(Updated translation of a joint statement, originally published in Arabic on 16 December 2023)
Since the beginning of the year, the Israeli occupying forces (IOF) and Israeli settlers have continued to commit crimes against Palestinians and their properties in the West Bank, including occupied Jerusalem. This has significantly increased since the start of the ongoing military aggression on the Gaza Strip on 7 October 2023. Throughout this period, there has been a staggering and alarming escalation in the Israeli killing of Palestinians, destruction of property, arrests, and other crimes.
Israel’s crimes are escalating in the West Bank concurrently with ongoing crimes in the occupied and besieged Gaza Strip, including the crime of genocide, the most heinous crime in the international legal order, which includes the genocidal acts of killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; and deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in part, as per the Genocide Convention. This was preceded by statements of intent by Israeli political and military officials – a critical constitutive and distinctive element of the crime of genocide.
Willful killing and obstruction of ambulances access:
The IOF and settlers escalated their killing of Palestinians in the West Bank. According to the monitoring of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Al Mezan, and Al-Haq, the IOF and settlers killed 495 Palestinians in the West Bank from the beginning of the year and until 19 December, including a Palestinian from the village of Hura in the Naqab, and a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip. Among those killed, 295 were killed since 7 October, including 76 children and a woman. Also, among those who have been killed since the start of 2023 are at least 17 Palestinians who were killed by Israeli settlers, residing illegally in the West Bank, including at least nine Palestinians who were killed after 7 October 2023.
Among the Palestinians killed were those whose deaths could have been prevented. This includes those left to bleed out after sustaining wounds, and others in ambulances stopped or obstructed en route to hospitals. Furthermore, during its 60-hour-long military attack on Jenin, starting on 12 December, the IOF also besieged Jenin Governmental Hospital and were sporadically present in the vicinity of Ibn Sina Hospital, causing delays in the arrival of many wounded Palestinians to hospitals for treatment, and ultimately, depriving those who succumbed to their wounds of the urgent need for timely medical care, which could have saved their lives. According to paramedics and eyewitnesses, the IOF further stopped and searched ambulances, under the pretext of verifying the identities of the injured.
For example, on Tuesday, 12 December, at approximately 4:00 pm, the IOF shot and injured Fouad Imad Fayez Abahra, 24 years old, in the centre of Jenin city, near the Jenin Governmental Hospital. Fouad sustained a gunshot wound to his left thigh, causing severe bleeding. However, when paramedics attempted to transfer him to the hospital in an attempt to save his life, the IOF stopped the ambulance, impeding its movement under the pretext of verifying his identity. Despite not having his ID on him, the IOF insisted on confirming his identity and ensuring he was not a “wanted” person. This process invoked a 10–15-minute delay before eventually allowing the ambulance to leave.
Fouad was then taken by paramedics to Al-Razi Hospital, a journey lasting around three-four minutes instead of Jenin’s Governmental Hospital, which is only around 200 metres away – a decision made to avoid the further hindering and obstruction by the IOF surrounding Jenin’s Governmental Hospital at the time. However, even with this expedited effort, immediately upon arrival at Al-Razi Hospital, doctors announced Fouad’s death, which could have been prevented if not for the obstruction by the IOF and the besiegement of Jenin Governmental Hospital.
Our monitoring and documentation show that, in many instances where an injured person is deemed “wanted” by the IOF, they proceed to arrest the person, without consideration for their health condition. This pattern was observed consistently in most Israeli military attacks on the cities of Jenin and Tulkarm and refugee camps therein throughout the year.
Demolition and destruction of property:
The Israeli occupying authorities and settlers also continued to demolish Palestinian homes and vandalise their property. From the beginning of the year until 14 December 2023, the IOF and settlers damaged or demolished 387 Palestinian structures and about 330 homes, which led to the forcible displacement of 1,375 Palestinians, including 636 children. Notably, of those demolished, 32 homes were punitively demolished, and 33 homes were destroyed during Israeli military attacks on refugee camps in the northern West Bank. Furthermore, among the destroyed structures, 24 were destroyed by settlers, 18 of which occurred after October 7, 2023.
Between 7 October and 14 December 2023, 66 commercial establishments and businesses and 91 homes were destroyed and demolished, forcibly displacing 450 Palestinians, including 205 children. Notably, among the demolished homes, 17 were demolished punitively, and 13 were destroyed during a military attack, as over 18 structures were demolished by settlers.
