Israel’s largest land seizure since Oslo Accords deals fresh blow to Palestinian statehood

Israel declared 800 hectares of land in the West Bank as property of the state on Friday, a move that will facilitate use of the ground for settlement construction. The area covers large swaths of the Jordan Valley, a vital region for a future Palestinian state, and is the largest piece of land to be seized by Israel since the early 1990s.

When far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced Israel would seize 800 hectares of land in the West Bank last Friday, it did not come as a surprise to Hamza Zbiedat. 

Though he is based in Ramallah, his family live in a small village close to the border between the West Bank and Jordan called Zubaydat, just north of the vast area now declared Israeli state land.

“Israel has fully controlled the Jordan Valley for the last 15 years at least,” says Zbiedat, who works as an advocacy officer for the Ma’an Development Center, a Palestinian civil society organisation. “The only thing left for Israel to do was to announce it.”

The Jordan Valley is a rich strip of land that runs along the West Bank, east of the central highlands. Sparsely populated, it has many open and undeveloped areas – making it a precious reserve for the future development of the West Bank.

According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, almost 90 percent of the Jordan Valley region has been designated Area C, meaning it remained under full Israeli control after the 1995 Oslo II Accord.

“While there are those in Israel and the world who seek to undermine our right over the Judea and Samaria area and the country in general,” Smotrich declared, referring to the West Bank region by its biblical name, “we promote settlement through hard work and in a strategic manner all over the country”.

The area covers 8,000 dunams (800 hectares) between three Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank – Masu’a, Ma’ale Efrayim and Yafit. 

A few weeks earlier, on February 29, Israel appropriated an additional 300 hectares near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. 

Together, these areas represent the largest zone to be designated Israeli state land since the first Oslo Accords in 1993, according to Peace Now, an Israeli organisation documenting settlement activities.

A losing battle

Now that Israel has declared swaths of the Jordan Valley as its own, Palestinians can longer use the land.

“We guess it will help to expand Israeli settlements,” says Yonatan Mizrachi, co-director of the settlement-monitoring branch at Peace Now.

Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories occupied since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, including East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law.

Read moreFrom 1947 to 2023: Retracing the complex, tragic Israeli-Palestinian conflict

In 2016, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2334 and demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory”, underlining that it would not “recognise any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines … other than those agreed by the two sides through negotiations”.

But the Israeli administration has repeatedly used orders like declarations of state land to take over Palestinian territories.

In recent years, the Israeli Housing Ministry even created subsidised home ownership programmes to combat the housing crisis and created a lottery system that lured Israelis to move into West Bank settlements.

The declaration of parcels as state land means the area can no longer be considered the private property of Palestinians by the Israeli state. The process facilitates settlers’ leasing or buying plots of designated land. 

Rights groups say it is near impossible for Palestinians to appeal these declarations. 

“There is a kind of bureaucracy that if you own the land, you can object in the next 45 days [following a declaration]. But it’s basically official,” says Mizrachi. “I would be surprised if Palestinians … go to court [to appeal].”

Up until 1967, the Jordan Valley was under Jordanian administration. After the war, Israel issued a military order that put an end to land registrations across the West Bank – meaning Palestinian families often lack the paperwork to prove they hold private ownership over their land. What’s more, Israeli authorities do not accept tax receipts, the only alternative recourse to prove property ownership.

Declarations of state land in occupied territories were halted in 1992 under former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. But two years after Netanyahu was first elected prime minister in 1996, he resumed the practice. Since then, around 40,000 dunams (about 4,000 hectares) have been designated state land by Israel, according to Peace Now.

“It might take years before [the land] is used,” says Mizrachi. “Then suddenly we might see a new outpost, a new settlement, new developments.”

The total area under direct control of Israeli settlements constitutes more than 40 percent of the entire West Bank, according to B’Tselem, which is also known as the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

In 2023, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights found that a total of 700,000 Israeli settlers were living illegally in the occupied West Bank.

Limiting chances for a two-state solution

Israel’s annexation of this vast piece of land could make it even more difficult for Palestinians in the West Bank to move from the north to the south of the territory.

The parcels claimed in the end of February near Ma’ale Adumim create a continuous strip of state land between Ma’ale and another settlement called Kedar, marking a divide between the southern West Bank and the Jordan Valley in the north.

Current restrictions on movement such as Israeli military checkpoints already make it difficult for Palestinians to travel within the West Bank.

“I live in Ramallah. If I want to go see my parents in the Jordan Valley for Ramadan, just to eat Iftar (the fast-breaking evening meal during Islam’s holy month) with them, it would take me three or four hours to get there,” says Zbiedat, who works as an advocacy officer for the Ma’an Development Center, a Palestinian civil society organisation. “I don’t have time to go there after work and drive another four hours back at night.”

Part of the area seized by Israel is located close to East Jerusalem, and is what Palestinians hope will become the centre of a future independent state. Since the Oslo Accords were signed in the early 90s, little progress has been made on achieving Palestinian statehood. Experts, as well as the UN Security Council, say the expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land is a major obstacle to a two-state solution.

Cases of settlements being built on land declared as state property by Israel have also grown exponentially in recent months. 

UN human rights chief Volker Turk published a report last month that found 24,300 housing units had been built within existing Israeli settlements in the West Bank between November 2022 and October 2023, the highest on record since the UN began monitoring the situation in 2017.

A natural greenhouse

“The Jordan Valley is very important for Palestinians in the West Bank. It is supposed to be one of the biggest areas to be part of the state of Palestine, with huge fertile land and a lot of resources,” says Zbiedat. “Two of the biggest aquifer basins of drinkable water in the West Bank are located in the Jordan Valley.”

Zbiedat says experts consider the Jordan Valley a “natural greenhouse”.

“For the last centuries, most of this land was an open herding area for Palestinian Bedouins or villagers with sheep, camels, cows, goats and so on. It was also cultivated by other Palestinians to grow lemons, oranges and other kinds of fruit,” says Zbiedat.

A few years ago, he travelled to the area now designated Israeli state land to take photos and saw that Israelis had begun paving roads and planting date trees.

“Dates have become the most famous crop in the Jordan Valley,” Zbiedat explains. “Agricultural expansion is important in this area … Now that the date trees are six or seven years old, settlers are making hundreds of thousands of shekels from this land.”

“And the workers are mostly Palestinians. But the owners are the settlers,” he says.

Though much of the region is uninhabited, more land confiscations would mean “less Bedouins, less animals, less Palestinian farms and a shrinking independent Palestinian economy,” Zbiedat sighs. “It means less Palestinians in the Jordan Valley.”

The same report published by UNHCHR chief Turk last month underlined the dramatic increase in settler and state violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, notably since the war in Gaza began on October 7. Since the conflict began, “a total of 1,222 Palestinians from 19 herding communities have been displaced as a direct result of settler violence”, it reported.

The West Bank has also seen frequent Palestinian attacks on Israelis since the war broke out.

‘All for the benefit of settlers’

“[Settlers] believe they need to expand and protect what they are calling ‘a state land’ or ‘our patriarch’s land’ from Palestinians. They believe that any new settlement brings more security to the region. That is the main philosophy,” says Mizrachi. “As long as Smotrich controls the civil administration, he will continue this policy.”

Smotrich, who leads the far-right Religious Zionism party, is a settler himself as well as the head of the Israeli Civil Administration.

Last year, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu offered Smotrich a sweeping monopoly on construction planning and approvals in the West Bank by granting him the power to handle land-use issues. Netanyahu decided it was no longer necessary for himself and Israel’s defence minister to provide their formal sign-off on West Bank settlement constructions at every phase.

As a result, Smotrich was designated a strong authority figure of the occupied West Bank – a move the UN warned could facilitate the annexation of the territory.

For Zbiedat, the most recent land seizure is “a message to the US to say, ‘OK, you don’t want us to invade Rafah [in the southern Gaza Strip]? Then don’t say anything about what we do in the West Bank’.”

Smotrich made the announcement on the day US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Tel Aviv for talks with Netanyahu about the war in Gaza.

The US State Department in March had also ordered financial sanctions against four Israeli settlers in the West Bank, marking a rare rebuke of Israel.

Blinken had also expressed his disappointment with Israel’s decision to approve 3,400 new homes in West Bank settlements on March 6. 

“It is a way to put pressure on the US government not to intervene when it comes to settlers,” Zbiedat says.

“But it is also an internal message to Israeli voters to say, ‘Look, we are expanding our settlements in the Jordan Valley’ … which they say will remain forever a part of Israel. They do not want to give Palestinians any kind of control to any kind of border [with Jordan],” he explains.

