesn't appear to have fired on or raided the Jenin hospitals.
Even before Oct. 7, the furthest-ever right-wing government of Israel made 2023 the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2005. That makes it the deadliest year since the United Nations began keeping a systematic tally of the Palestinian dead. Just before Thanksgiving began, Human Rights Watch's Omar Shakir wrote that Israel killed 192 people, including 40 children, before Oct. 7; and afterward, has killed another 201, including 52 children. Adding this weekend's eight makes 401 people in the West Bank who have been killed by Israeli hands since 2023 began. Settler violence, as opposed to violence committed by the IDF, has also spiked in the West Bank, accounting for 15 of the Palestinians slain.
It's worth remembering that Hamas does not control the West Bank. Neither Israel's reprisal for Hamas' Oct. 7 massacre nor the quasi-ceasefire that began Friday applies there. Israel is instead seizing an opportunity to intensify the apartheid conditions under which it illegally occupies the West Bank. Shakir writes that Israeli forces have displaced 1,014 Palestinians from their West Bank homes since Oct. 7 – nearly as many as it had in all of 2022 and the first eight months of 2023. Via Shakir, the Israeli human rights group HaMoked found nearly a month ago that Israel held 6,809 Palestinians prisoner, a figure it said was more like 11,000 when another 4,000 Gaza workers were factored in. You can see the number of detainees rise dramatically after Oct. 7 in this HaMoked infographic. B'Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights group focusing on the occupied West Bank, said that as of September, 146 children—that is, people younger than 18—were behind Israeli bars, and if you follow the link, you'll see this is likely an undercount.
While extending the temporary ceasefire is at the forefront of regional and international diplomacy, there is a renewed sense, rhetorically at least, that some form of political process toward Palestinian freedom needs to follow the war. In a blatant move to preempt any Israeli divestment of the West Bank, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, one of the leading far-right forces in Israel’s government, has put forward a budget that funds expanded settlement construction. The Palestinian Foreign Affairs Ministry lambasted the budget proposal for "taking advantage" of the Gaza crisis. The European Union's foreign-policy chief, Josep Borrell, tweeted Monday that he was "appalled to learn that in the middle of a war, the Israeli gov is poised to commit new funds to build more illegal settlements." This has already been a banner year for Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.
The accelerated crackdown in the West Bank is having the expected radicalization effect. The Observer, the Sunday edition of The Guardian, ran a story from the West Bank talking with some of the latest generation of militant youths. It found that this generation, many of whom are too young to remember the Second Intifada of the early 2000s, is more ideologically protean than earlier ones. Their concerns are about the basic material circumstances of their people's survival and then freedom, rather than the third-world-decolonization that informed PLO rhetoric or the nationalist-Islamism of Hamas. "[A]ll disapproved of suicide bombing, a high-profile terrorist tactic of Palestinian militant groups in the 1990s and also during the Second Intifada," reported the paper. It similarly reported youthful antipathy toward all the dominant Palestinian factions, whether the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, or Palestinian Islamic Jihad. By the time the story was published, a 15-year old the reporters spoke with, Mohammed al-Musseimi, had been killed by a Nov. 18 Israeli drone strike. Mohammed's family said violent video games were the closest he actually came to fighting.
All this is to say that whatever happens with the quasi-ceasefire, another front is open right now in the West Bank, with similarly high stakes for Palestinian national survival. Rashid Khalidi, one of the foremost Palestinian-American academics, gave a pre-Thanksgiving interview to Intercepted, a podcast hosted by my friends Jeremy Scahill and Maz Hussain of The Intercept, that offered a chilling context. Citing mid-November numbers that are now out of date, Khalidi observed that this current phase of what he famously termed the Hundred Years War on Palestine is the deadliest since 1948. The 1948 nakba killed 15,000 people and displaced 750,000. But it looks like now the death toll has crossed 15,000, and the number of displaced people – people who have no home to return to – is estimated at 1.7 million. The prospect that Palestinian suffering now numerically surpasses the nakba is simply unbearable. So is the realization that the U.S.-led international order facilitates that suffering instead of preventing it.