Additionally, since 7 October 2023, the IOF have escalated their arbitrary arrests and detention in the West Bank, including occupied Jerusalem. Between 7 October and 19 December 2023, the IOF arrested over 4,500 Palestinians, including children, women, and journalists. Notably, of those arrested and continue to be detained, approximately half are held under administrative detention without charge or trial. Beyond being acts of vengeance, these mass arrests may also be a calculated move to use the detainees as bargaining chips in any subsequent political negotiations. The IOF has subjected detainees and their families to inhumane and aggressive treatment during arrests. In many instances, the IOF assaulted and beat the detainees while arresting them, assaulted their families, and damaged and vandalised their homes.
Restriction of freedom of movement:
The IOF also increased the number of checkpoints in the West Bank, tightening restrictions on freedom of movement and cutting off West Bank cities and villages from each other. Palestinians endure inhumane and degrading treatment at checkpoints. Our organisations have documented a number of instances in which the IOF mistreated and abused Palestinians at checkpoints after checking their mobile phones, and found that they were visiting websites deemed and considered inciteful by the occupying authorities.
Israeli settlers escalated their crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank, especially during the olive harvest season. Throughout the year, these attacks included physically assaulting, shooting and killing Palestinians, targeting and damaging Palestinian properties, and preventing Palestinian farmers from reaching their farmlands.
The Israeli occupying authorities and the IOF have systematically played a significant role in encouraging settler violence against Palestinians. In addition to the lack of accountability for the crimes committed by Israeli settlers, including murder and arson, they have been lately reinforced to hold more arms by the occupying authorities. Since 7 October 2023, more than 260,000 Israeli requests for firearm permits have been submitted, and these same firearms are often used to kill Palestinians with impunity.
Settlers are exerting pressure, particularly on Bedouin and herding communities, to forcibly displace them from their homes. One method of intimidation and threats employed by settlers is the theft and stealing of families’ cattle. In one incident, a settler known as “Musa” threatened Jamal Suleiman Malihat, a Palestinian resident of Al-Mu’rajat community near Jericho, telling him “You are yet to be frightened and leave!”. Additionally, the IOF contributes to the state of fear and intimidation among Palestinian families. For example, after raiding the village of Hizma, north of Jerusalem, the IOF threw an artificial leg with the words “Whoever plays with a sword may have his leg cut off” written in Arabic. Other methods of intimidation include the distribution of leaflets, ordering West Bank residents to leave for Jordan. Our organisations have documented several instances of such intimidation.
Furthermore, settlers launched a Telegram channel called “the Nazi Hunters,” which collects and publishes the photos, names and home addresses of Palestinian activists in the West Bank as well as Palestinians with Israeli citizenships, including journalists, artists, and religious leaders. The individuals’ photos bear a menacing shooting target, serving as a blatant threat.
Simultaneously, Israel continued to expand its colonial settlement enterprise in the West Bank; as one billion dollars was allocated this year for settlement development and expansion.
Our organisations assert that the objective behind the Israeli crimes is the deliberate undermining of the presence of the Palestinian people in the land of Mandatory Palestine, aiming to perpetuate and entrench the colonial settlement project on the ruins of the Palestinian people. What Israel, the occupying power, is currently orchestrating in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – forcibly displacing Palestinians –represents and stands as the clearest manifestation and blatant epitome of its 75-year-old apartheid regime and its over 100-year-old Zionist settler colonial project. Indeed, which began more than a hundred years ago and is now close to completion, especially in the absence of even the slightest accountability measures by the international community.
Third States have absolved themselves of any legal obligations, with some justifying Israeli crimes under labels that bear no legal merit within international law in this context, such as Israel’s right to “self-defence”. Justice institutions, spearheaded by the International Criminal Court (ICC), represented by its Prosecutor, Karim Khan, resort to language to evade and sidestep their responsibilities. The language is unequivocal, assertive and firm when describing what happened on 7 October, but becomes vague and doubtful when addressing the ongoing crimes in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Furthermore, the international community tends to focus on the symptoms of the problem, not its root causes. For example, the Prosecutor of the ICC highlights “settler violence” and fails to address Israeli settlements, which are the backbone of the Zionist settler colonial project.
Therefore, our organisations reaffirm that addressing the situation in Palestine can only be done by addressing the root causes, a responsibility that squarely rests on the shoulders of the international community and its institutions. Failure to do so risks the destruction of the Palestinian struggle and the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination – an erga omnes obligation under international law – at the hands of Israel, with the complicity of the international community. The international community must fulfil its obligation, if they wish to see the international justice system succeed in its final test.