Palestinian authorities have condemned Smotrich’s announcement. The Palestinian ministry of foreign affairs called the latest move “a continuation of the extermination and displacement of our people from their homeland”.

Read more‘Freedom is paid for in blood’: In the occupied West Bank, families long to bury their dead

“In any case, it is important for people to know we are also living a siege here,” says Zbiedat, referring to the ongoing war in Gaza. “And it’s all for the benefit of settlers.”

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Biden: Israel would pause war over Ramadan if hostage deal reached

All the latest from the Israel-Hamas War.


US President Joe Biden says Israel would be willing to halt its war with Hamas in Gaza during the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan if a deal is reached to release some of the hostages held by the militants.

Ramadan is due to start around 10 March.

Negotiators from the US, Egypt and Qatar are working on a framework deal under which Hamas would free some of the dozens of hostages it holds, in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners and a six-week halt in fighting. 

During the temporary pause, negotiations would continue over the release of the remaining hostages.

Biden’s comments in an interview taped Monday for NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers” were the most detailed yet about a possible halt in fighting during the holy month, a time of heightened religious observance and dawn-to-dusk fasting.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said earlier that the army had presented to the War Cabinet its operational plan for a ground offensive into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians have sought safety.

The situation in Rafah, where dense tent camps have sprouted to house the displaced, has sparked global concern and Israel’s allies have warned that it must protect civilians in its battle against Hamas.

Israeli troops shoot and kill three Palestinians in West Bank

Israeli troops shot and killed three Palestinian men early Tuesday in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian health authorities said.

The military wing of the militant group Islamic Jihad claimed the three as members. One of those killed, identified as Mohammed Daraghmeh, 26, was a co-founder of the local branch of Islamic Jihad in the northern town of Tubas, the group said.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said the men, who ranged in age from 26 to 32, were shot in the head, chest and neck.

Palestinian media reported that they were killed in Faraa refugee camp near Tubas.

The West Bank has seen a surge of violence since the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza broke out 7 October. More than 400 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire there during that time, most in confrontations sparked by near-daily military raids in search of suspected militants.

Biden hopes ceasefire and hostage deal can take effect by next Monday

President Joe Biden said Monday that he hopes a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that would pause hostilities and allow for the remaining hostages to be released can take effect by early next week.

Asked when he hoped such a deal could be finalised, Biden said: “Well I hope by the beginning of the weekend. The end of the weekend. My national security adviser tells me that they’re close. They’re close. They’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said Sunday that an Israeli military offensive in the southernmost city of Rafah could be “delayed somewhat” if a deal for a weekslong cease-fire between Israel and Hamas is reached. He claims that total victory in Gaza is “weeks away” once the offensive begins.

Talks toward a deal have resumed at the specialist level in Qatar, which is one of the mediators.

Israel says it found a 10-kilometre tunnel connecting Gaza City to Central Gaza

The Israeli military says it uncovered a 10-kilometre long tunnel connecting parts of central Gaza to Gaza City in the north.


The military said the tunnel network ran near the Turkish Hospital in central Gaza and Israa University in Gaza City. It released photos and video footage it said was taken inside the tunnels showing long corridors, staircases, beds, weapons and other supplies.

The military destroyed a number of buildings at the Israa University campus in January, claiming that the facility had been used for military purposes by Hamas.

Hamas has acknowledged building hundreds of kilometers of tunnels across Gaza. One of the main objectives of the Israeli offensive has been to destroy that network, which it says is used by Hamas to move fighters, weapons and supplies throughout the territory.

Israel accuses Hamas of using civilians as human shields and has exposed many tunnels running near mosques, schools, hospitals and UN facilities. Some of the hostages who were held captive in Gaza have said they were kept in tunnels.

Israel has found similar tunnels across Gaza over the course of its nearly five-month military campaign.


Israeli court hears arguments in case of ultra-orthodox men serving in army

Israel’s Supreme Court has heard arguments in cases that would force ultra-Orthodox men to serve in the army, as the military is strained by the nearly five-month war in Gaza.

Hundreds of people protested outside the court in Jerusalem on Monday, waving flags and chanting for equal service, as the court began to hear arguments that would cancel the exemption for ultra-Orthodox men.

Military service is compulsory for Jewish men, but politically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties have won exemptions for their communities to allow men to study full-time in religious seminaries. These exemptions have prompted widespread anger and resentment from the secular majority, especially as the army has recently announced that compulsory service may be extended and reserve duty will be more frequent as the war continues in Gaza and tensions on the northern border escalate.

The government is required to submit a new draft law in the coming months. Ultra-Orthodox parties, which are a key coalition partner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hope to continue the system of exemptions.

Opponents, including key members of a mass protest movement against Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul, say the exemptions are unfair and must end.


Activist groups filed petitions last year to force the state to strike down the exemptions and subsidies for young ultra-Orthodox men who study full-time in religious institutions called yeshivas. In the past, attempts to overhaul the draft law to include ultra-Orthodox have drawn tens of thousands of community members to the streets in large, violent protests.

90 people reported killed across Gaza in last 24 hours

The bodies of 90 people killed in Israel’s bombardment have been brought to hospitals in the war-wrecked Gaza Strip in the past 24 hours, local authorities reported Monday.

Hospitals had also received 164 wounded, they said.

The war began after Hamas-led militants stormed across southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 others hostage.

The fresh fatalities brought the death toll in Gaza to 29,782 since the Israel-Hamas war began on 7 October, the ministry said in its daily briefing. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants, but said two thirds of the dead are children and women.


Another 70,043 had been wounded since 7 October, it said.

The ministry said many casualties remain under the rubble and first responders have been unable to retrieve them amid the relentless bombing.

The war began after Hamas-led militants rampaged across southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking roughly 250 people hostage.

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Discord over two-state solution opens rift between the US and Israel

US President Biden and Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu held their first phone call in nearly a month on Friday following the Israeli PM’s rejection of a Washington-backed call for Palestinian sovereignty, with Biden and Netanyahu appearing to be at odds on the issue of a two-state solution to follow the war in Gaza. FRANCE 24 spoke to David Khalfa, co-director of the North Africa and Middle East Observatory at the Jean Jaurès Foundation, to shed more light on the situation. 

US President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for the first time since December 23 on Friday, a day after the Israeli PM reiterated his opposition to the idea of Palestinian statehood and a post-war future for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank backed by the US.

Netanyahu said on Thursday that Israel “must have security control over all the territory west of the Jordan [River]”, saying he had made this clear to Israel’s “American friends”.

“This is a necessary condition, and it conflicts with the idea of [Palestinian] sovereignty,” Netanyahu said in a televised news conference.

Seeking a more permanent solution to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict that forms the backdrop of the current war between Israel and Hamas, the United States has pushed Israel for steps toward the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Read moreFrom 1947 to 2023: Retracing the complex, tragic Israeli-Palestinian conflict

US authorities have called for a reformed Palestinian Authority, which currently governs semi-autonomous zones in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to govern Gaza after the war. The Gaza Strip is currently ruled by Hamas, which ousted the Fatah government of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas in 2007 after a landslide victory in parliamentary elections.

Despite the Israeli premier’s open resistance, Biden said Friday after their phone call that Netanyahu might eventually agree to some form of Palestinian statehood, such as one without armed forces.

“The president still believes in the promise and the possibility of a two-state solution” for both Israelis and Palestinians, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters in a briefing after the call, adding that Biden “made clear his strong conviction that a two-state solution is still the right path ahead. And we’re going to continue to make that case.”

The United States does have some leverage over its main Middle East ally, given that Israel has been the main beneficiary of US foreign aid since World War II, receiving more than $260 billion in military and economic aid. Whether Netanyahu – who said this week that “a prime minister in Israel should be able to say no, even to our best friends” – can be convinced remains to be seen, however.

FRANCE 24: Are we witnessing a turning point in US-Israel relations?

David Khalfa: The US-Israeli bilateral relationship is said to be “special” because it is based on shared values and strategic interests. However, relations between America and Israel have never been idyllic.

It is an ardent relationship between two friends and allies, but one that has known periods of tension. In fact, these tensions go back a long way: we could easily see this in the presidencies of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter or, more recently, Barack Obama.

Even Donald Trump, described by Netanyahu as “Israel’s best friend”, did not hesitate last October to call Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant a “jerk” or to criticise the Israeli prime minister in the wake of Hamas’s October 7 massacres.

