A Nakba is unfolding in the occupied West Bank, too

Israeli forces and settlers are terrorising the Palestinian population in the West Bank in preparation for its expulsion and the annexation of Palestinian land.

Men walk amid the debris of damaged buildings following an overnight Israeli incursion in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. [Zain Jaafar/AFP]
Men walk amid the debris of buildings the Israeli army damaged during a raid on the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank on November 26, 2023 [Zain Jaafar/AFP]

Over the past month and a half, Israel’s genocidal goals in Gaza have become increasingly clear. Not only is the Israeli army mass-slaughtering civilians, but it is also carpet-bombing the enclave with the aim of destroying all civilian infrastructure meant to sustain life.

Hospitals, schools, water treatment plans, any source of electricity – including solar panels – warehouses and farms have been targeted. This has rendered the strip unliveable, forcing the Palestinians there into another Nakba.

But it is not only in Gaza that Israel hopes to get rid of the Palestinian population. The Israeli ethnic cleansing effort extends to the occupied West Bank where Israel is moving forward with a similar – albeit a more surreptitious – plan.

Annexation plans and a problem

To separate the continuing genocide in Gaza from the broader Palestinian context is to deny that the target of Israeli crimes is neither Hamas nor the Gaza Strip, but rather the Palestinian existence in historical Palestine as a whole.

This is not an imagined Palestinian fear, but a reality that even the forefathers of the Israeli state constantly and openly admitted to.

“There is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries, and to transfer all of them, save perhaps for [the Arabs of] Bethlehem, Nazareth and Old Jerusalem,” Joseph Weitz, the director of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) wrote in his diary in 1940.

“Not one village must be left, not one [Bedouin] tribe. And only after this transfer will the country be able to absorb millions of our brothers and the Jewish problem will cease to exist. There is no other solution,” he concluded.

The Jewish militias that carried out a campaign of massive ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to establish Israel did not take over the West Bank and Gaza in 1948 not because they did not desire it, but because they lacked the capacity. International pressure and the limit of their own military capabilities prevented it.

At the same time, these territories conveniently served as destinations for the Palestinians expelled from the Mediterranean coastline, cities such as Yaffa, Safad, Lydd and the villages around them, which the militias had taken over.

The war of 1967 gave Israel the opportunity to fulfil its goal to rule over all of historical Palestine. It occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, in addition to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Syria’s Golan Heights, which remains occupied to this day.

Since then, various plans have been drawn up for annexing a part of, or the whole of, the West Bank and Gaza while pushing out the Palestinian population either into isolated bantustans or towards neighbouring Jordan and Egypt.

The building of more than 150 illegal Israeli settlements and 120 outposts throughout the occupied West Bank is a policy that stems from these plans. It was also the plan in Gaza until 2005 when Israel dismantled its settlements and besieged the strip two years later.

Under the pretext of “protecting” the 700,000-strong settler population, Israel has encroached on more and more Palestinian land, expelling more and more Palestinians from their communities and denying them access to their farms, grazing land and olive groves. This has harmed Palestinian livelihood and self-sufficiency.

It has also emboldened and encouraged settlers to harass, torture and kill Palestinians in their own land. This, combined with policies aimed at strangulating the Palestinian economy and pushing the majority of Palestinians into a state of constant precarity, has the ultimate goal of forcing the Palestinian population to “voluntarily” leave.

Preparing for the Nakba

Over the past year, the Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu ramped up these policies. By the time Hamas launched its October 7 offensive, the situation in the occupied West Bank had long been intolerable.

The year 2023 was shaping to be the deadliest for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since the UN began documenting fatalities in 2006. By October 7, Israeli forces and settlers had killed some 248 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, including at least 45 children.

The Israeli military, in coordination with the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces, undertook violent raids and massacres across the West Bank with a focus on the northern districts of Nablus, Jenin, and Tulkarem.

The number of settler attacks on Palestinian communities also skyrocketed and grew in both scope and violence. In February, settlers carried out a pogrom in the Palestinian town of Huwara.

