Israeli Settlers Take on Guard Roles in the West Bank, Escalating Tensions, According to Palestinians

Credits: The Times of Israel

On a chilly winter day in Hebron, Issa Amro, a prominent Palestinian peace activist, faced delays at a checkpoint. Joel Carmel, an ex-Israeli soldier and peace activist, along with a group of journalists, waited for Amro at the gate to his house.

Amro has been a longstanding advocate for nonviolence in Hebron, one of the West Bank’s most dangerous cities, marred by conflicts between Palestinian militants and far-right Israeli settlers.

His efforts include leading peaceful protests against Israeli military restrictions on Palestinians in the city. Known by people on both sides of the conflict, he often becomes a target of harassment by Israeli forces.

Israeli Settlers (Credits: Al Jazeera)

Amro eventually arrived, clad in a green one-piece snowsuit and sporting a thick beard. He apologized for his tardiness, explaining that he spent 30 minutes at a checkpoint, where a soldier insisted he remove everything, including his shoes, despite the muddy conditions.

Hebron’s center, near the Tomb of the Patriarchs, has been a contested area claimed by far-right Jewish settlers for decades. Acts of violence against Palestinian residents by settlers and occasional gunfire by Palestinian militants at settlers have been ongoing issues.

The military, tasked with protecting settlers, was once viewed as a moderating force, with Palestinians seeking its help against settler attacks.

However, the dynamics changed in 2022 when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir as the national security minister. Military forces reportedly became more aggressive towards Palestinians.

The situation escalated after the October 7 attacks, where Hamas militants from Gaza killed around 1,200 people in Israel. The Israeli military responded by deploying troops to Gaza and reinforcing the northern border against potential attacks by Hezbollah.

To maintain a military presence in the West Bank, thousands of reservists were mobilized, forming “regional defense” battalions. The government also strengthened “emergency response units” composed of armed civilians.

Activists and Palestinians claim that many of these units include far-right Jewish settlers, exacerbating violence and harassment. Amid this turmoil, the distinction between settlers, reservists, and emergency unit members blurs, leading to uncertainty about who is responsible for the escalating violence.

Dror Sadot, spokesperson for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, describes a situation resembling joint militias of settlers and soldiers, with unclear lines of authority.

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