The establishment of a Palestinian state is backed by the US and Saudi Arabia, and even by some of the Israeli ruling class. Can Netanyahu continue to resist it?

In the short term, yes. Binyamin Netanyahu will do absolutely anything to stay in power, and his strategy is very clearly to wage war for as long as possible because he knows he is unpopular and facing multiple charges (for corruption, bribery and fraud). He is therefore trying to buy time, hoping to win back public support by assuming the role of warlord.

Netanyahu is a shrewd and calculating politician, but he is weakened by his Faustian alliance with the far right, which opposes any prospect of a two-state solution to the conflict.

Moreover, he is old and on borrowed time, and will sooner or later have to step down. Beyond the national unity discourse fostered by the war and the trauma of October 7, the Israeli population has largely withdrawn its support for him. Polls show his popularity plummeting, even among moderate right-wing voters.

But the Gulf states’ offers to normalise relations with Israel in return for substantial progress towards the establishment of a Palestinian state will outlast Binyamin Netanyahu (Saudi Arabia on Tuesday said it would recognise Israel if a Palestinian state is established). This is even more so as the leaders of the petrostates are young and will probably remain in charge for decades to come.

Finally, it should be noted that the Israeli political configuration will change profoundly after Netanyahu’s departure. The centre, embodied by Benny Gantz (a centre-left MP who has repeatedly challenged Netanyahu for the premiership), is likely to take over with the right and far right serving in the opposition.

By refusing Biden’s proposals, is Netanyahu betting on Trump winning the 2024 election?

Absolutely, but it’s a risky bet. After all, relations between Binyamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump, whose temperament is extremely volatile, are now very cool. The former US president feels that Netanyahu betrayed him by recognising Biden’s electoral victory in November 2020.

Next, let’s remember that the $14.5 billion in additional emergency aid promised to Israel by Joe Biden has still not been endorsed by the Senate because the Republicans are opposed to it for purely political reasons, which have nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but everything to do with the polarisation of US politics.

Any Democratic proposal is a pretext for systematic Republican obstruction, even if it means putting their immediate political interest ahead of the US strategic alliance with Israel. Conversely, if Trump comes to power, the Democrats are likely to adopt an identical strategy of systematic obstruction.

Could Washington’s $3 billion in annual military aid to Israel be at stake?

There is a pro-Israel tradition that goes beyond the White House to the Pentagon, where most US strategists believe that the alliance with Israel is, first and foremost, in the US interest.

But even if US aid is not called into question, the conditions under which it is granted are likely to become more complicated, as we are witnessing a politicisation of American military support for the Hebrew state, an issue which up until now had avoided any real debate in the United States.

The Republicans are turning towards isolationism and the Democrats towards progressivism: in the medium term, changes in the US political game will lead Israel to make more concessions if it intends to maintain a high level of US diplomatic and military support.

Israelis are more dependent than ever on military aid due to their recent focus on high-tech weapons, while urban fighting in Gaza demands artillery munitions of all kinds – including “low-tech” ones such as tank shells – which are not made in Israel.

This gives the United States leverage over Israel’s conduct of the war. The setting up of humanitarian corridors in Gaza, the increase in humanitarian aid and the scaling back of Israel’s offensive on the Palestinian enclave were all achieved under pressure from the US administration – contrary to what Netanyahu would have his people believe.

This article was translated from the original in French.

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‘Freedom is paid for in blood’: In the occupied West Bank, families long to bury their dead

An Israeli strike killed six Palestinians in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, four of whom were brothers. The attack took place in the city of Jenin and left a total of seven dead, including an Israeli police officer. As the family of the brothers buried their “martyrs”, others are still waiting for the remains of relatives held by the Israeli army to be returned. 

She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t speak. Ibtesam Darwish simply looks stunned. “I wasn’t just their mother, I was their friend,” she says. “We were so close.”

Sitting in her neighbour’s courtyard in Qabatiya, a city in the northern occupied West Bank, she waits for the remains of her sons. 

Twenty-two-year-old Rami, 24-year-old Ahamed, 27-year-old Hazaa and 29-year-old Alaa were killed along with two others in an Israeli airstrike near the entrance to Jenin at 6am on Sunday in an area called Martyr’s Triangle. A seventh person died of their wounds later that day.   

Ibtesam Darwish (pink hijab) awaits the remains of her four sons in Qabatia on January 7, 2024. © Assiya Hamza, FRANCE 24

The Israeli military said the strike targeted “Palestinian gunmen” who had lobbed explosives at troops, according to The Times of Israel. But eyewitnesses at the scene said the young people who gathered were unarmed and were trying to keep warm by a fire when the strike took place. They added that the attack happened as Israeli forces were withdrawing after a night of violent clashes with the Jenin Brigade, an armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, and that a soldier had been killed.  

Finding out on social media

Ibtesam knew her boys weren’t at home. They wanted to watch the Israeli military raid on the Jenin refugee camp. 

“Early in the morning, I saw that there had been a drone attack and that four members of the same family had been killed,” she says softly. “I called them immediately but nobody picked up. I left them a voice message asking them to call me back straight away,” she continues.

“It was on social media that I found out they had been killed.”  

The first thing she did was to go to the local hospital. In a video posted on X, she is seen walking into a ward asking: “Have they all gone? Is there anyone left?” With the support of one of her other children, she lifts an emergency blanket and finds horror. One of her sons lies lifeless, his body mangled from the explosion. Ibtesam lets out a muffled scream.  

A few hours later, it’s time to say goodbye. The crowd in the Qabatiya courtyard begins to swell. Dozens of women wait in silence as the men congregate outside. The sound of cars arriving, halting, then driving off is incessant. Residents of Jenin and Qabatiya come in waves to attend the funeral or to give their condolences to Ibtesam. The boys’ father, who works in Jordan, is not present. In Islam, funerals are typically conducted within 24 hours of the deceased’s passing. If the death took place in the morning, the funeral must be held before sunset. If it took place at night, the funeral happens the following morning.  

As the sun burns warmer, the atmosphere becomes suffocating. Only the clicking of cameras can be heard. Ibtesam, the mother of seven boys and two girls, explains how death is a part of everyday life in the occupied West Bank.

“That’s life for us Palestinians. We go out in the morning without knowing if we’ll be back in the evening,” she says in a matter-of-fact tone. “I have three sons left. If they kill them, we’ll make more. We will continue to resist.”  

Suddenly, the silence is broken by gunshots. The funeral procession draws nearer. Men’s voices are heard shouting the Takbir – “Allahu akbar!” (“God is greatest” in Arabic) – followed by a “la ilaha illa Allah!” (“There is no God truly worthy of worship except Allah”). More shots are fired, this time in rapid succession, almost deafening. 

The bodies of Hazaa, Rami, Ahamed and Alaa are all wrapped in the green flag of Hamas. A Palestinian keffiyeh covers their heads. Then, one by one, they are laid on the ground. A dense crowd surrounds the four “martyrs”, a widely used term to describe Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers, whether they were militants or not.  

More shots are fired, over and over again, to commemorate the dead. Men dressed in black, their faces hidden behind balaclavas, hold M-16s and other assault rifles. Among the crowds are militants from various brigades of the Jenin refugee camp. A sea of flags is waving, some clenched in the hands of young children. White for the Jenin Brigade, green for Hamas, yellow for Fatah – the party that heads the Palestinian Authority – and the red, black, green and white of the Palestinian flag.  

Time seems to stand still. As prayers and gunshots continue to fill the air, the four bodies are lifted up and carried by the men in the crowd. Ibtesam groans in pain, watching the procession walk away with her sons. She will not be going to the cemetery. According to Muslim tradition, women do not attend the burial of the deceased. The women who had come to support her flock towards her and weep. But Ibtesam does not. She was able to say goodbye to her children.  

Withholding remains, a form of ‘collective punishment’

Jamal Zubeidi was not. His son Mohammed, or “Hammoudi” as he called him, is yet to be buried. He was killed on November 29 by Israeli forces during a raid on the Jenin refugee camp. Considered a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative by Israeli intelligence service Shin Bet, the remains of the 27-year-old were taken away by soldiers. 

Shin Bet claims that Mohammed Zubeidi was involved in the planning of a terrorist attack that killed one person close to the Hermesh settlement in May last year, as well as another in June that killed one civilian and wounded four soldiers.   

