To say that a lot has been happening between Israelis and Palestinians as of late is quite the understatement.
Amidst the backdrop of Israeli judicial reform that critics say “will remove a key element of what makes democracies democratic,” tensions are quickly rising due to a combination of military raids from the Israeli Defense Forces, fatal attacks from Palestinians and settler violence.
As a quick primer: On January 26, the IDF performed a military operation in the Palestinian city of Jenin, which killed at least 9 Palestinians (Israel says almost all were militants, though two were not). Then, 10 Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinians in eastern Jerusalem during attacks in late January and February. In response, the homes of the Palestinian perpetrators will likely be demolished and Israel authorized nine settlement outposts, which they had previously deemed illegal and are still considered illegal by the UN. On February 13, an Israeli border officer was killed after being stabbed by a 13-year-old Palestinian and hit with friendly fire. And on February 22, troops raided the Palestinian city of Nablus, killing another 10 Palestinians whom Israel also says were militants.
All this sets the stage for even further violence between Israelis and Palestinians, which has continued over the last week. Primarily sourced from our partner site JTA, here’s a summary of what’s happened over the last week.
What incident incited the latest violence?
This past Sunday, two Israeli brothers, Hallel and Yagel Yaniv, ages 21 and 19, were shot and killed while driving through the Palestinian town of Huwara, near Nablus, in the West Bank. The pair lived in the nearby settlement of Har Bracha. According to Haaretz, the gunman was a Palestinian wearing a shirt which bore the insignia of the Lion’s Den, a Nablus-based militant group which was established in 2022.
Was there any retaliation?
“Hours after the Palestinian attack, hundreds of settlers began rioting in the town, burning dozens of cars, shops and homes, and throwing rocks at Palestinian drivers, according to Israeli reports,” Ron Kampeas reported for JTA. “Videos posted to social media showed widespread fires in Huwara and smoke billowing into the air. Dozens of Huwara’s residents were injured and one Palestinian was killed in another town, Za’tara, south of Huwara.”
He goes on, “Late at night, hours after the riot began, Israeli forces quelled the violence and took control of the area, in addition to helping Palestinians evacuate burning buildings. Israeli forces are also increasing their presence in the West Bank.”
Some of the Israeli settlers seemed to pause their attacks to participate in Jewish evening prayers, known as Maariv.
Settlers taking a break from carrying out a pogrom in Huwara to daven maariv (evening prayer). pic.twitter.com/OMbKmqXSRO
— Benzion Sanders (@BenzionSanders) February 26, 2023
According to Munir Qadoos, a resident of the nearby town Burin, a number of settlers then entered Burin and also wreaked havoc there — breaking windows, slaughtering and stealing sheep, burning a barn and throwing rocks at homes. Qadoos also said that IDF soldiers “escorted” settlers to the town and then “fired tear gas at residents who were trying to defend themselves.” As of yet, the army has not responded to JTA’s request for an account of what happened and nor has the Yesha council, an umbrella group for settlers in the West Bank.
In addition to the one death, the Palestine Red Crescent Society’s initial reports state that settlers set 11 houses on fire, damaging many others, and they also burned 32 cars. Eight Israelis were initially arrested for the rampage, but had been released by the morning of Tuesday, February 28 — more have been arrested since. Palestinian Authority officials have said that about 400 settlers participated in the attacks.
Was this a pogrom?
As coverage of the violence in Huwara began to hit the news cycle, some, like an Israeli general and Abraham Foxman, director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League, called the attack “a pogrom.” This spurred discussions, primarily in the Jewish community, about the appropriateness of the term relative to this incident. For context, the term pogrom “most famously refers to a wave of anti-Jewish violence in the Russian empire beginning in the late 19th century,” however the word itself is not specific to attacks on Jews. In Russian and Yiddish, “pogrom” simply means “raid” or “massacre.” So, in technical terms, it is accurate to describe what happened in Huwara.
However, there isn’t a general consensus as to whether calling the violence a “pogrom” is insensitive.
“As to whether it is appropriate to refer to recent attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinians, it seems to me that this question sidesteps the more important question of whether the actions being called pogroms are appropriate,” Jeffrey Shandler, a Jewish studies professor at Rutgers University told JTA. For Sara Yael Hirschhorn, an author and Research Fellow at the ADL, using the word “pogrom” is haphazard and ahistorical. “To my mind, the best term is ‘settler terrorism,’ which puts Jewish-Israeli acts on par with Palestinian terrorism,” she said. “It should also mean that these actions merit the same consequences under the occupation like trial, imprisonment, home demolition and other deterrents enforced against all those who choose the path of violence.”
Was there any retaliation to the riots?
The next day, American Jew Elan Ganeles was shot and killed while driving near the Palestinian city of Jericho in the West Bank. Per JTA, “On Monday, gunmen drove up to Ganeles’ car and shot at him, critically injuring him, and also fired at other cars, according to Israeli reports. No other injuries were reported. According to the Israel Police, the gunmen abandoned their car and set it on fire.”
Ganeles, who grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut and recently graduated from Columbia University, was in Israel to attend a wedding. Previously, Elan had lived in Israel for over two years and had served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a “lone soldier.”
Anything else notable happen?
On February 26, the day the Yaniv brothers were killed and the settler riot in Huwara, officials from Israel and the Palestinian Authority met in Jordan to deescalate the violence. Officials from Jordan, Egypt and the United States were also present. “They agreed to resume coordination on security matters between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which governs West Bank Palestinian population centers,” JTA reported. “But that meeting was followed by disagreement among the parties as to whether Israel would freeze settlement expansion, a claim Netanyahu denied.”
