Does Israel aim to expand its presence in the West Bank in the coming weeks?
Appointment of new army chief
A settler as been appointed as Israel’s military chief of staff for the first time since the 1967 occupation, deepening the army’s relationship with settlers in the occupied West Bank.
Major General Herzi Halevi’s nomination was approved on Sunday, and he is expected to begin his three-year term on January 17.
Israeli settlers in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank number at least 600,000, and include those who serve in the highest ranks of the Israeli government as well as in the army and the military judicial system enforced on Palestinians.
“It isn’t surprising that we’ve come to a point where the chief of staff is a settler too,” Shabtay Bendet of the anti-settlement watchdog group Peace Now, told The Associated Press.
Critics say Halevi’s appointment reveals just how interconnected settlers and the military are. He served as head of the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, the prime special forces body of the Israeli army, as well as head of the military intelligence. He also led the Southern Command, where he oversaw operations in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz praised Halevi and his appointment. “I have no doubt that he is the right man to head the military,” Gantz said.
The military declined to make Halevi available for an interview.
Halevi is a descendant of a Jewish rabbi seen as the father of the modern settler movement. He lives in the illegal West Bank settlement of Kfar HaOranim, built on land from the Palestinian village of Saffa. It is next to the 1967 Green Line, which separates Israel from occupied territories in the West Bank and is an internationally recognised border.
Recent violence in the West Bank
At least 100 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem this year amid a massive increase in Israeli military raids.
It means this year is now on course to become the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2015.
The vast majority were shot dead by Israeli security forces and several by armed Israeli civilians.
In a small number of cases the source of gunfire – Israeli or Palestinian – is disputed, while one man was shot dead during an arrest raid carried out by Palestinian security forces.
As human rights groups express mounting alarm, the figures show nearly a fifth of the Palestinians killed were children, the youngest of whom was 14.
There now seems to be a focus on crushing Palestinian resistance group the Lions’ Den. That’s led to deadly consequences
Most recently, at least six Palestinians have been killed and 21 wounded after Israeli forces raided several areas in the West Bank, according to Palestinian officials.
Early Tuesday morning, large numbers of Israeli forces stormed the city of Nablus and were spotted by Palestinian security forces and armed fighters, according to a spokesperson for the Palestinian Fatah movement.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is establishing “urgent contacts in order to stop this aggression against our people” in Nablus, his spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh said in a statement.
“All of this will have dangerous and destructive consequences,” Abu Rudeineh said on Palestine TV.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that the Israeli army prevented its medical crews from entering the al-Qaryoun neighbourhood to evacuate the injured.
On Sunday, the Lions’ Den armed group said that one of its fighters, Tamer al-Kilani, was killed by explosives planted on a motorcycle in the Old City of Nablus.
The group described al-Kilani as one of its “fiercest fighters” and blamed Israel for the blast that killed him as he walked past.
The Israeli military declined to comment on the claim that it was behind the killing.
Israeli forces have been conducting nightly raids in the occupied West Bank since March in what it says is a bid to dismantle armed networks and thwart attacks.
In May, Israeli soldiers shot and killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while she was on assignment in Jenin, in the occupied West Bank.
Abu Akleh was wearing a press vest and was standing with other journalists when she was shot dead in a case that has been described by many parties as a targeted killing by Israeli forces.
The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine organized a rally in Gaza in support of Palestinian resistance in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem.
A member of the Political Bureau of the Democratic Front in the Gaza Strip, Saleh Nasser, affirmed that the Palestinian people chose the path of resistance in all its forms against the Israeli occupation.
“Our people are subjected to collective punishments, abuse, cold-blooded executions, arrests and demolition of homes in all cities of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip,” Nasser said.
“This is an open war that escalates daily in the worst forms of persecution and fascist racism, as well as in the implementation of policies aimed at the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population, in flagrant violation of international and humanitarian law.”
Meanwhile, organized by the PFLP, a symbolic funeral was held in Gaza on Monday to mourn Tamer Kilani, one of the leaders of the Nablus-based resistance group Lions’ Den.
Thousands participated in the funeral, which was organized by the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the armed wing of the PFLP.
Does Israel aim to expand its presence?
Diana Buttu, a Palestinian commentator, said having a settler as chief of staff raises concerns that the military’s conduct towards the Palestinians will worsen, further entrench Israel’s occupation and make the creation of a Palestinian state all the more impossible.
“There’s this fiction that people in the international community seem to have that somehow there’s Israel and then there’s the settlements – as though they are separate and apart from one another,” she said. “But really, in reality, we see that it’s all one.”
The country’s current roster of Supreme Court judges includes at least two settlers.
Settler politicians have long served as cabinet ministers, including Avigdor Lieberman, who has been Israel’s foreign, defence and finance minister. Settlers have held key positions in cultural institutions and in bodies that allocate land. Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was previously a settler leader although he did not live in a settlement.
The settler movement embraced the incoming army chief.
“We are proud that the new chief of staff is a resident,” said Israel Ganz, the head of the regional settlement council, which includes Kfar HaOranim. He said he expects any chief of staff to operate with a belief in the “righteousness” of Jewish settlement and “deepening the roots” of Jewish settlers.
Recent events on the ground have highlighted the collaboration between the Israeli army and settlers with many videos emerging of increasing settler attacks being carried out under the protection of the Israeli army. With the new appointment, it appears that Israel aims to expand the scope of its raids, and could support settlers in expanding their settlements, occupying more land in the West Bank.