Jamal Zubeidi holds the portrait of his son Mohammed, killed by the Israeli army in the Jenin refugee camp on November 29, 2023.
Jamal Zubeidi holds the portrait of his son Mohammed, killed by the Israeli army in the Jenin refugee camp on November 29, 2023. © Assiya Hamza, FRANCE 24

Israel has a long history of withholding the remains of Palestinians suspected of or having committed terrorist attacks. “The bodies of terrorists are detained in accordance with orders given by political authorities,” explains an army spokesperson contacted by FRANCE 24.  

“Twenty years ago, it was kind of an undeclared policy. But now it’s official,” says Jessica Montell, director of the Israeli human rights organisation HaMoked. “We represent several families who are waiting.”  

The practice was authorised by Israel’s Supreme Court in 2019 and is also used by Hamas or Hezbollah in Lebanon for the remains of Israeli soldiers.

“It’s a bargaining chip for future negotiations,” says Dror Sadot, a spokesperson for B’Tselem, the Israeli information centre for human rights in the occupied territories. “There were periods when the policy was used and others when it wasn’t. The number of bodies concerned is also very vague.”  

Between 1991 and 2008, Israel agreed to hand over 405 bodies in return for the bodies of deceased soldiers, according to data collected by B’Tselem. The National Campaign for Retrieval of the Bodies of Martyrs launched by the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC) estimates that the remains of 450 bodies are being kept in Israeli cemeteries and mortuaries, 47 of which were killed since October 7. According to JLAC, 2023 was a record year with 101 bodies detained, only 22 of which were returned. The Gaza Strip is not included in these figures due to lack of access.  

For both B’Tselem and HaMoked, withholding Palestinian remains is a form of “collective punishment”. Zubeidi feels the same. “It’s a punishment to make us suffer even more,” he says from the Jenin refugee camp still marked by the scars of the nighttime raid. “They think it will deter the militants.”  

A stretcher used to transport the remains, which are then buried in a shroud without a coffin, at the Jenin cemetery on January 7, 2024.
A stretcher used to transport the remains, which are then buried in a shroud without a coffin, at the Jenin cemetery on January 7, 2024. © Assiya Hamza, FRANCE 24

Hopes of a swap

Denying families the right to bury their loved ones is a source of undeniable anguish. Whether Palestinian or Israeli, religious or secular, funeral rites allow people to mourn. But without a body, that becomes impossible.  

“His grave has been dug. It’s waiting for him,” says the father of nine. Two of his sons have been killed by Israeli forces and another is currently in administrative detention. “I want to bury him, and visit him, but I have no body. I have no proof. How do you expect me to accept that he’s dead? I hope he isn’t. We need to see him to believe it.”  

Graves dug in Jenin's new cemetery on January 7, 2024.
Graves dug in Jenin’s new cemetery on January 7, 2024. © Assiya Hamza, FRANCE 24

Zubeidi hopes he will be able to retrieve Mohammed’s remains thanks to a potential exchange between Hamas and the Israeli government. Negotiations to free hostages held in the Gaza Strip since October 7 could see Palestinian detainees released and remains returned on both sides.

Hints of sadness and fatigue cover the 60-year-old’s face. Zubeidi himself has also spent time in Israeli prisons.

“We’re like all families, we’re scared for our children all the time,” he laments. “We’re sad because he’s dead, but we’re proud that he died a martyr. Freedom is paid for in blood.”  

This article is a translated version of the original in French

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Israel’s ‘refuseniks’: ‘I will never justify what Israel is doing in Gaza’

from our special correspondent in Israël – On December 26, Israel’s first conscientious objector since the start of its war against Hamas, Tal Mitnick, was sent to prison after refusing to serve in the army. Mitnick, however, is not alone. A small group of Israelis are refusing to take part in the “oppression of the Palestinians” by refusing to serve in the Gaza conflict. FRANCE 24 met with some of them in Israel.  

Young people refusing to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are known as “refuseniks” in Israel. The term dates from the Soviet era and once referred to Jews denied the right to emigrate to Israel from the Soviet bloc.

Although military service in the Jewish state is compulsory for both men and women – with many seeing it as an important part of their national identity – the refuseniks are increasingly speaking out.

“On February 25th (my enlistment date) … I will refuse to enlist and go to military jail for it,” Sofia Orr, an 18-year-old Israeli woman, told FRANCE 24 in the Pardes Hanna-Karkur municipality of the Haifa district.

“I refuse to take part in the violent policies of oppression and apartheid that Israel enacted upon the Palestinian people, and especially now with the war,” Orr said in English. “I want to fight to convey the message that there is no military solution to a political problem, and that is more apparent than ever now. And I want to be part of the solution and not the problem.”

Orr’s words echo those of her friend Tal Mitnick, the jailed 18-year-old who was sentenced on January 2 to 30 days in prison by a military court.

In a statement published on social media before his incarceration, Mitnick said that a lasting solution will not come from the army. “Violence cannot solve the situation – neither by Hamas, nor by Israel. There is no military solution to a political problem. Therefore, I refuse to enlist in an army that believes that the real problem can be ignored, under a government that only continues the bereavement and pain.”

“I’m very proud of him (Mitnick) and also inspired by his courage,” Orr said. “Everyone has different beliefs. But in the general sense, yes, I absolutely stand behind his open letter and behind his stand.”

She said the political situation in Israel has made it harder than ever to conscientiously object.

“Right now, it’s more difficult than ever to refuse and to take this stand, because the political environment in Israel has gotten way tougher since the war started. There has been a strong shift to the right, and the entire political sphere has become a lot more violent and aggressive,” Orr said.

The Israeli army relies almost exclusively on reservists. Men are required to enlist for 32 months and women for 24, after which they can be mobilised until their 40th and 38th birthdays, respectively.

Following Hamas’s surprise attacks on October 7 that left more than 1,100 Israelis dead, the army mobilised more than 360,000 reservists, about 4 percent of the country’s population of 9.8 million, representing Israel’s largest mobilisation since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

‘A politically motivated decision’

Orr, who describes herself as an “activist” and a “political person”, said it was already clear to her that she would conscientiously object at the age of 15. And she has not wavered since.

“The 7th of October changed nothing in either direction,” she said. “It should have been expected, because when you put people under extreme violence, extreme violence will rise back at you. It’s inevitable.”

She said the attacks in southern Israel “only made me surer in my decision”.

“Since the war started, and the horrible violence that is enacted on the Gazans in Gaza and the destruction of the whole place, it made me surer that we must fight for a different option and that this will never solve anything. And that I have to resist this cycle of bloodshed or it will never end,” Orr said.

The Israeli army rarely accepts refusals to enlist on grounds of pacifism or ethics.

Apart from the ultra-Orthodox and Israeli Arabs, who are automatically exempt from military service, only young Israelis suffering from physical or mental problems can be declared unfit after a medical examination.

Exemption was, however, out of the question for Orr.

“I choose to be part of the rare few who do have political motivations behind [not serving] … more than that, [who] choose to make it public [as] a public statement and a political statement,” she said. Orr chooses “to resist” and to do so publicly, “to raise awareness for the situation as a whole”.

With the support of her parents and sister, Orr is convinced that she can make a difference.

When a classmate rallied to her cause, Orr said, it “made me believe that I can change things, and that as small an impact that I have, it’s still an impact and it’s still worth it”.

Violence only leads to more violence

Seeking to bring the plight of Palestinians to public attention in Israel, Orr travelled to the West Bank to meet Palestinians.

“I went to the West Bank and talked to settlers, and then went and talked to Palestinians. And I think it’s an important experience, to see for yourself … how the settlers live and how the Palestinians live, what the settlers say and what the Palestinians say,” Orr said.

“We’ve seen for the past 70 years that the military using military means leads us nowhere. The only progress we’ve ever made on this piece of land has been by political means and negotiations and trying to make peace. So again, there is no military solution to a political problem. And this problem is both political and humanitarian. And the military does not solve either of those things,” she said.

Surprisingly mature and filled with conviction, Orr has stuck by her words and refused to abandon her beliefs even though talk of peace in Israel has mostly been silenced since the October 7 massacres.

“Israel’s attempts to eradicate Hamas is only making Hamas stronger, because if you offer no alternative to the Palestinians and they think that violent resistance is the only way … and [if they think] it’s the only language that Israel knows how to speak and … their only chance at freedom … Then, yes, of course they will join Hamas and try violent resistance,” Orr said.

The violence wrought by Hamas was also counter-productive, she said. “I don’t think that the horrible attack on October 7 made any progress for the Palestinian cause.”

But Israel’s war on Gaza pushes any hopes for a solution farther away.

