Executive Summary

On Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, seven Israeli settlers were wounded near the settlement of Ofra NE Ramallah in a drive-by shooting. Footage of the shooting showed a moving vehicle slowing down and targeting settlers on the junction near the entrance of the settlement. After shots were fired from the vehicle, Israeli soldiers fired back at the car, which then fled and continued north on Route 60. This incident triggered a massive manhunt in search of the gunmen in nearby villages and even in Ramallah.

The security level was heightened in Ramallah City and the villages around it as ISF raids intensified and clashes continued for three days. On Dec, 12th  ISF opened fire towards a Palestinian vehicle in Surda 4.03 km N of Ramallah during an arrest operation, which led to the death of a Palestinian who the Shabak stated was the Palestinian who carried out the shooting attack near Ofra on Dec. 9th. Moreover, the following day (Dec. 13th) ISF killed the Palestinian responsible for the shooting at Barkan settlement during a military operation in Askar RC E Nablus during the early morning. Shortly after this incident, two soldiers were shot dead by a Palestinian near the WB settlement of Givat Assaf, the gunman reportedly fled the scene. Consequently, ISF imposed a military closure on Ramallah and closed the entrances to Silwad, Beitin, and Hallamish.

Major Shift in ISF raids

As a result of these incidents, ISF ramped up its military efforts in the West Bank where they carried out wide-ranging arrest campaigns on the pretext of searching for "wanted" Palestinians. ISF arrested around 56 Palestinians across the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem early on Thursday morning.

ISF have killed 5 Palestinians since Wednesday (Dec. 12th). In each case, Palestinians believe these were extrajudicial executions, carried out instead of arrests: Ashraf Na’alwa, who carried out the attack in Barkan over two months ago; Saleh Barghouthi, the suspected shooter at Ofra; Majd Mteir, of Qalandia refugee camp, who stabbed police officers in the Old City of Jerusalem; Hamdan al-Arada, 67, a businessman who, after encountering soldiers in the El Bireh industrial zone, panicked and lost control of his vehicle. Soldiers assumed he was executing a car-ramming attack. The fifth was Mahmoud Nakhleh of Jalazone Refugee Camp. According to residents, soldiers shot him in the abdomen Friday and delayed his evacuation to a hospital.

On Dec 15th, ISF surrounded and demolished the home of Abu Hmeid family, in Al-Amaari Refugee Camp south of Ramallah City, in the central occupied West Bank. More than 70 Palestinians were injured during clashes that erupted with Israeli soldiers around the building, as dozens of activists and supporters had gathered for a vigil to prevent the demolition of the family's building. The Israeli court had given the army the green light to demolish the building as a form of collective punishment, as Israel accuses one of the family's sons, Islam, of having killed an Israeli soldier during an Israeli raid to the Refugee Camp.

Settler Violence

In the aftermath of the overnight killings, dozens of Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian vehicles with rocks on the busy Route 60 highway, south of Nablus. As such, a Palestinian bus driver was moderately injured after he was assaulted by two settlers in the Settlement of Modiin Ilit. Other cases of settlers violence were reported mainly near Yitzhar-Hawwara roundabout and East of Hebron.

There also have been calls by settlers for the assassination of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas where multiple posters were glued to roadblocks near WB settlements illustrating Mahmoud Abbas with a sniper reticle targeting his head. Calls to assassinate Abbas and settler violence were condemned by Trump Mideast envoy Jason D. Greenblatt.

Political Ramifications

The Palestinian Authority fears that the rise in clashes with ISF is further undermining its standing with Palestinians in the West Bank and increasing support for Hamas. That, at least, is the conclusion that can be drawn from protests in Nablus, Hebron, and Ramallah in which the PA forcibly dispersed on Friday.

Nablus and Hebron protests on Friday (Dec. 13th)  were held to mark the 31st anniversary of Hamas. The official reason for the violent breakup of the protest in Nablus — PA police opened fire into the air and beat demonstrators, among other actions — was that participants had raised a Hamas flag and refused to wave Palestinian flags. The official reason for dispersing the Hebron demonstration is the fact that they considered it a premeditated attempt to slander the PA.

Associating the shootings with a Hamas cell reinforces the patriotic-nationalist image of Hamas as a resistance movement, in contrast to the PA’s image as the “subcontractor of the occupation.” As most Palestinians oppose the security coordination with Israel and perceive the incidents in which ISF and settlers were shot as legitimate acts of heroism against the endless encroachment of settlers in the West Bank.

On the Israeli side, more than a 1000 right-wing demonstrators protested outside Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem calling for his resignation over the government’s response to the string of attacks against settlers and Israeli soldiers witnessed last week. There have been calls to legalize the West Bank settlement of Ofra mainly by the Jewish Home party where they called on Israeli PM Netanyahu to “immediately regulate the settlement of Ofra” and grant it the status of a regular town in Israel.