Rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions have made 2022 the deadliest year in the long-running conflict since 2006. Further escalation is likely, as the most right-wing and religious government in Israel’s history is poised to be installed in coming days or weeks, with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returning to power.
Friday’s violence took place along a busy thoroughfare in the town of Hawara, south of the West Bank city of Nablus. Police said the assailant carried a knife and tried to break into the car of an Israeli couple before the driver, who was an Israeli soldier on leave, shot and wounded him.
The assailant then moved toward border policemen patrolling nearby, stabbing one in the face, police said. The commander of the unit tried to arrest the assailant. Amateur video shows the commander putting the Palestinian man in a choke hold, as two other Palestinians try to pull him away from the officer, to know avail. The video shows the Palestinian man grabbing the officer’s assault rifle which then drops to the ground. The officer pulls a pistol from a holster and fires four shots. The young man falls to the ground and is later pronounced dead.
More than 140 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli-Palestinian fighting this year. The Israeli army says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting Israeli army incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.
Friday’s violence came against the backdrop of months of Israeli arrest raids in the West Bank, prompted by a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis in the spring that killed 19 people. The military says the raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks, but the Palestinians say they entrench Israel’s open-ended occupation, now in its 56th year. A recent wave of Palestinian attacks against Israeli targets killed an additional nine people.
Earlier Friday, dozens of Israeli peace activists toured Hebron, the West Bank’s largest city, in a show of solidarity with Palestinians, amid chants of “shame, shame” from ultra-nationalist hecklers.
The encounter came a month after the strong showing of far-right factions in parliamentary elections and reflected the widening rift among Israelis over the nature of their society and the fate of the occupied territories.
In coalition agreements, Netanyahu has already handed key authorities in the West Bank to ultra-nationalist faction leaders, including former fringe figure Itamar Ben-Gvir, known for his anti-Arab rhetoric. The new roles include oversight of Israeli settlement construction and the paramilitary border police, often deployed in Palestinian population centers.
At the same time, peace activists and pro-Palestinian rights groups have come under attack in recent years from right-wing politicians branding them traitors.
The immediate trigger for Friday’s tour was an incident in Hebron in which a soldier pushed a man to the ground and punched him in the face after a tense standoff with a small group of peace activists. Another soldier is heard telling the activists: “Ben-Gvir is going to sort things out in this place. That’s it, you guys have lost.”
The soldier uttering the taunts was initially sentenced to 10 days in military jail, but the army then reduced the sentence to six days.
As incoming national security minister, Ben-Gvir will have control over the border police whose troops are often deployed alongside regular soldiers in the West Bank.
As about 200 peace activists arrived in the center of Hebron on Friday, they were greeted by a group of protesters holding a banner reading: “The people of Israel demand: expel the anarchists from Hebron.” One man shouting through a bullhorn yelled, “shame, shame,” as the visitors listened to tour guides in a parking lot, separated from the right-wing protesters by security forces.
Friday’s visit was part of the regular offerings of anti-occupation groups, but turnout was larger than usual because of the election results and last week’s incident in Hebron, said Ori Givati, a spokesman for Breaking the Silence, one of the groups organizing the trip.
He said activists were worried — but also determined to continue their work, including tours to West Bank hot spots like Hebron, where dozens of heavily guarded settlers live in a city of tens of thousands of Palestinians.
“There is definitely fear for the safety, first and foremost for Palestinians under this occupation that are now going to be under a government that promotes hate and racism more than ever toward them, and toward our organization and other organizations and activists that are now in a reality where their activity here is delegitimized, also more than ever,” Givati said.
Those chanting slogans against the peace activists portrayed themselves as defenders of Israeli settlements and soldiers. Matan Gerafi of the right-wing Im Tirtzu group alleged the activists aimed to discredit soldiers and branded them “anarchists.”
Palestinians were largely out of sight as the Israeli groups faced off.
Issa Amro, a Palestinian activist in Hebron, said he believes the hardline ideology of Ben-Gvir and others will spread further in Israeli society. “The settlers here are celebrating the election of their fascist representatives in the government,” he said. “What happens in Hebron will end in Tel Aviv.”
Akram reported from Hamilton, Canada.