“I will never justify what Israel does right now in Gaza. Violence only leads to more violence. So I think the only way to really weaken the violent resistance is to offer an alternative. And that has to come from inside Israel, and that has to come from Israel, because Israel is a much stronger side in the equation,” Orr said, adding that both Israelis and Palestinians should try to make peace amid the increasingly brutal Gaza war.

“It’s the only viable solution.”

While Orr’s words have, for the most part, fallen on deaf ears in Israel, some have resorted to calling her a “traitor” and a “self-hating Jew” while others even threatened to murder or rape her.

Orr said she has also suffered other consequences of her choice to go public, whether while job hunting or in the social sphere.

“People aren’t supposed to ask if you went to the army – and definitely not why you didn’t, if you didn’t,” she said. But of someone Googles her, her decision not to serve comes up.

“It can have consequences,” she acknowledged. “The biggest consequences are social because it’s a very militaristic society, and I’m very publicly not a militaristic person … but I believe that it’s worth it no matter what … I will endure [the consequences].”

When asked if she’s afraid of going to prison, Orr, who planned on studying literature after serving her sentence, didn’t equivocate. “It’s scary. I know it will be hard … but it’s part of the whole thing. I’ve made peace with it long ago.”

Avital Rubin, a young Israeli, has already served a total of four months in prison. Then 19, Rubin was sentenced for refusing military service in 2021.

Quietly seated on the terrace of a café in Haifa, Rubin said he was born into a family that he described as “dovish Zionist” – both liberal and conciliatory in their attitude.

Evyatar Rubin, 20, spent four months in prison for having refused to enroll with the Israeli military. © Assiya Hamza, FRANCE 24

“I remember as a kid, my mother bought me these mini biographies of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. And I always viewed these people as heroes. But the moment [Donald] Trump won, there was this shift on the internet and it all of a sudden became much more right-winged or much more bigoted, homophobic, sexist. And so I had to find places that I felt comfortable being … I had to [find] more and more leftist places,” Rubin said.

Rubin, who currently works in IT, educated himself by watching videos of Noam Chomsky and calls himself “anti-Zionist”.

Rubin took part in 2021 demonstrations by Jews and Arabs in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighbourhood in East Jerusalem that has been the centre of a heavy legal battle over the past 20 years between Palestinian families and Israeli settlers.

Without knowing how to exempt himself from military service, Rubin hesitated on whether to enlist.

‘Each time, the solution is to bomb Gaza’

Rubin was introduced to a member of Mesarvot – “Those who refuse” in Hebrew – at one of the group’s gatherings.

The NGO informs and advises young people without necessarily discouraging them from joining the army.

Like Mitnick and Orr, Rubin saw that it was possible to refuse military service on political grounds.

Mesarvot provided him with legal support and even visited him in prison.

“I’m happy I didn’t do it (military service) and I refused. Not because I’m a pacifist, but because I always grew up viewing the occupation and the Nakba (“Catastrophe” in Arabic; Nakba refers to the forced exodus of Palestinians in 1948) with disgust. And so to be part of the IDF would be to be part of this thing. And I think that is what, more than anything, pushed me away from enlisting in the military,” Rubin said.

While clearly disapproving of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, Rubin admitted to having discovered the realities of the West Bank only when he was 16.

“When I was in prison, and I told people I’m refusing because of the occupation … they were like, ‘what is the occupation?’ I said, you know, over the Green Line (the pre-1967 border from before the Six-Day War). And they were like, what is the Green Line? Honestly, I didn’t blame them because three years prior to that, I didn’t know what the Green Line was either,” he said.

Rubin has since chosen to isolate himself, likening his isolation to the mark of Cain, a visible mark placed by the Abrahamic God on the biblical figure Cain’s forehead, so that others would recognise him as the murderer of his brother Abel.

This self-isolation has allowed Rubin to distance himself from the Nakba and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

“The only thing I actually sacrificed was an easy job because, if I enlisted, I would have gone to some intelligence [unit], done like three years – maybe signed for an extra two years – then I would have left and found some cushy job in high tech and gotten paid like six figures for doing nothing. Which is basically what all my high school friends are going to do,” he said.

Rubin said his family and friends didn’t try to persuade him otherwise, as they saw that he stood by his convictions, which remained unchanged even after the October 7 attacks.

“Israel has this spectacular capability of never learning from anything. It’s like, for 100 years, we’ve been bombing and murdering and occupying, and then a massacre happens, and then we bomb and occupy and kill. Then a massacre happens. But every time something happens, the solution is to bomb Gaza. This time it will work. This time it will be different … And that’s what people say,” Rubin said.

“[The PLO] committed acts of terror and massacres, but ultimately they wanted, at the beginning, a one-state secular democratic solution, then a two-state solution. And then, in the 80s, Israel didn’t want to deal with the PLO. So we invaded Lebanon to try to push PLO [out] and instead we got Hezbollah, which is like a million times worse. And then Israel didn’t want to deal with the PLO in the occupied territories in Gaza. So it helped raise Hamas, which is a million times worse … The history of Israel is just like [a series of] military solutions that just make the situation worse time and time and time again,” he said.

When asked about the future, Rubin didn’t attempt to hide his pessimism.

“I think the situation is going to become noticeably worse. Israel is in a death spiral … There’s no room left for personal agency in Israel. I feel it has all been determined by by the currents of history. The same way that the earth revolves around the sun and slowly sinks into it – the same way that Israel cannot help but fulfill its historic destiny,” Rubin said, adding that even a change in premiership wouldn’t bring about a significant change in Israel.

“It doesn’t matter who is the next prime minister – who will it be? Probably [Israeli opposition leader Yair] Lapid or no, probably Benny Gantz most likely,” referring to the MP and onetime challenger to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

“But it doesn’t matter. He’s the same as Binyamin Netanyahu,” he said.

Despite his pessimistic outlook, Rubin said he would remain in Israel.

Citing Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who saved hundreds of Jews from Nazi extermination camps, Rubin said he hoped to sacrifice himself in some way to save others.

“That’s the most heroic thing a man can do. The most correct thing a man can do. And that’s what matters for me most. And there’s no other place in the world where I can actually do it, other than Israel. So I will. My place will always be here,” he said.

This article has been translated from the original in French.

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Fake story about assassination attempt on Mahmoud Abbas goes viral

A video supposedly showing an assassination attempt on Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has been circulating widely on X (formerly Twitter) since November 7. However, it turns out that the video actually shows a police drug raid on a refugee camp near Ramallah in the West Bank on November 7.

Issued on: Modified:

5 min

If you only have a minute

  • On November 7, a number of X accounts posted a video they claimed showed an assassination attempt on Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.
  • However, the day the video started circulating online, the spokesperson of the Palestinian security services, Talal Dweikat, said the video actually shows a drug raid carried out by the Palestinian Civil Police Force on the Jalazone refugee camp located near Ramallah. A local media outlet also reported this.
  • Our team reached out to the Palestinian authorities but, for the time being, have not received a response.

The fact-check, in detail

“WARNING: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was the victim of an assassination attempt. His convoy came under fire,” reads a tweet, translated from French, posted by the X account Arab Intelligence in the middle of the afternoon on November 7. Arab Intelligence says in its bio that it is a news site for information about the Arab world.

The post, which garnered more than 700,000 views before it was taken down, also claimed that one of Abbas’s security agents was shot in the head and killed.

Hundreds of other accounts also shared this rumour – within just a few hours, the news had gone viral internationally. 

This is a tweet from the Belarusian news outlet Nexta, which reported that there was an assassination attempt on the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Observers

A post by Belarusian news outlet Nexta featuring the video has garnered more than 1.9 million views since it was posted on November 7. The story spread quickly on X in Arabic, with some posts garnering more than two million views. Some international media outlets, like the Russian press agency Tass, also reported that Abbas’s convoy was attacked.

Most of these posts featured videos showing an exchange of gunfire between two groups in a town centre. The footage most widely shared shows bullets raining down on a group of armed men standing next to a black pick-up truck.  One of them falls to the ground, seemingly shot.

A police drug raid 

However, none of these videos show an assassination attempt on Mahmoud Abbas. The footage was filmed on November 7 during a police raid on drug traffickers in the Jalazone refugee camp located near Ramallah in the West Bank. 

The first posts on X about the drug raids appeared around 11am Paris time on November 7 (here’s one example). That means they were shared online before the false rumour about the assassination started to circulate. A local media outlet in Ramallah, Khabar24, also shared this video on Facebook and X before 12pm Paris time.

Khabar24 said in its posts that a captain in the security forces of the Palestinian Authority was injured by shots fired by a criminal gang in the Jalazone camp during an attempt to arrest a drug trafficker.

