The Biden administration has made clear it is aware of the tensions. “I continue to be alarmed about extremist settler attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank; pouring gasoline on fire is what it’s like,” President Biden recently said. “It has to stop now.” The administration also took the unusual step of seeking, and getting, assurances from Israel that none of the thousands of American assault weapons sought by Israel would go to civilians in the West Bank settlements.
Mr. Netanyahu, however, has shown little interest in restraining his allies. Though he formed a special war cabinet with opposition leaders to manage the conduct of the campaign against Hamas, his original coalition government remains intact, including the religious-nationalist extremists Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, the minister of national security, both unequivocal champions of settling Jews in the West Bank, which they refer to as the biblical Judea and Samaria. Before the Hamas raid, the far-right government was pushing for “judicial reform” which drew broad and sustained opposition in Israel as an attempt to free the government of judicial restraints on its actions in occupied territory.
Despite the national preoccupation with Gaza over the past month — or perhaps because of it — the zealots have kept at it. Mr. Smotrich has called for widening Palestinian no-go areas around Israeli settlements, including a ban on Palestinians harvesting olives near the settlements. Mr. Ben-Gvir has dismissed concerns raised by Israeli intelligence agencies about settler violence, referring to it as nothing more than “graffiti” by Israeli youths on Palestinian property and reportedly asking why there was so much attention given to it.
It’s hardly graffiti. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 150 Palestinians, including 44 children, have been killed by Israeli forces, and eight others by Israeli settlers, since Oct. 7, and at least 111 Palestinian households comprising 905 people were displaced. In that same time, three Israeli soldiers were killed in attacks by Palestinians. That represents an increase from an already high average of three incidents against Palestinians a day so far this year to an average of seven a day.
The figures don’t give the full story of the ways in which Palestinians are terrorized: the uprooting of hundreds of their olive trees, the vandalizing of property, the beatings and shootings, and the roads and outposts the settlers, and sometimes the army, have built to connect settlements and outposts.In an incident reported by The Times last week, a Palestinian vendor and his family were picking olives when four armed Jewish settlers showed up and began yelling. The Palestinians fled, but the vendor, Bilal Mohammad Saleh, turned back to grab his phone. Mr. Saleh was shot dead, the seventh Palestinian to be killed by settlers since Oct. 7.