When hundreds of extremist settlers rampaged through the Israeli-occupied West Bank town of Hawara in February in the wake of the murder of two settlers, Palestinian residents thought they were going to be burned alive.
The incident was not new as the town has been the target of frequent arson attacks orchestrated by groups of extremist settlers. But the scale of the latest raid was unprecedented.
Worse, a senior minister in the incumbent far-right led government, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, called for Hawara to be “erased”, while eyewitnesses said the inaction of Israeli police and soldiers was nothing new in the murky politics of the occupation.
It’s no wonder that the town’s residents are living in a state of fear. If you pay a visit a house there or other houses in the villages and towns encircled by Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, you can easily spot Palestinian protective and precautionary measures: CCTVs, barbed wires and vigilantes.
At the scene of the crime, the houses’ walls have been scrawled with the words “price tag” in Hebrew. That’s the message the extremist settlers want to send to the Palestinians that they will pay a heavy price collectively.
Settler violence on the rise
The Hawara incident has cast light on Israel’s far-right violent extremists. Israeli extremists had killed Palestinians who did not present an imminent threat to life or of serious injury, including people praying in a mosque, members of a family with their 18-month toddler, a Palestinian teenager from occupied East Jerusalem, who was kidnapped and burned alive. They were further accused of attempting to bomb Al Aqsa Mosque.
They are staunch supporters of the settlement project and want to seize more lands as deep as they can inside the Palestinian territories. Israeli settlements are illegal, and the occupation of the West Bank is unlawful under international law.
Today, more than 700,000 settlers live in nearly 300 settlements and outposts in the occupied West Bank. This is compared to around 120,000 settlers in the 1990s.
The extremist settlers further seek to undermine Palestinian ties to Jerusalem by taking part in an annual march through the Old City’s Muslim quarter, chanting racist and offensive phrases such as “Death to Arabs.”
According to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2022 was the sixth year of consecutive annual increase in the number of Israeli settler attacks and hate crimes in the occupied West Bank.
Extremist settlers launched more than 800 attacks on Palestinians and Palestinian properties last year, compared to an average of 200 attacks in 2009.
The violent acts include assault, throwing stones, issuing threats, torching fields, destroying trees and crops, stealing crops, using live fire, damaging homes and cars, and, in rare cases, homicide.