This information aligns with the statement posted on Facebook a few hours later by the spokesperson for the Palestinian security forces, Talal Dweikat.

“Six members of the Palestinian security forces were injured, including one seriously, during a raid for a person wanted in drug cases,” Dweikat said in the statement, translated from Arabic.

Our team was able to geolocate the specific site where the police raid took place by analysing several different videos posted on X (like this one and this one) of the incident filmed from different angles.

A stone building (outlined in dark green in the image below) appears in two different videos of the incident, filmed at different angles. We were able to locate this building on Google Maps thanks to its distinctive vertical balconies.

In the first video, filmed from the location marked with a red star (here), you can see a white roof that also appears in the satellite image (marked in light blue). In the second video, filmed from the location marked with a blue star, you can see a roof made of orange tiles (marked in red), a uniquely shaped white building (marked in light green) and a minaret that also appears in the background of the video below (in purple). 

In the background is Jalazone as seen on Google Maps. At the right are two screengrabs of videos of the drug raid. The first video (above right) was filmed from the location marked with a red star. The second video was filmed from the location marked with a blue star. In the videos. you can see the distinctive balconies on the main building (marked in dark green), a roof of orange tiles (marked in red), the white roof (marked in light blue) and a minaret that appears in the background (marked in purple).
In the background is Jalazone as seen on Google Maps. At the right are two screengrabs of videos of the drug raid. The first video (above right) was filmed from the location marked with a red star. The second video was filmed from the location marked with a blue star. In the videos. you can see the distinctive balconies on the main building (marked in dark green), a roof of orange tiles (marked in red), the white roof (marked in light blue) and a minaret that appears in the background (marked in purple). Observers

Our team reached out to the Palestinian Authority but has not yet heard back.

A document with unknown origins

Some accounts on X went further than just sharing rumours about the assassination attempt on Abbas – they also claimed to know who had carried out the attack. French-Algerian journalist Mohamed Sifaoui, along with others, claimed that this (fake) assassination attempt was the work of a Palestinian group known as the Sons of Abu Jandal.

This Palestinian group was unknown up until this point. It claims to be made up of members of the security forces of the Palestinian Authority’s security who have links to Fatah.

In a statement in Arabic dated November 5, this group delivered an ultimatum to Abbas (using his nickname Abou Mazen).
In a statement in Arabic dated November 5, this group delivered an ultimatum to Abbas (using his nickname Abou Mazen). Observers

This document says that if the president of the Palestinian Authority didn’t “take a clear position declaring an open confrontation with the [Israeli] occupation”, the group would consider rebelling. 

While many questions remain about this document and its authors – including its veracity – that hasn’t stopped some accounts from claiming that this group was behind the (fake) assassination attempt.

Mahmoud Abbas, a president weakened by the conflict in Gaza

As Israel’s offensive in Gaza in response to the October 7 Hamas attack continues, the president of the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, has found himself under increasing criticism from the Palestinian population, who say that he has not taken hard enough action against Israel. 

However, Abbas’s popularity was already low before the war. An opinion poll published in September by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), said that 78% of Palestinians were in favour of 88-year-old Abbas resigning. 

The Palestinian Authority has been in power since 2005. However, after Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007, they now only control parts of the West Bank.

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From outrage to hate: In the wake of October 7, Israel’s far right seeks to extend its influence

Ministers from Israel’s extreme right have been making increasingly controversial statements since the Hamas attacks on October 7 in a game of one-upmanship that has seen the right wing seek to extend its influence over Israel’s government and beyond.

In a radio interview on November 4, Israel‘s Heritage Minister Amihai Eliyahu said there were “no non-combatants” in Gaza before adding that providing medical aid to the enclave would amount to a “failure”. Dropping a nuclear bomb on the Gaza Strip would be “one of the options” for dealing with Hamas, he said. 

Eliyahu is a member of the religious supremacist party Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”), part of Israel’s ruling coalition.  

Public outrage was swift and furious. “Amihai Eliyahu has got to go” ran an editorial headline in the Jerusalem Post on November 6. Liberal newspaper Haaretz went farther, with a call to “fire Israel’s far right” altogether.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was also quick to condemn the statement, saying Eliyahu was “divorced from reality” before suspending him from government meetings until further notice.


“It doesn’t sound like something a savvy politician would say,” says Eitan Tzelgov, a specialist in Israeli politics at the University of East Anglia in the UK. “[It is] just outrageous and so wrong on many levels – one of them being that Israel has never officially acknowledged it has the nuclear bomb.”  

Tzelgov says such declarations are symptomatic of a culture of one-upmanship among politicians on Israel’s extreme right, who have been vying to make increasingly outlandish statements since the deadly Hamas attacks in Israel on October 7.      

Omri Brinner, an Israel analyst and specialist in Mideast geopolitics at the International Team for the Study of Security Verona says these declarations have included warnings that Arab-Israelis “are about to embark on a violent campaign within Israel” – from National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is also leader of the Otzma Yehudit party – or that “Jews murdered in the West Bank are more important than Jews murdered in Gaza, because the former are right-wing settlers and the latter are left-wing kibbutz members”, from Simcha Rothman of the far-right Religious Zionist Party. 

Eliyahu’s comments on nuclear weapons were not his first brush with controversy. In a Facebook post from  November 1, he wrote that north Gaza was “more beautiful than ever” following Israeli bombardments.

He also called for the “mass movement” of Palestinians out of Gaza, reiterating a longstanding and controversial talking point from the extreme religious right. 

Waning influence 

Many Israelis reject the views of the far-right ministers who entered into government following electoral gains in 2022 that saw them acquire six seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, heralding the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. 

For some, the Otzma Yehudit party is the political offspring of the radical orthodox Kach party, which was banned under Israel’s anti-terrorism laws in 1994.   

But widespread public shock at the brutality of Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel has played into the hands of the most radical fringe of the Israeli government, and making brash statements has become part of a calculated political risk.

“Right now, it may be more acceptable for the constituency to say things like this because of the emotional state in Israel,” says Artur Skorek, Israel specialist at Jagiellonian University in Krakow and director of the European Association of Israel Studies.

Netanyahu is personally reliant on politicians on the extreme right to maintain his grip on power and avoid the damning legal charges against him for fraud, breach of trust and accepting improper gifts.

Right-wing politicians “are crucial for the survival of the coalition”, says Brinner. “Without them Netanyahu doesn’t have a majority in the Knesset, meaning that he will not be able to continue as prime minister, which means that he will not be able to weaken the judicial system and cancel the trial on the three charges he faces.”

So far, the prime minister has avoided taking a firm stance on the most controversial of the far right’s comments, with the exception of condemning Eliyahu’s endorsement of using a nuclear bomb.

But beyond their hold over Netanyahu, far-right ministers are likely using strong rhetoric to mask their waning influence.

“This war marks a reduction in their influence at the heart of Netanyahu’s government,” says Peter Lintl, a specialist in Israeli politics at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik).

This is partly because Netanyahu’s war cabinet has seen the return the centrist Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) party to government, led by retired army general Benny Gantz – a fierce opponent of Israel’s extreme-right parties and Netanyahu. 

Within the cabinet itself, “the extreme-right ministers and Knesset members do not have direct operational influence on how Israel conducts the war”, adds Brinner.

“The state and security executives who run the war don’t take them into consideration and even look down at them. None of them even served in the military.”

Lacking tangible power, the far right “are trying to win [over the electorate] by making outrageous comments like this – they can use this language because they don’t have influence and power on how the war is fought”, Skorek adds. 

Targeting the West Bank 

But Israel’s vocal far-right ministers are likely aiming to do more than just persuade potential voters with outlandish statements.

Despite the shock waves that have swept through Israeli society since 7 October, the far right seems focused on longstanding goals: the “transfer” of Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank and the eradication of the Israeli secular left.

“Their ultimate goal is to have a very different Israeli state – religious rather than secular – and it starts in the West Bank,” says Brinner.

“Keeping the eyes of the world on Gaza allows them and their followers to advance extreme right-wing agendas in the West Bank, even violence against Palestinians there; the bigger the war in Gaza, the less oversight there is in the West Bank.”

Read moreGaza conflict spills into West Bank amid settler attacks

Ben-Gvir has already succeeded in playing on fears stirred up by the Hamas attacks to advance a long-held political goal – loosening firearms regulations to allow more Israelis to carry guns.  

Since October 7, more than 180,000 applications for weapons permits have been submitted in Israel. “The minister has used this crisis to promote a plan to make it easier for citizens to carry weapons,” says Tzelgov.

