(JTA) — Last Friday, I experienced firsthand — again — the dangers of life in the West Bank right now.
I had joined Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the director of the Israeli human rights NGO Torat Tzedek, to deliver food to a Palestinian community whose residents are fleeing due to Jewish settler violence. Afterward, we were accompanying residents of yet another village — a small community located near the Palestinian town of Turmus Aya — that is also fleeing settler violence.
While there, about a dozen settlers showed up, many of them armed. They attacked Rabbi Ascherman, who had blocked the road with his car and then exited the vehicle. I was filming from the passenger’s seat inside the car, and one settler entered the unlocked driver’s side door. He repeatedly demanded I give him the keys, which I did not have. I was filming him, but he grabbed my phone out of my hands. Rabbi Ascherman’s phone was also stolen during the incident.
As I began exiting the car, the same settler who stole my phone told me, “Take one more step and you’re finished. I’ve already seen enough to do it.” Several soldiers, including an officer, quickly arrived on the scene, but they made no effort to detain our assailants or ensure our phones were returned.
After the incident, Rabbi Ascherman planned to file a police report. I told him that I wouldn’t be able to join.
I had a good reason. In May 2021, against the backdrop of rampant violence throughout Israel-Palestine and the war between Israel and Hamas, I was attacked by settlers. After that attack, I called the police. They arrived at the scene and told me that I was a suspect and needed to come to the police station. At the station, I was interrogated for two hours. This interrogation largely consisted of bad-faith questions such as “Are you a terrorist?” and “What were you wearing?” Two days later, I had a panic attack. Having been arrested for the crime of which I was the victim, I was too traumatized to put myself through that again.
On Oct. 7, Hamas invaded southern Israel, killing 1,400 Israelis and kidnapping over 200 civilians. Since then, Israel has been engaging in a nonstop bombardment of the Gaza Strip; one of the most densely populated areas on Earth. More than 8,000 Palestinians, including 3,000 children, have died, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.
Meanwhile, since Oct. 7, more than 100 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have been killed, mostly by soldiers but also by settlers, sometimes seemingly working together. In one instance, four Palestinians were killed by armed settlers who entered the Palestinian village of Qusra. Israeli human rights group B’tselem said of the incident that “settlers are utilizing the fact that public attention is focused elsewhere to … add fuel to the fire of violence.” Two more Palestinians were killed at the subsequent funeral. The Palestinian communities in the villages of Zanuta, Wadi Al-Siq and more have fled due to settler violence. According to the left-wing Israeli NGO Eyes on the Occupation, 10 West Bank Palestinian communities have fled since Oct. 7.
In Wadi Al-Siq, soldiers and settlers were accused of binding, stripping, beating and urinating on three Palestinians, and zip-tying and stealing the phones of Israeli activists. Some of the attackers wearing military uniforms were identified as settlers from nearby illegal outposts.
In the village of Tuwani, located in the Masafer Yatta region, a settler is seen in a video shooting a Palestinian point-blank in the stomach. A soldier was seen escorting the shooter away from the scene.
With Israeli and international media attention almost entirely focused on Gaza, reporting has lagged on the violence currently taking place in the West Bank. Giving short shrift the West Bank has exacerbated the already existing trend in which the victims of right-wing violence in the West Bank are reluctant to report their crimes to the police.
According to Israeli human rights NGO Yesh Din, between 2013 and 2015, out of “416 cases of ideologically-motivated violence, 43% of the victims of these incidents clearly stated an unwillingness to file a complaint with the Israeli police.” This percentage is sure to rise given the current political landscape. A source close to the shooting victim in Tuwani informed me that that family did not bother going to the police.
Sometimes, victims of settler violence do not go to the police because it seems like a waste of time. In cases like mine, traumatic experiences with the police and the fear of more trauma discourage victims from coming forward. In Wadi Al-Siq, state actors took part in the crime in the first place.
With all eyes on the Gaza Strip, what little accountability police and settlers faced in the West Bank may disappear. It is not in spite of the horrors occurring in Gaza, but because of them, that we must pay more attention to the similar horrors occurring throughout the West Bank.
Since the Holocaust, the story of Jewish peoplehood has been one of trauma. But inflicting trauma upon others will not heal us, and no amount of violence or killing — in Gaza or in the West Bank — will bring anyone back to life or make us safer. The violence in the West Bank is sure to invite retaliation and endanger all of us.