UN condemns increase in West Bank settlement

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk released a statement March 8 condemning Israel's latest expansion of settlements in the West Bank as well as the marked increase in "illegal" Israeli settlements over the last year, along with increasing extremist settler violence against Palestinians residing in the territory.

Türk stated: "The West Bank is already in crisis. Yet, settler violence and settlement-related violations have reached shocking new levels, and risk eliminating any practical possibility of establishing a viable Palestinian State." 

Türk pointed to a February report to the UN Human Rights Council by his office, which highlighted a significant expansion in Israeli settlements in the West Bank from Nov. 1, 2022 to Oct. 31, 2023. According to the report, about 24,300 new housing units were built in existing Israeli settlements, the biggest leap the UN has recorded since monitoring began in 2017. The report also highlighted the increase in violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, with 1,222 Palestinians from 19 herding communities being displaced, nine Palestinians killed in gun violence incidents by settlers, and 396 Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces.

Türk concluded:

Israel's actions against the Palestinian population must cease immediately. The only way forward is to find a viable political solution that finally ends the occupation, establishes an independent Palestinian state and guarantees the realization of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.

Israel's diplomatic mission to Geneva condemned the report and the statements from Türk, writing:

In his report published today, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has once again totally ignored the deaths of 36 Israelis including women and children and one tourist, and the 296 injured as a result of Palestinian terrorism in 2023, before and after October 7. Human rights are universal, yet Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism are ignored by the Office time and time again.

Türk's comments come two days after Israel approved a major increase in building permits in the West Bank. The US, one of Israel's strongest international allies, condemned the expansion, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stating: "It has been a long-standing policy of both Democratic and Republican administrations that new settlements are counterproductive to achieving enduring peace. They are also inconsistent with international law. Our administration maintains a firm opposition to settlement expansion."

From Jurist, March 8. Used with permission.

Note: Under international law, all settlement structures on the West Bank are illegal. Only a minority are considered illegal by Israel

Ben-Gvir salutes officer who killed Palestinian child

Israel's Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir praised the killing of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy by a border guard at Shu'fat refugee camp in East Jerusalem March 12.

In a Telegram post, the minister, who is considered an extremist even within Israel's far-right ruling coalition, applauded the soldier and expressed his support for his actions.

"I support the border guard fighters who are operating at this time and are risking their lives now against dozens of Arab rioters in Shu'fat." Ben Gvir wrote. "I support the soldier who killed the terrorist who tried to shoot fireworks at him and the troops—this is exactly how you should act against terrorists—with determination and precision."

In video footage capturing the killing, the Palestinian boy, identified as Rami al-Halhouli, was shown playing with fireworks and holding them above his head before he suddenly falls to the ground after being shot. There was no indication of a "riot," and the border guards were not in immediate proximity. (MEE)

"You say he's a 12-year-old," Ben-Gvir latr told a press conference. "I say he's a 12-year-old terrorist who endangered one of our officers. The officer should be commended, not investigated." (BBC News)

US issues new sanctions on entities backing West Bank settlers

The Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed new sanctions Apri 19 on multiple entities that back extremist settlers in the West Bank, including the Mount Hebron Fund and Shlom Asiraich. (Jurist)

The move comes after Israeli settlers went on the largest rampage against Palestinians on the West Bank since the war in Gaza began. Settlers assaulted a number of communities after the IDF said April 13 that the body of a missing Israeli youth, 14-year-old Binyamin Achimair, was found after his death in a "terrorist attack." Witnesses said settlers assaulted a number of communities. One Palestinian was killed and 25 others were wounded in the attack on al-Mughayyir village. Israeli troops reportedly delayed for several hours the ambulance carrying the body of the slain Palestinian, Jehad Abu Alia, for burial. (AP)

Israeli raids cause 'worst destruction in decades' on West Bank

Israeli forces on April 20 killed at least 14 Palestinians in a series of raids in the West Bank refugee camp of Nur Shams, near Tulkarm. Homes and shops were bulldozed in the raids, in the worst destruction the West Bank has seen in decades. The raids reportedly targeted the Tulkarm Brigades, which brings together forces from numerous Palestinian factions. (Al Jazeera, Reuters)

US to sanction ultra-orthodox Israeli army battalion

The US is expected to impose sanctions on the IDF's ultra-orthodox Netzah Yehuda battalion because of its involvement in human rights violations in the West Bank, and is considering measures against other military and police units in Israel, sources in the Biden administration told Haaretz

The Netzah Yehuda battalion, part of the Kfir brigade, was set up originally in 1999 to accommodate the religious beliefs of recruits from the ultra-Orthodox and national religious communities, including those from extremist settlements, and has historically been primarily deployed on the West Bank.

Soldiers from the unit were accused in the death of a 78-year-old US citizen, Omar Assad, who died of a heart attack in January 2022 after being detained, bound, gagged and then abandoned by members of the unit.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will fight against any efforts to impose sanctions on Israeli military units. (The Guardian)

US accuses Israel military units of human rights violations

Five Israeli military units have committed gross human rights violations, according to the US State Department on April 29. Despite these findings, all of the units currently remain eligible for US military aid. According to the US and Israel, four units have effectively remediated the violations, but discussions continue regarding the remaining Israel Defense Forces (IDF) unit. All alleged violations occurred before Oct. 7, and none were in Gaza.

In a press conference, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken's spokesperson, Vendant Patel, was questioned by reporters as to whether sanctions would be implemented in compliance with the Leahy law. Patel repeatedly emphasized that the government has a rigorous process that cannot be rushed. He added that the standard of remediation is different for each country. Reporters from numerous news organizations challenged Patel on whether the Israeli government is receiving "special treatment" in this case. Patel defended the State Department's policy, saying it is consistent and rooted in what the department believes is best for international stability and the safety of the American people. (Jurist)

UK issues new sanctions on entities backing West Bank settlers

The UK government announced a new package of sanctions May 3 on Israeli extremist groups and individuals that are implicated in settler violence on the West Bank. The sanctions include financial and travel restrictions. This is the second set of sanctions to be imposed by the UK against perpetrators of settler violence against Palestinians, the first being in February. (Jurist)