“His followers will be the first to ask for them.”

Far-right politicians are also playing a long game, aiming to be as aggressive as possible now so that once the war is over, they can settle scores with political opponents.

“They are preparing the stage for the next round: continue to target their opponents – [including] the left, NGOs and the media – as not sufficiently aligned with what was necessary to defend Israel’s interests,” says Tzelgov.

At the same time, provocative rhetoric from far-right ministers is likely to cause “great damage” to Israel’s overall war effort, says Brinner, stirring discontent both inside and outside the country.

“People who support the religious parties are going to question why the government is not being more aggressive in the war against Hamas,” adds Lintl, while internationally, the extremely nationalist tone risks weakening support for Israel and accelerating calls for a ceasefire.

In the long-term, Lintl says, the inflammatory statements could also have a lasting negative impact on relations with allies  – including the US and regional powers like Saudi Arabia – who might be less inclined to sit around the negotiating table with an Israel that is so unwaveringly combative.

This article was translated from the original in French.

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Can the Palestinian Authority lead a post-Hamas Gaza Strip?

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is working hard to involve the Palestinian Authority in a resolution of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Despite having a significant security apparatus, a civil service and other trappings of a state, the weaknesses of the internationally recognised Palestinian leadership mean it may not be well positioned to play a meaningful role in Gaza’s future.

Antony Blinken reiterated Washington’s opposition to Israel reoccupying the Gaza Strip once its war with Hamas ends at a G7 meeting in Japan on Wednesday. “Palestinian people must be central to governance in Gaza and the West Bank as well,” the US secretary of state told reporters, adding: “Gaza cannot continue to be run by Hamas.”

But Washington’s stated opposition to an Israeli occupation of Gaza begs a key question: Who can lead a post-Hamas Gaza Strip?

Blinken’s recent trip to see Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas may provide an insight into US thinking.

On November 5, Blinken passed through Israeli checkpoints on his way to Ramallah to meet with Abbas, his second trip to the region since the Israel-Hamas war began on October 7 and his first to the Palestinian administrative capital.

Blinken reiterated that the United States would like to see the PA playing a central role in any post-Hamas Gaza.

But according to Palestinian media, Abbas told Blinken that the Gaza Strip is an integral part of the state of Palestine and that the PA could only have a role there if Israel ends its occupation of both Palestinian territories within the framework of a “comprehensive political solution that includes all of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip”.

“There are no words to describe the genocidal war and destruction that our Palestinian people in Gaza are enduring at the hands of the Israeli war machinery, with no regard for international law,” Abbas added.

The Palestinian Authority in 2023

Established in 1994 as a consequence of the Oslo AccordsYasser Arafat was elected PA president two years later. Today the PA formally exercises authority over only 18% of the West Bank, known as “Area A”. The remaining 82%, separated into Areas “B” and “C”, is controlled either jointly with or entirely by Israel.

Faced with the largest crisis in decades, Arafat’s successor appears more powerless than ever. The PA has been absent from the Gaza Strip since Hamas made gains in the 2006 legislative elections and its subsequent victory in the Battle of Gaza, which saw the Islamist group take complete control of the enclave in 2007.

Among Palestinians, the PA is deeply unpopular, seen as corrupt, repressive and in the service of Israel. But it has a semi-functioning political structure, a civilian administration, and security and intelligence services. It also receives financial support from the United States and the European Union as well as Saudi Arabia and other Arab League states.

There is limited data available about the Palestinian security apparatus in the West Bank but its forces are thought to number in the tens of thousands. These forces are divided among several agencies – including the Palestinian Civil Police, the National Security Forces and the internal Preventive Security Force, which includes the presidential guard – some of which are equipped with light armoured vehicles.

All of these forces loyal to Abbas are restricted to certain areas of the West Bank and have engaged in continuous security cooperation with the Israeli state.

Read more‘We are failing again’: UN, US resignations highlight splits over Israel’s Gaza assault

“The cooperation between the Palestinian and Israeli [security] services is extensive and has withstood any challenge. Every time Mahmoud Abbas has wanted to suspend security cooperation, the Americans have opposed it and he has fallen in line,” says Jean-Paul Chagnollaud, director of the Paris-based Institute for Research and Studies on the Mediterranean and Middle East (Institut de recherche et d’études Méditerranée Moyen-Orient).

“It’s an almost organic relationship, and for many Palestinians, security cooperation comes with no political return. That’s why many accuse the Palestinian Authority of a sort of collaboration.”

Chagnollaud says the idea that the PA would return to Gaza – with Israeli armoured vehicles – as part of an occupying army would be unacceptable to most Palestinians and politically untenable for Abbas and his government.

Can the Palestinian Authority govern Gaza again?

Frédéric Encel, a specialist in Middle Eastern politics at Sciences Po University in Paris, says the Palestinian Authority’s return to Gaza is the only viable solution.

Israel has no legitimacy and no intention of reoccupying, let alone annexing, the enclave,” he says. “Egypt, which occupied it until 1967, has no interest in taking charge. And no state will send peacekeepers to control the Gaza Strip.”

However, for a PA return to be possible, many preconditions need to be met.

“The first condition, which is not easy, is the demilitarisation of Hamas’s main forces, meaning its missiles and especially any terrorists who could enter Israel. As long as this condition remains unmet, the Israelis will not stop the war,” says Encel.

“The second condition is massive support from the international community. And the third is that the current Israeli government [of hard-right Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu] collapses in the short term.”

Encel has “guarded expectations” that these conditions can be established, particularly given Netanyahu’s plummeting approval ratings in the wake of Hamas’s attack in southern Israel. “This combination of circumstances is certainly difficult, but not impossible. All opinion polls conducted in Israel since the Hamas massacre on October 7 consistently give substantial advantage to a centrist and centre-left cohort who are not at all opposed to the two-state solution and the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians.”

Read moreShock Hamas terror attack: The beginning of the end for Israel’s Netanyahu?

US bets on Abbas

The United States would like to have an “effective and revitalised Palestinian Authority take back governance and ultimately security responsibility in Gaza”, as Blinken told a Senate hearing in late October.

But the Biden administration’s hope faces clear obstacles, principally Hamas itself.  

Osama Hamdan, one of Hamas’s Lebanon-based leaders, said on Monday that his people “will not allow the United States to impose its plans to create an administration that suits it and that suits the [Israeli] occupation, and our people will not accept a new Vichy government” – a reference to the collaborationist government that controlled northern France during World War II. 

But the US project also faces opposition on the Israeli side.

Netanyahu once again rejected the possibility of a ceasefire in Gaza on Monday. He promised Israel would take “overall security responsibility” in the enclave after the war, prompting a round of denials from Washington, which made clear it would not support an Israeli reoccupation of Gaza.

But the US diplomatic initiative may have a long road ahead, since it would rely on an agreement between the Palestinian Authority and a future Israeli government – one run not by hawks and their far-right allies, but one willing to partner with the Palestinians to map out Gaza’s future.

This article is translated from the original in French.

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Avaaz campaigner: ‘Neither Hamas nor Fatah can claim to represent the Palestinian people’

from our special correspondent in Ramallah – Two weeks into the Israel-Hamas war, Fadi Quran, campaigns director for Avaaz, an NGO coordinating activists worldwide, is calling for a ceasefire in the interest of children on both sides.

More than 4,000 Palestinians and 1,400 Israelis have died since the unprecedented Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, and at least 212 people are still being held hostage in the Gaza Strip. As the death toll climbs on both sides, UN agencies and other NGOs are calling for a ceasefire.

Quran speaks to FRANCE 24 in his residence in Ramallah about the despair of the Palestinian people caught in the conflict, and implores civil societies on both sides to pressure their governments to work for peace and spare the lives of children.

FRANCE 24: How do the people of the West Bank feel about the war in Gaza?

Quran: For many Palestinians, living in the West Bank every day is an experience of torture. We watch children being killed in Gaza – one child every 15 minutes. Imagine that you lived in Marseille, France, and you were watching TV for two weeks, seeing such images. Now, every 15 minutes, a child is pulled from under the rubble. People are in deep pain and they are trying to figure out what to do.

Many Palestinians have gone out to protest against this war, and many of them have been arrested over the last two weeks. Israel has also arrested over 4,000 Palestinians from across the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority, which is working with Israel, has also arrested dozens of people… 

Many of us have friends in Gaza. I was speaking to a friend this morning and he was telling me how he’s bringing water from the Mediterranean sea and boiling it, and then waiting for it to cool down without the salt so that he can give that water to his three-year-old child and his wife. They don’t have any more [fresh] water left where they live, because Israel has blockaded [the Gaza Strip].