On the same day, the Israeli government coincidentally advanced a bill which states that “courts will be able to impose a death penalty on those who committed a nationalistically motivated murder offense against a citizen of Israel.” The purpose of this legislation is likely to deter violent attacks on Israelis by Palestinians. Notably, however, according to The Times of Israel, “It wasn’t clear whether the final law would apply equally to Jews convicted of such offenses.”
OK, so what has the Israeli response been to all the violence?
There has been a wide range of responses from the Israeli government. On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to Twitter to call the shooting of the Yaniv brothers “a terrible tragedy,” while also asking settlers to not riot.
“I ask – even when blood is boiling and emotions run high – not to take the law into one’s hands,” Netanyahu said. “I ask that the IDF and the security forces be allowed to carry out their work. I remind you that in recent weeks, they have targeted dozens of terrorists and thwarted dozens of attacks. Let the IDF complete its pursuit and do not take the law into your hands; together we will defeat terrorism.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this evening:
"A terrible tragedy occurred today.
I would like to send condolences to the Yaniv family, which lost two of its dear sons; may G-d avenge them. pic.twitter.com/5BUSxWQxTa
— Prime Minister of Israel (@IsraeliPM) February 26, 2023
The next day, Netanyahu spoke on the Knesset floor, condemning the settlers’ riot in Huwara. “We won’t accept a reality where all do as they wish — igniting houses, torching cars, intentionally injuring innocents,” the Prime Minister said.
While most Israeli politicians denounced the violence in Huwara, others sympathized with rioters and even endorsed their actions.
“The village of Huwara needs to be wiped out today,” settlement official Davidi Ben Zion initially wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “Enough with the talk of building and strengthening settlements. The deterrence that was lost needs to return immediately, and there’s no place for mercy.”
Later, Ben Zion would delete the tweets and tweeted a new message, asking civilians to not take matters into their own hands.
Other politicians who have publicly supported the settlers’ actions or have sympathized with them include National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Zvika Fogel, both from the far-right Otzma Yehudit party and members of Netanyahu’s coalition.
Like their government, response from Israeli citizens is also varied. Yesterday, a large group of Israelis gathered to protest the attack on Huwara.
Thousands gather in Tel Aviv to condemn yesterday’s pogrom in Huwara and reject the extremist agenda of the kahanist, pro-settler and apartheid government.
We demand peace and justice, while the government wants chaos. But we shall fight – and we shall overcome. pic.twitter.com/ERs34zQwFV
— Peace Now (@peacenowisrael) February 27, 2023
Still, vocal settler leaders remain defiant. “In no way whatsoever do I condemn them,” Daniella Weiss told JTA. Weiss, who is a veteran settler activist and a former mayor of the Kedumim West Bank settlement went on, “The shocking thing is that the government is unable to provide security to residents. This is very grave. I am not surprised that there was such an outburst.”
Israel’s ally, the United States, condemned the violence on Sunday via State Department spokesperson Ned Price. Price tweeted, “We condemn today’s violence in the West Bank, including the terrorist attack that killed two Israelis and settler violence, which resulted in the killing of one Palestinian, injuries to over 100 others, and the destruction of extensive property.”
What has the Palestinian response been?
Following the settler riot on Sunday, Mohammad Shtayyeh, Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, released a statement condemning it, calling for intervention from the international community and holding the Israeli government accountable.
“Scenes of burning houses and cars, assault on citizens, preventing fire trucks from reaching burned houses and assaulting ambulances transporting patients and injured – all these crimes must face international intervention soon to hold the occupation authorities and stop them,” he said.
Adding, “We hold the occupation authorities fully responsible for these heinous crimes, which reflect a systematic policy practiced by the Israeli government, whose ministers demonstrate their support for those crimes in violation of international laws,” he said.
While the Jewish community debates the term “pogrom,” according to Ibrahim Eid Dalalsha, Director of the Horizon Center for Political Studies and Media Outreach, “Palestinians generally view and describe what happened during Sunday’s Huwara attacks as ‘racist hate crimes seeking to destroy and dispossess the Palestinian people of their homes and properties.’”
What has the reaction been from American Jewish organizations?
Most American Jewish organizations like the ADL, the American Jewish Committee, the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly and the Union for Reform Judaism have condemned the destruction of Huwara. Notably, a statement from the Orthodox Union, whose members are often supportive of Jewish efforts to settle in the West Bank, both condemned the violence and questioned the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“How can such a thing happen? How could it come to this, that Jewish young men should ransack and burn homes and cars?” OU executive vice president Rabbi Moshe Hauer wrote, adding, “What happened yesterday must never, ever happen again.”
Then, quoting Netanyahu when the Prime Minister asked civilians not to take the law into their own hands, Hauer continued, “Attacking a village does not deserve to be called ‘taking the law into your own hands. This is not the law; this is undisciplined and random fury. Actions like these demonstrate the critical need for clear and strong leadership.”
One exception is that Morton Klein, CEO of the Zionist Organization of America, sympathized with rioters. “I don’t believe that civilians should be taking the law into their own hands,” he said. “I oppose civilians taking on their own hands, that’s for sure, but you know, after constant murder of people, you know, people lose control,” he said in an interview.
This has been a significant escalation of deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians, which may continue to escalate in the coming weeks.