Over the past two weeks, J Street has been unequivocal in expressing our condemnation of the brutal and unprecedented terror attack by Hamas, and ongoing attacks by Hamas and other terror groups, against the state and people of Israel.
We have expressed our support for Israelis and applauded President Biden and his administration for standing staunchly behind the people of Israel at one of the most challenging times in the country’s history.
J Street also cannot be clearer in our denunciation of those Israelis who appear to be seizing this moment as an opportunity to pursue a campaign of lethal, violent retaliatory attacks against Palestinians and their communities in the occupied West Bank.
We are deeply alarmed by reports of Israeli security forces firing live ammunition into crowds of Palestinian protesters, and violent gangs of settlers killing and terrorizing civilians, in some cases with the participation of Israeli soldiers.
Extremist settlers have launched over 100 documented attacks on Palestinians in just the past two weeks, killing and injuring multiple civilians – including children – and vandalizing homes, cars and farmland. In that time, the United Nations has documented at least 20 Palestinian children killed by Israeli security forces or extremist settlers in the West Bank. One Israeli soldier has also been killed by Palestinian attackers, according to Israeli media.
In one particularly disturbing report, Israeli soldiers and settlers allegedly stripped, bound, tortured, photographed and sexually assaulted a group of three Palestinian men. The IDF has appropriately removed the commanding officer from their post and is investigating.
Over 500 people in the West Bank from 13 different communities have been forced to flee their homes, including over 270 children. The World Health Organization has reported dozens of attacks on medical staff.
There can be no excuse for revenge attacks, indiscriminate violence or the targeting of innocent civilians. Israeli authorities must act to prevent and deter such violence and to hold perpetrators accountable. Political leaders must work to deter, rather than encourage, such attacks as both a moral and security priority.
It is a moral and legal imperative for Israel to protect the rights of all people living on land under its control. It is also in the clear security interests of Israelis, Palestinians and the United States to prevent the further escalation of violence in the West Bank. All efforts must be made to avoid what observers have warned could become a “third front” for Israel in the West Bank.
We echo advice from security experts and Israeli peace advocates that this is the moment to halt all discriminatory demolitions and evictions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem – this is not the moment to double down on these destructive policies. It is vital that Israeli forces abide by international law and use live ammunition only as a last resort and when strictly necessary to protect against an imminent threat to life or serious injury.
With President Biden set to ask Congress to approve an unprecedented new sum of security assistance, this is the moment for the United States to make clear that it expects Israel to intercede to prevent settler attacks against civilians, to ensure that live ammunition is not used against civilian protesters, and to ensure security forces do not participate in revenge attacks against civilians.
We call on the Biden administration, the Israeli government and Palestinian political leaders to act with urgency to stop the West Bank from spiraling further into conflict, which will only add to the devastating suffering that has resulted from Hamas’s horrific crimes against humanity two weeks ago.