That is the situation today. And for many Palestinians, what we’re beginning to do in the West Bank is to call for the replacement of the current Palestinian leadership, because we feel that they are betraying the cause by not doing enough to support the people in Gaza. But the truth is, I think many Palestinians, not just here but across the world, are staying at home, watching TV in tears.

What do you mean by replacement?

Our goal is to hold democratic elections for Palestinians across the world, to choose leaders who are capable of liberating us. The truth today is [that] neither Hamas nor Fatah can claim that they represent the Palestinian people, because we have not had elections for over 15 years. While Israel has banned Palestinians from voting in elections, the Palestinian Authority cooperates to make sure they never happen.

Many Gazans are stranded in Ramallah or elsewhere in the West Bank. What are their living conditions like?

Both my mother and sister are clinical psychologists, and they’ve been working with families from Gaza who are now here. According to what they report to me and the stories I’ve heard myself, it’s just complete and total depression, a complete and total sense of helplessness, panic attacks.

For example, a man called Mohammed from Gaza who was working in the West Bank got stuck here. He was talking to his wife and children when the phone got cut off and he hasn’t been able to reach them for ten days now. He was begging and crying: “I just want to go home. I just want to find my wife. I want to find my children.” He tried contacting his parents. They initially answered and then again disappeared. He can’t speak to them.

That is the story of hundreds of Gazans, fathers, mothers, and grandparents that are just unable to speak to their loved ones. It is heartbreaking.

How do you see the situation developing?

I’ve been speaking as part of my work in international advocacy to diplomats across key countries, including countries in the EU. [According to them,] Israel has forecast the deaths of 25 to 35,000 Palestinians. That alone is a terrifying number. They’re also estimating that 10 to 15% of Gaza’s population will be permanently displaced. We’re talking about 300 to 400,000 people becoming refugees for the third time in their lives. It seems like we’re going to face another catastrophe [of] ethnic cleansing, genocide. That is what the Israeli government is moving towards.

Read moreExperts say Hamas and Israel are breaking international law, but what does that mean?

Now there is another scenario. It’s the less likely one – but the one that we should all be fighting for – which is a proposal now being put on the table where Israel would be asked to release the 170 children that it holds in military prisons. In return, Hamas would release the children and their guardians held as hostages since October 7 and create a humanitarian corridor and safe areas for children in Gaza.

That is the scenario that President Macron, Biden and the international community should be pushing for. Instead of pushing for a solution that saves Jewish and Palestinian lives, they’re supporting Israel’s warmongering. That war is not only going to take tens of thousands of my people’s lives. It will also keep Netanyahu in power, but it won’t achieve security for the Jewish people. So even though the scenario of a ceasefire for children is the less likely one, if people raise their voices, it will become the only path forward. Otherwise, we’re looking at a war that is going to devastate us all.

Is the ceasefire for children feasible on the Israeli side?

This proposal for ceasefire for children is not being discussed in Israel. But we just did a poll with Israeli institutes which showed us that 57% of Israelis would support the proposal I just mentioned. Now, the government doesn’t support it, but this is why now we’re speaking with Israeli civil society organisations and even trying to reach out to the families of the hostages, so that they push their government to move away from war and towards the solution. I think we have less than a week to make this solution a reality before we face another catastrophe as Palestinians.

What do you expect from the international community?

This could be a moment that makes any solution for freedom, justice and dignity – and the opportunity to end the apartheid that the Palestinian people face – more impossible and take longer. Or, it can be a moment for a paradigm shift. And for us as Palestinians, we’re doing what we can to protect ourselves and create that path for freedom and dignity for both sides. But if people across France, the people across the United States and people across the United Kingdom don’t organise as well to stop this war, then it will not be stopped. So there is a responsibility, and one that the French and France’s leadership, are not taking seriously: putting an end to this violence.

So I call on the French people to act now because peace for us is also peace for the world.

This article is a translation of the original in French.

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In latest violence, Israeli police kill Palestinian teen assailant and West Bank bomb hurts Israelis

Israeli police on Wednesday shot and killed a 14-year-old Palestinian boy who stabbed a man in a Jerusalem light-rail station, officials said, while Palestinian militants detonated a bomb near a convoy of Israeli troops escorting Jewish worshippers to a holy site in the occupied West Bank, wounding four Israeli troops.

The attacks came hours after fighting erupted in a Palestinian refugee camp between local residents and their own security forces, leaving a 25-year-old Palestinian man dead.

The bloodshed was the latest in a deadly wave of violence that has gripped the area over the past year and a half and shows no signs of slowing.

The Israeli army said that the late-night explosion in Nablus — a stronghold of Palestinian militants in the northern West Bank — wounded an Israeli military officer and three soldiers.

The soldiers were evacuated to a nearby hospital for treatment. One was moderately wounded and the rest suffered only light wounds. Amateur video on social media showed a large plume of white smoke rising into the air after the blast.

The troops were escorting worshippers to Joseph’s Tomb – a flashpoint shrine where some Jews believe the biblical Joseph is buried. The Israeli army said the blast struck when its forces were trying to clear the way for worshippers and that no civilians were harmed.

Muslims say a sheikh is buried in the shrine. The army escorts Jewish worshippers to the site several times a year in coordination with Palestinian security forces.

But security coordination has weakened during the wave of fighting, and the unpopular Palestinian security forces have struggled to maintain control in militant strongholds like Nablus.

The explosion came shortly after Wednesday’s stabbing in Jerusalem – in which police said a Palestinian teen attacked a man, moderately wounding him, before he was shot and killed.

The incident occurred along the invisible line straddling east and west Jerusalem.

According to police, the boy stabbed the man on a platform at the station. An off-duty member of the paramilitary border police force in a train noticed the attack, got off the train and shot the attacker. Police later released a photo of what they said was the knife, its tip stained with blood.

However, it was unclear if the boy, identified as a resident of a Palestinian neighborhood in east Jerusalem, was still armed when he was killed in what was described as a fast-moving incident.

The police statement said a crowd of people “began to struggle with the terrorist” after the stabbing.

One witness, Eldad Bar-Kochva, told the Ynet news site that he was sitting at the station with his wife when the boy took out the knife.

“We pounced on him, I gave him a strong kick in the face and hand, and the knife fell out of his hand. A border policeman ran over and shot him,” he said, adding that the entire incident unfolded in about 30 seconds. Police praised the “professional and swift response” of the officer and said security camera footage wasn’t immediately available.

Earlier Wednesday, fighting erupted in a refugee camp in the northern West Bank between Palestinians and their own security forces, leaving a 25-year-old Palestinian dead, officials said. The unrest underscored the challenges facing Palestinian police trying to impose order in the restive territory.

Palestinian police entered the refugee camp in Tulkarem after residents appealed to the Palestinian Authority to remove metal street barriers set up by local militants that were blocking access to homes and schools, Palestinian security spokesperson Talal Dweikat said.

The angled metal barricades are a staple in the militarized refugee camps of the northern West Bank, meant to deter Israeli military vehicles during frequent army raids.

After police cleared the streets, Dweikat said Palestinian militants opened fire in front of the Tulkarem Muqata, the authority headquarters. Police responded “to control the security situation,” he added.

A Palestinian security officer in Tulkarem, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said that an uninvolved Palestinian resident who he identified as the 25-year-old was caught in the crossfire and killed.

He claimed the Palestinian security forces had fired tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants but not live fire. Palestinians, he said, were seeking to conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death but the local militant group refused and was keeping his body.

The Hamas militant group condemned the death.

In flashpoint point cities in the northern West Bank under the administration of the Palestinian Authority, attempts by Palestinian security forces to reassert internal control have stirred anger among defiant militants, who deride the unpopular authority and its leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, as collaborators with Israel. The PA administers semi-autonomous areas in the Israeli-occupied territory.

Unable to protect Palestinians against surging attacks by Jewish settlers and often deadly Israeli military raids into Palestinian towns and cities, Palestinian security forces have faced deep public criticism over their perceived impotence and reviled security alliance with Israel.

Nearly 180 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank and east Jerusalem since the start of this year, according to a tally by The Associated Press. Israel says most of the Palestinians killed were militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and those not involved in the confrontations have also been killed.

Some 30 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis during that time.

Israel says the raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks. Palestinians say the raids undermine their security forces, inspire more militancy and entrench Israeli control over lands they seek for a hoped-for future state.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

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