Israel raids: Why are so many Palestinians being killed?

Al Jazeera breaks down the reason for the sharp increase in the number of Palestinians killed by Israel in recent months.

Israeli soldiers detain an injured Palestinian during clashes
Israeli forces have conducted near-daily raids in the occupied West Bank as part of an operation called 'Break the Wave' [File: Mussa Qawasma/Reuters]

Ramallah, occupied West Bank – Israel has continued to step up its near-daily raids across the occupied West Bank, killing scores of Palestinians over the past year.

The spike in killings comes as part of intensified nightly raids by Israeli forces, particularly in the northern occupied cities of Jenin and Nablus, under the banner of crushing limited Palestinian armed resistance.

Civilians confronting the army during raids and uninvolved bystanders have been killed, as well as Palestinian fighters in targeted assassinations and during armed clashes.

More than 170 Palestinians, including at least 30 children, were killed across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem last year. In January 2023 alone, at least 29 Palestinians including five children have been killed.

The UN said that 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians since 2006, but 2023 is already on course to surpass that, if the number of deaths stay at the same level, and there is now the potential for a full-scale uprising among Palestinians, particularly in the wake of Israel’s new far-right government, which came into power at the end of December.

What led to the uptick in violence?

  • Tensions on the ground have kept escalating since the May 2021 Palestinian popular “outburst” that swept across the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel.
  • It began with protests against forced displacement of Palestinian families in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah and led to a war with the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad armed groups in the besieged Gaza Strip.
  • Israel’s crackdown included the targeting of fighters affiliated with these groups in the West Bank.
  • A string of individual attacks by Palestinians also killed 19 people in Israel between March and May.

What is Israel’s current tactic?

  • While the state of armed resistance in the West Bank was largely dismantled by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel following the end of the second Intifada (uprising) in 2005, the city of Jenin and its refugee camp re-emerged in 2021 as a centre of armed resistance, and Nablus followed suit.
  • Israel then launched its military campaign called “Break the Wave” in March 2022, which has directly led to the high number of Palestinian casualties.
  • Israel says it is targeting fighters, but unarmed civilians, including children, are often killed during the raids.
  • Israel has also attacked the blockaded Gaza Strip this year. In August, a three-day assault killed at least 49 Palestinians, including 17 children.

Who are the armed groups emerging in the West Bank?

  • In September, the first of a handful of armed resistance groups announced itself as the “Jenin Brigades”.
  • Other groups have also emerged, such as the Nablus Brigades, the Lions’ Den, the Balata Brigades and, most recently in Jenin, the Yabad Brigades.
  • While small in number, these groups have come to pose a challenge to the Israeli army during raids and arrest operations by responding with live fire and engaging in armed clashes.
  • They also carry out shootings at Israeli checkpoints which have led to an increase in the killing of soldiers and settlers in recent months.

How have things changed under Israel’s new government?

  • The increased raids and killings of Palestinians were a policy under the previous government of centrist Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
  • Israeli settler attacks on Palestinians, particularly in Nablus, sharply increased during this period, with the military accused of doing little to stop the attacks, and settlers calling for a heavier Israeli military crackdown on the northern West Bank.
  • The new far-right Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given prominent roles to members of the Israeli far-right, including some, such as Itamar Ben-Gvir, who have expressed support for Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish Israeli who killed 29 Palestinians at the Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994.
  • Ben-Gvir is the national security minister, with control over Israel Border Police’s division in the West Bank.
  • Another far-right figure, Bezalel Smotrich, was given control of COGAT, the Israeli army body in charge of administering the West Bank. Smotrich has openly encouraged violence against Palestinians. His role means that he oversees the already extremely restricted rules over Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank – approximately 60 percent of the territory that is under full Israeli military and civil control.

What has been the reaction to the raids?

  • Many Palestinians have criticised Israel for the raids, accusing Israel of using its military campaign to carry out unlawful killings without accountability.
  • Several of the killings have caused particular outrage among Palestinians, including one in December, when a 16-year-old girl in Jenin was shot dead on the roof of her home during an army raid.
  • Other cases include the killing of an 18-year-old student on his way to school, and a 15-year-old while she was in a car.
  • In May, Israeli forces also killed Al Jazeera’s veteran Palestinian correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh while she was covering a raid on Jenin.
  • More than 9,000 Palestinians have been injured by Israeli forces in the West Bank since the start of the 2022, according to the UN.
  • International bodies and politicians have also chimed in to express “concern” over Israel’s lethal use of force.
Source: Al Jazeera