Israel and Palestinian have had their share of violence to say the least, but in recent months, there has been a renewed uptick in violence, which the United Nations acknowledged. Stemming from the controversial projects of expansion into the West Bank, attacks between Israelis and Palestinians have put both into a crossroads in an already bloodletting region.
Tensions have risen over the past couple of years amid turbulence in several unsuccessful cabinets in Tel Aviv, policies of settler expansion, and deadly attacks by Palestinian militias and IDF raids. What makes the renewed conflict different from others is that civilians have taken vigilante methods into their own hands—which has put political leaders on both sides in a hot seat.
Hit and Run Tactics and Collective Punishment
Several raids by the IDF have occurred amongst rising paramilitary organizations in the West Bank. The raids neutralized several high-profile commanders, but they also caused Palestinian civilian casualties and property damage.
Militant groups have shifted from military confrontation to hit and run attacks, perhaps to goad the IDF into retaliatory measures against Palestinians, which would only swell recruitment—a tactic used frequently throughout the various conflicts in the modern Middle East.
These hit and run tactics were confirmed with a visual investigation by the New York Times on a confrontation that took place in the West Bank city of Nablus on Feb. 22. The deadly clashes left over a hundred civilians wounded as the IDF targeted the Lion’s Den militia.
The raid showed a lone gunman firing a single shot towards an IDF convoy and then immediately fleeing amongst a large group of bystanders. Instead of dismounting or making sure they have visual sights of the suspect, the convoy immediately fired upon the crowd indiscriminately, killing two civilians.
The return of fire showed the recklessness and lack of situational awareness by the soldiers, who now potentially radicalized a new generation of fighters that militant groups look to recruit. This lack of small unit leadership and doctrine historically backfired as tactics like these during the Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon turned the Lebanese public against them. Collective punishment and lack of control in the fog of war played a major role in Lebanese public opinion turning against the country, along Hezbollah swelling its ranks from the Shia locals.
Frustration has mounted on the Palestinian side as negotiations have stalled for several years. In Israel, successive unstable governments have allowed extremist settlers to move freely and harass locals without repercussions—with attacks reaching the Christian and Armenian Quarters of Jerusalem.
Huwara Rampage and Its Repercussions
The lack of prosecuting against the extremist wings under Israel’s judiciary has emboldened them and the rising attacks by Palestinian militant groups and negligence of the Knesset to the issues only exacerbated the ethnic tensions culminating in one of the worst revenge pogroms in the Middle East since the Lebanese Civil War—the rampage in Huwara.
Prior to the rampage on the city, a militant killed two Israeli brothers, which ignited the settlers near the city. The extremist settlers, who have taken advantage of the heightened tensions and lack of prosecution against them, took matters into their own hands in a vigilante style of revenge pogrom—a phrase which IDF General Yehuda Fuchs even acknowledged.
Dozens of Palestinian homes, cars, and shops were torched, dozens of locals were harassed and wounded and one aid worker who recently came back from rescuing people in Turkey was killed.
Israelis immediately moved to crowdfund nearly a million shekels for the Palestinian victims of the pogrom but the settler leader, Igal Malka immediately praised the provocateurs, showing the actions of hardliners in the government and West Bank must be addressed before the situation gets out of control.
What made the rampage even more abhorrent was that there was no police or military presence around to stop them, even when an IDF HQ brigade was just minutes from the site, which raised questions on if Netanyahu’s coalition is losing control or if they allowed these attacks to benefit from the hardline support. The State Department would also raise this issue with a report that Tel Aviv rarely prosecuted settler attacks in the West Bank and looked the other way on various occasions.
International Reaction to Growing Violence
The Biden administration called on Netanyahu’s coalition to hold the settlers accountable the same way they hold militant groups responsible for violence. The close knit relationship of DC and Tel Aviv has arguably played into Tehran and Moscow’s hands, as Putin has used Western hypocrisy when it comes to human rights and lack of care in other areas of the world as one of his excuses during his inhumane invasion of Ukraine.
Jordan and Egypt, the first two nations in the region to normalize ties with Israel are working to hold a renewed peace talks before the situation spirals downward, as a new intifada would have reaching effects on their own nations.
Even with the uptick of violence, the Abraham Accords have held strongly with Sudan becoming the next Islamic nation to formalize ties with Israel. It is expected the UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia will play a major diplomatic role in bringing both sides back to the negotiating table as heightened tensions have played into the hands of the Mullahs.
The IRGC has benefited the most from renewed violence, especially as tensions between Tehran and Tel Aviv are at an all-time high over breaches of the nuclear program. The commander of the Quds Force recently stated they have active cells in the West Bank and the shadow war has grown between the top two military juggernauts of the Middle East.
Iranian rocket shipments have been intercepted on numerous occasions towards Gaza and with the growing protests and social unrest in Iran, the Islamic Republic may look to instigate external conflicts as a distraction. A potential strike against Iranian nuclear facilities could see those IRGC sleeper cells playing a major role if a Third Intifada develops if peace talks were to break down fully.
It is imperative for both sides to come together for peace talks before the situation boils into a regional one but at the same time doctrines must be addressed. The collective punishment method, especially during firefights and aftermath have only emboldened and swelled the ranks of militant groups and renewed expansions amongst a hardline government could cause a breakdown in negotiations.
Nonetheless, the hit and run tactics, targeting civilians, and firing amongst crowds of people by militant groups have played a role in civilian casualties and these methods historically turned sympathetic nations to the Palestinian cause against them, such as Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan. Until these issues are addressed between both states, a cycle of violence and generational trauma will unfortunately continue.
[Photo by IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, via Wikimedia Commons]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Julian McBride is a forensic anthropologist and independent journalist born in New York. He is the founder and director of the Reflections of War Initiative (ROW), an anthropological NGO which aims to tell the stories of the victims of war through art therapy. As a former Marine, he uses this technique not only to help heal PTSD but also to share people’s stories through art, which conveys “the message of the brutality of war better than most news organizations.”