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Israeli Settlers and Soldiers Are Brutalizing Palestinians and Activists in the West Bank

Last week, the Israeli military detained, tortured, and sexually humiliated a group of Palestinians and leftist Israeli activists as part of a larger wave of attacks by Israelis in the West Bank.

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A Palestinian checks the damage at a mosque which was hit in an Israeli air strike, in Jenin refugee camp in the Israeli-occupied West Bank October 22, 2023.
Image: Raneen Sawafta/ Reuters 

While the whole world is watching the massacre Israel is carrying out in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army and groups of settlers are killing and brutalizing Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. In just two weeks, Israelis have killed more than 70 Palestinians in different cities and refugee camps.

In just one day, October 19, Israeli soldiers killed at least seven Palestinians in the Nur Shams refugee camp near the town of Tulkarem, although some sources put the number at 11. The organization Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP) reports that Israeli forces shot dead four Palestinian teenagers in the West Bank in a 24-hour period. “Israeli forces are increasingly and brazenly killing Palestinian children throughout the West Bank,” Ayed Abu Eqtaish, director of DCIP’s accountability program, said in a statement.

Last week, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an investigation even more chilling. Israeli soldiers and settlers kidnapped, tortured, and sexually humiliated a group of Palestinians and leftist Israeli activists in the West Bank village of Wadi al-Siq. Three Palestinians and three left-wing Israeli activists spoke to Haaretz about their arrest on October 12 by the Israeli army’s Desert Frontier unit, which recruited members of the far-right settler group Hilltop Youth.

The Palestinian captives, who were part of the evacuation of Wadi al-Siq after repeated settler attacks, said they were detained for hours by 20-25 armed settlers and soldiers, who abducted them by vans. They were stripped and photographed naked and in their underwear. A photograph of the three Palestinians in their underwear, blindfolded, bound and with bruises on their bodies was posted on Facebook before being deleted. One of the men, Mohammed Matar, known as Abu Hassan, told Haaretz that what they had experienced was similar to the torture and abuse of prisoners perpetrated by U.S. forces at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.

Palestinian Authority (PA) employees Abu Hassan and Mohammed Khaled, who had spent seven weeks in Wadi al-Siq helping its residents, told Haaretz reporter Hagar Shezaf that they had already gotten into their car to leave the village when “Suddenly we saw two pickup trucks with settlers in army uniforms. All were armed and some were masked.” The settlers chained them to the ground and began beating them with weapons, pinning their heads to the ground and stepping on them and tying their hands with ropes. They said it was difficult to tell who was a settler and who was a soldier.

After their initial detention, the captives said they were taken to an empty building where their eyes were covered and their hands were tied with steel wire. “They lay us face-down and one of them tore our clothes with a knife,” Hassan describes. “We were left in just our underwear.”

Khaled explained, “They continued beating us. They had an iron pipe and knives, which they also used to hit us. They beat us everywhere, hands, chest, and head too. Everywhere. They stubbed out cigarettes on us. They tried to pull out my fingernails.”

Hassan said his face was pushed into the dirt and excrement covering the floor of the empty building. They were interrogated and repeatedly asked where “they planned to carry out the stabbing attack” with the knives they allegedly had, along with personal questions about their families. Hassan described, “The violence was relentless. They poured water on us, urinated on us, and then someone holding a stick tried to shove it up my rear. I fought with all my strength until he simply gave up.”

According to the two men, they were taken out of the building covered in excrement, barefoot and in their underwear after about six hours. They were unaware that there was a third Palestinian captive, Majed, who was tied up with a rope and had his phone taken away. The three Palestinians were finally released in the afternoon by officials of the Israeli Civil Administration, Israel’s governing body in the occupied West Bank. They were taken to Ramallah hospital, seriously injured, after most of their property had been stolen.

During the same time period, settlers also held five left-wing Israeli activists for hours, including a minor. As one of the activists recounts, “When they saw us, they began chasing us. Some of them were in uniform or half uniform-half civvies, but their vehicles were civilian.”

Abu Hassan told Haaretz that he thought he was being subjected to such severe abuse because he is known among settlers as an activist who helps Palestinian herder communities in the area. He continues, “I told them that I oppose Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but they didn’t care. They said that all Arabs are shit and should be sent to Jordan. What happened has nothing to do with law or order or the conduct of a normal country. It is simply a gang, all fired up.”

These events are taking place against a backdrop of increasing violence and tension in the occupied West Bank. Israeli forces have imposed a tight blockade, closing cities, placing barriers and concrete blocks at the entrances to villages and towns, and firing on protesters. On October 17, two days before the attack on the Palestinians and leftist activists, Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, announced that his ministry would buy 10,000 rifles to arm civilian security teams and settlers, including in settlements in the occupied West Bank.

We stand against the zionist apartheid regime that oppresses, brutalizes, and murders Palestinians, in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and their fight for liberation. Free Palestine.

Originally published in Spanish on October 19 in La Izquierda Diario.

Translation by Molly Rosenzweig.

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