Settler violence sows West Bank terror as Palestinians say there is no sense of security

Eighty Palestinians and 14 Israelis have been killed in West Bank violence so far this year

Jamila Dumeidi (59) walks through the burned-out rooms of her small one-storey house in Huwara, a Palestinian town south of Nablus in the occupied West Bank. The livingroom is carpeted with grey ash and plasterwork from the ceiling while the window looking on to the courtyard outside is bordered by jagged glass.

Outside, Dumeidi’s daughter-in-law, Ruba Abu Alsoud (30), recalls how on February 26th she watched from her own home in Huwara as busloads of Israeli settlers began arriving in the town. Twenty minutes later, Abu Alsoud looked out her window again and saw “only fire”.

“I called my husband to say this is getting serious,” says Abu Alsoud, who has four children aged from one to seven. “I was recording what was happening from my window on my phone to show him when I heard the sound of something breaking in my home.”

When she went to get her two-year-old son from his bedroom there was shattered glass around him and settlers were throwing rocks through the nearby window. She hid in another room in the house with her children – “I was worried we were going to be burnt alive.”


Several hours before the attack on Huwara, Hillel Yaniv (22) and Yagel Yaniv (20), two Israeli brothers from Har Bracha, a nearby illegal settlement, had been shot dead while driving through the Palestinian town.

An estimated 400 local Israeli settlers responded to the murders by descending on Huwara and nearby towns, many armed with knives, iron bars and rocks. Over the course of several hours, a 37-year-old Palestinian man was shot dead, more than 100 people were injured and dozens of Palestinian businesses and homes were damaged.

It remains unclear who shot the Palestinian man. An Israeli military official who spoke to The Irish Times on condition of anonymity, as per security protocol, said an Israeli soldier was not responsible but that the Palestinian man had possibly been shot by a settler or member of the Israeli police – who are responsible for enforcing Israeli law on Israeli citizens living in the West Bank.

Two Israeli settlers are currently in administrative detention in relation to the attack on Huwara and the military official said they expected charges to be brought against them.

Amar Dumeidi (36), speaking with his arm in a sling, says settlers threw stones at him while members of the Israeli military stood by. Standing beside Mr Dumeidi is the mayor of Huwara, Moein Dumeidi (49), who is not a relative.

“We do not want the people to still believe that the Israeli occupation is the victim here,” says the local mayor, who believes that settlers have been emboldened by the extreme right-wing government that came to power in Israel last year and which expressly supports the annexation of the West Bank.

The Israeli military official said that the response of the Israeli army and police to the attack on Huwara had been “a failure” and that they had expected the settlers to arrive in different locations and in smaller numbers.

“It is absolutely necessary for us that accountability is fully ensured, that the perpetrators be brought to justice, that those who lost property be compensated,” said the European Union ambassador in Palestine Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff in a statement to press during a visit with an EU delegation to Huwara earlier this month.

During the visit on March 3rd, European diplomats met the family of Sameh Aqtash, the Palestinian father of five who was shot in the stomach during the attack on Huwara and bled to death after the Israeli military refused to allow an ambulance to pass on the main road they had closed.

While the EU delegation was surveying burned Palestinian-owned cars in Huwara, a group of Israeli settlers arrived and began playing music and dancing on the street, sparking an angry response from local Palestinians who confronted them.

A member of the EU delegation requested that Israeli forces intervene to prevent an escalation and they created a barrier between the local Palestinians and Israeli settlers before ordering the settlers to leave Huwara.

Huwara’s location on a busy thoroughfare near several illegal settlements means it has often been a flashpoint for violence. But until now a functional coexistence had held between Palestinians and the local settlers, who frequently sought cheap car repairs from the garages dotted along Huwara’s main street, many with Hebrew writing on their storefronts.

So far this year, 80 Palestinians and 14 Israelis have been killed in the violence. Six Palestinians were killed on March 7th during a daytime raid of the Jenin refugee camp by the Israeli military involving shoulder-fired missiles. The Israeli military later claimed to have killed a Hamas militant allegedly responsible for murdering the two Israeli brothers in Huwara.

Many Palestinians say ongoing violence and harassment by settlers have made life unbearable in the West Bank. “My children are living with my parents in Nablus now,” says Abu Alsoud. “They don’t want to come back to Huwara … There is no sense of security. The day after the incident, settlers attacked again and started dancing on the main roads of Huwara.”

The Israeli military official said Israeli soldiers serving in “Judea and Samara” – a biblical term often used by right-wing and religious Israelis to describe the West Bank – are “committed to preventing those events happening”. They added that “the phenomenon of settler violence is not widespread” and that “many Israeli civilians believe that they are not protected enough”.

Anthony Dutemple, head of Première Urgence, a humanitarian NGO working in the West Bank, told The Irish Times that “in the first two months of 2023 there have been 166 settler incidents which led to casualties or property damage. On average there have been three violent attacks a day.” From 2005 to 2022, 93 per cent of investigations into settler attacks in the West Bank were closed without charges being issued, according to Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organisation.

The Huwara attack is one of the worst incidents of settler-led violence on record and scenes of smashed shop windows and burning homes provoked an outcry from many in Israel. “We call it ‘a pogrom’ because that’s the Eastern European name for the atrocities that happened to Jewish people in their own villages all over Europe a hundred years ago,” says Elay Banayan.

The 21-year-old Israeli spoke to The Irish Times on his way to a pro-democracy rally in Tel Aviv last Saturday where tens of thousands of people gathered to protest government reforms that would curb the judiciary’s power and reduce minority rights.

Some protesters at the rallies, which have been taking place for 10 weeks, have begun holding placards saying: “Justice for Huwara” and asking members of the Israeli military overseeing the protests “where were you in Huwara?”

The protest slogan has been co-opted as a joke by some members of the settler community. In the centre of Hebron, a majority Palestinian city in the West Bank with small but heavily protected illegal settlements, two Israeli settlers stopped by The Irish Times and shouted: “Where were you in Huwara?” before laughing among themselves.

With many Palestinians believing they have no protection from settler violence and military raids, support for armed resistance to the Israeli occupation in the West Bank is once again growing. In front of her burned-out home in Huwara, Dumeidi says: “A third intifada is the only solution.”