In June, the Israeli government and its Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced new measures facilitating and accelerating the annexation of Palestinian land. By July, the approved expansions of Israeli settlements had reached record highs.

The Palestinian economy – already on the verge of disaster – suffered even more from the destruction of infrastructure and the curbing of the freedom of movement by Israeli forces and settlers.

Demolitions of Palestinian homes and livelihood structures increased. More than 750 such buildings had been destroyed by October 1, displacing more than 1,100 Palestinians.

All these processes, aimed at the ultimate expulsion of Palestinians and the annexation of their land, were already going in full force before October 7. Israel then used the opportunity following Hamas’s October 7 attack to accelerate them.

And while until then, the “death to Arabs” chants could be heard publicly mostly at settlers’ gatherings, after October 7, a majority of Israelis felt quite comfortable with voicing openly this sentiment between themselves and to the world.

Over the past 50 days, Israel has killed 249 Palestinians in the West Bank, including at least 60 children. The Israeli raids on Palestinian villages, towns and refugee camps across the occupied West Bank have intensified in scope, severity and the use of lethal weapons, including automatic rifles, tanks and “Maoz” suicide drones.

We have reached record highs of Palestinians arrested and put under administrative detention – Israel’s formalised version of kidnapping. At least 3,260 Palestinians have been arrested across the occupied West Bank since October 7, including many children. The 150 Palestinians released so far under the hostage exchange deal are also likely to be re-arrested.

Reports and video evidence of abuse and torture in detention have multiplied. Palestinians are also routinely harassed and beaten even within their homes or in the streets.

Encouraged and armed by the Israeli authorities, the Israeli settlers have also become even more violent. They have ramped up forced expulsions of Palestinian Bedouin communities in the south near the Jordan Valley and in the central areas near Ramallah, displacing more than 1,000 people since October 7.

These practices have also had a devastating impact on the Palestinian economy. The Israeli army has closed major checkpoints across the occupied West Bank, paralysing transportation almost completely. Day labourers have struggled to earn a living, while food stocks are dwindling and imports are held for longer at Israeli ports.

The health sector is also in a state of crisis, unable to handle the spiking number of injured people alongside patients. To make matters worse, the Israeli army has also taken to besieging hospitals in the West Bank.

These tactics all serve to spread fear and despair among the Palestinians, ultimately preparing them for annexation and expulsion.

Eliminating resistance

Today, we are witnessing a continuation of the Nakba in Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli goal is to ultimately expel the Palestinians and attempt to assimilate the survivors, as it tried to do with the 1948 Palestinians.

Today, those survivors have Israeli citizenship, but are treated as second-class citizens and often exposed to discriminatory and violent practices by Jewish-Israeli citizens and the authorities.

Facing this looming catastrophe, the Palestinians in the West Bank are left to fend for themselves.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is the only Palestinian actor with access to weapons, but it has done nothing to protect Palestinians against Israeli violence. The 10,500-strong National Security Forces are trained by the United States and Jordan in policing, not in confronting another armed force.

Worse still, these forces and the intelligence units, have directly assisted Israel in attacking and dismantling any pockets of armed resistance in the West Bank in recent years. Contrary to Israeli propaganda claims, the youth that have decided to take up arms – mostly concentrated in Jenin and Nablus – are not part of Hamas; some are members of Fatah or are defectors from the PA’s forces, but many have no political affiliation at all.

Since October 7, the Israeli army has focused on eradicating these resistance groups so that the civilian population in the West Bank would be completely defenceless in the face of violence, dispossession and expulsion.

But as Israel ramps up the violence, the Palestinian resistance is coming to the fore. The Palestinians will not stop struggling against occupation and apartheid simply because they cannot afford to.

No one wants to live on the brink of survival, pushed and kept there at gunpoint by a foreign regime.

The least the world can do is stop falling for Israeli propaganda and uphold the Palestinian right to resist its coloniser and oppressor in pursuit of liberation. This is the time to muster up the bravery to speak up and stop Israel’s genocidal drive. This is where the history books offer us the sobering recognition that violent apartheid states built on massacres are neither legitimate, nor sustainable.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.