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Home / News / Rise in violence has West Bank back at heart of UN agenda

Rise in violence has West Bank back at heart of UN agenda

While the international spotlight has been focused on Gaza, the surge in settler-related violence in the West Bank has received less attention.

But last week’s killing of a young Israeli settler and the deadly retaliatory attacks on Palestinian villages and communities has put the issue of settlements back at the heart of the UN’s agenda.

In the Security Council debate on the Middle East on Thursday, during which full Palestinian membership was also discussed but vetoed by the US, ambassadors spoke out against the latest round of violence.

A 14-year-old Israeli boy was killed as he tended sheep near his settlement. Four Palestinians were then killed and dozens more injured when armed settlers attacked Palestinian villages in revenge, setting fire to property and destroying homes and schools, according to the UN Human Rights Office.

Three Israeli soldiers were also injured.

The US Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, Robert Wood said: “We strongly condemn these murders, and our thoughts are with their loved ones.”

“Civilians are never legitimate targets,” Mr Wood told the Security Council.

“We call on the authorities to take measures to protect all communities from harm, and we urge Israel and the Palestinian Authority to do everything possible to de-escalate tensions,” he said.

The US representative added that the US would continue to impose sanctions on people involved in violent activities in the West Bank.

Robert Wood told the Security Council that ‘civilians are never legitimate targets’

The United States is Israel’s staunchest ally at the United Nations but has hardened its line on Israeli settlers in recent months.

This issue has become a flashpoint in the increasingly strained relationship between US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has actively promoted the expansion of settlements, already deemed illegal under international law.

The Israeli government disputes the illegality of settlements.

In February, the US government sanctioned four Israeli settlers over violence against Palestinians and Israeli activists.

Yesterday, the US Treasury announced fresh sanctions against two entities accused of fundraising for illegal settlers. The European Council took similar measures.

And in the Security Council earlier this week, the UK Ambassador Barbara Woodward said it was clear that settlements were illegal, and that Israel must “halt settlement expansion immediately”.

It was a rare point of unity among Security Council members and UN officials.

Smoke rises among buildings in the Nur Shams refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, during an Israeli army raid

In a statement this week, the UN’s Human Rights chief Volker Türk said the escalating violence was “a matter of grave concern”.

“It was also reported that settlers established at least two new outposts in the past two days in the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hills, near Palestinian communities which have been repeatedly attacked by settlers in the past months and are at imminent risk of being forcibly transferred from their homes and land,” he said.

In his briefing to the UN Security Council, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres said that more than 450 Palestinians, including 112 children, had been killed in the occupied West Bank since 7 October, “the majority by Israeli forces in the course of their operations, and in exchanges between Israeli forces and armed Palestinians”.

“Others were killed by armed Israeli settlers, sometimes in the presence of Israeli security forces who reportedly stood by and did nothing to prevent these killings,” he said.

Residents inspect rubble after Israeli soldiers demolished the houses of two Palestinian prisoners using bulldozers and explosives

Mr Guterres told Council members that last year saw the highest number of such attacks, and incidents of violence and intimidation against Palestinian communities, since the United Nations began recording them in 2006.

“17 Israelis, including one child, have also been killed in the occupied West Bank and Israel since 7 October,” he said.

“In addition to this number, the reported killing of a 14-year-old Israeli boy over the weekend set off another wave of armed settler attacks against at least 37 Palestinian villages in the occupied West Bank. Four Palestinians were killed, including a 17-year-old boy,” he told the Council.

Mr Guterres said he called on Israel “as the occupying power, to protect the Palestinian population of the occupied West Bank against attacks, violence and intimidation”.

He said the backdrop to the surge in violence was the continued expansion of Israeli settlements “in themselves a violation of international law – and repeated large-scale Israeli operations in Palestinian areas”.

Charred cars sit at the entrance of the occupied West Bank village of Duma

“Declarations that areas now constitute Israeli state land, together with legal decisions that strengthen settlements and potentially increase demolitions and evictions, risk undermining the contiguity of a future Palestinian state and deny hope to a generation of Palestinians,” he said.

Members of the United Nations Security Council repeatedly call for a two-state solution where Israel and Palestine would exist in separate states inside internationally recognised borders.

The UN’s vision for a Palestinian state includes Gaza, east Jerusalem and the West Bank which has been occupied by Israel since 1967.

But more than half a million Israeli settlers now live in the occupied West Bank and the Israeli government has vowed to carry on expanding settlements, despite growing condemnation from the international community, including the United States.

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