He said that because of the intense battle inside Gaza and the anguish all Israelis felt about the atrocities committed by Hamas, Israeli soldiers were now, more than ever, failing to live up to their duty to protect Palestinian civilians in occupied areas.
“They’re not stopping the extremist settlers,” he said. “They’re closing their eyes.”
According to witness statements, video footage and analysts who have examined larger patterns of the violence, extremist settlers in the West Bank have been attacking Palestinian homes and businesses, blowing up their generators and solar panels, burning down the tents of seminomadic Bedouin herders — and even shooting people.
United Nations officials say that since Oct. 7, the Israeli military and armed settlers have killed more than 130 Palestinians in the West Bank. (Most of those deaths occurred in clashes with Israeli soldiers.)
Even before the Hamas attacks, settler violence was hitting its highest levels since the United Nations began tracking it in the mid-2000s. According to U.N. figures, there used to be one incident of settler violence a day. Now it is seven.
Palestinian attacks on Israelis in the West Bank are also escalating, and Israeli officials say there have been more than 550 since Oct. 7.
U.N. officials said that so far this year, at least 23 Israeli civilians had been killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which is several times higher than it has been in previous years.
On Thursday, a Jewish settler driving in the West Bank was killed after Palestinians opened fire on his car, Israeli officials said. That killing prompted a rampage by other settlers, who stormed into a nearby Palestinian area, burned several cars and clashed with Israeli soldiers.
On top of that, the number of protests by Palestinian youth, furious about the relentless bombardment of Gaza, is also rising. These protests frequently lead to deadly confrontations with Israeli troops. Soldiers are also staging nightly raids, which the Israelis say are necessary to crack down on armed groups. But the raids, often conducted in tight alleyways and densely inhabited neighborhoods, can set off more bloodshed, as well.
Just on Friday, Israeli forces killed nine Palestinians during clashes and raids, Palestinian officials said.
The West Bank, which has been rocked by major uprisings before, feels primed to explode. And the worry, among Palestinians and the Israeli security establishment, is what happens if it does. Should the violence spin from the West Bank, it could risk opening another front in the war, further raising the chances of a larger, even more catastrophic regional conflict.
Palestinians and rights activists blame the increasingly combustible atmosphere on Israel’s right-wing government, whose ministers have vowed to expand the settlements and hand out more weapons to settlers.
Gaza and the West Bank are two separate territories that Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, effectively sealing it off and leaving its residents subject to a tight blockade that throttled its economy.
But Israel still occupies the West Bank under a highly contentious system that leaves Palestinians stateless, limits their movements and tries them in Israeli military courts — restrictions that do not apply to settlers. The Israeli military routinely blocks roads, orders Palestinians off streets and strictly controls access from one area to another.
Complicating the West Bank further is the growing number of Israeli settlements — more than 130 — that most of the world considers illegal because they were placed on occupied land.
These communities, often built on strategic hilltops and encircled by walls and razor wire, are interspersed among a patchwork of Palestinian cities and towns administered by the Palestinian Authority, a semiautonomous Palestinian body. Roughly half a million Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, alongside an estimated 2.7 million Palestinians.
Many settlers reject Palestinians’ claim to the land, arguing that Jews have been living in this territory since biblical times and that Israel justly won the territory decades ago in war.
In recent days, threatening leaflets, widely presumed to have come from extremist settlers, have been slipped under the windshield wipers of Palestinian cars.
“A great catastrophe will descend upon your heads soon,” read one flier. “We will destroy every enemy and expel you forcefully from our Holy Land that God has written for us. Wherever you are, carry your loads immediately and leave to where you came from. We are coming for you.”