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The UN's human rights chief cautions about the dehumanization of Palestinians and increasing violence in the West Bank, while the crisis in Gaza continues to escalate.
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The UN’s human rights chief cautions about the dehumanization of Palestinians and increasing violence in the West Bank, while the crisis in Gaza continues to escalate.

Mr. Türk, from OHCHR, expressed worry about the deployment of military force and weapons by law enforcement, limitations on Palestinian movement, and a significant increase in violence from settlers which has led to the displacement of herding communities. He commented on a recently published report on the West Bank.

Mr. Türk expressed concern over the dehumanization of Palestinians by settlers and urged Israel to take action by investigating and prosecuting those responsible for such actions. He also emphasized the need for protection of Palestinian communities from forced relocation.

‘Deadliest year’

The United Nations’ human rights leader stated that recent accounts of violations follow similar patterns as previously documented, but with increased severity. Since Israel began bombing Gaza in response to Hamas’ deadly terrorist acts on October 7th, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has confirmed the deaths of 300 Palestinians, including 79 children, in the occupied West Bank. The majority of these deaths were caused by Israeli Security Forces (ISF), while eight were caused by settlers.

Before October 7th, 200 Palestinians had been killed in the West Bank, the highest number in a single year. In its most recent report, the UN’s humanitarian affairs coordination office OCHA emphasized that this year (2023) has been the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank since the UN started keeping track of casualties in 2005.

Violence against detainees

The report from OHCHR mentions a significant rise in airstrikes and military invasions in the West Bank, specifically in refugee camps and densely populated regions, since October 7th. It also brings attention to the detainment of over 4,700 Palestinians, including around 40 journalists, by ISF, often without evidence of criminal activity.

According to the report, certain detainees experienced mistreatment including being forcibly undressed, blindfolded, and restrained for extended periods of time with handcuffs and bound legs. The Israeli soldiers also allegedly stepped on the detainees’ heads and backs, spat at them, and slammed them against walls. A report from OHCHR also noted that on October 31, Israeli media revealed numerous images and videos showing soldiers mistreating, degrading, and humiliating Palestinians who were arrested in the West Bank.

The report also details incidents of sexual and gender-based violence, such as a detainee being physically assaulted in their genitals, multiple detainees being forced to remove their clothing as shown in videos, and derogatory sexual remarks made towards a woman. Additionally, two pregnant women were threatened with rape while in detention, with the perpetrators citing the actions of Hamas’ armed wing, who carried out the 7 October terror attacks against Israeli women.

Settler attacks doubled

According to the report, there has been a significant increase in attacks by settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. Between October 7th and November 20th, OCHA documented 254 attacks, averaging six incidents per day. This is a stark contrast to the three incidents per day recorded since the start of the year. These attacks, which involved shootings, arson, and destruction of property, were reported by OHCHR.

According to the report, there were numerous cases where settlers, either in ISF uniforms or accompanied by ISF, were seen carrying army rifles. The investigation revealed that these settlers have been conducting armed attacks against Palestinian farmers who were harvesting their olives. These attacks involved forcing the farmers off their land, stealing their crops, and damaging or poisoning their olive trees. This has resulted in many Palestinians losing a significant source of income.

The report from the OHCHR mentions that following the date of October 7th, the ISF allegedly provided 8,000 military rifles to civilian groups known as “settlements defence squads” and “regional defence battalions” in order to safeguard settlements in the West Bank. This was done after a large number of Israeli soldiers were relocated to Gaza.

Mr. Türk expressed his dissatisfaction with the ongoing lack of responsibility for violence by settlers and the Israeli Security Forces. He called upon Israel to allow his Office to enter the country, stating that they were prepared to report on the attacks that occurred on October 7th.


As of midnight on Thursday, the current death toll in Gaza is reported to be 21,110 by the health authorities in the region. Over 55,243 Palestinians have also been injured in the enclave.

According to OCHA, there was extensive bombing by Israeli forces from air, land, and sea on Wednesday, while Palestinian armed groups continued launching rockets into Israel.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) reports that in Gaza, approximately 1.9 million individuals, accounting for about 85% of the population, have been displaced within their own region, with many experiencing displacement multiple times. The agency has expressed concern over recent Israeli orders to evacuate the Middle Gaza area, stating that this is worsening the situation for displaced individuals, including over 150,000 vulnerable individuals such as young children, women with infants, people with disabilities, and the elderly, who have no safe place to seek refuge.

‘Public health disaster’

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that displaced individuals are facing worsening living conditions due to inadequate food and essentials, as well as unsanitary conditions, which are contributing to the spread of disease.

Martin Griffiths, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, expressed concern on social media platform X about the rapid spread of infectious diseases in crowded shelters. He also noted that hospitals are struggling to provide adequate care and that many individuals with war injuries are not receiving proper treatment.

He cautioned that Gaza is on the path towards becoming a public health catastrophe.

Hospital aid deliveries

As of Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that only 13 hospitals in Gaza were partially operational. WHO stated that four of these hospitals in the northern region are experiencing shortages of medical staff, supplies such as anaesthesia and antibiotics, as well as fuel, food, and clean drinking water. Meanwhile, hospitals in the southern region are operating at three times their capacity.

This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners provided necessary materials to two hospitals – Al-Shifa in the northern region and Al-Amal Palestine Red Crescent Society in the southern region. The agency reported that its employees observed heavy fighting near these hospitals and a significant number of patients. Gaza’s health officials shared that the inpatient departments are at 206% capacity and the intensive care units at 250%, as many displaced individuals seek shelter at these facilities.

‘Hunger and desperation’

The World Health Organization restated that individuals suffering from starvation halted its convoys on Tuesday with the intention of finding sustenance. It emphasized that its capacity to provide hospitals with medications, medical resources, and fuel is becoming limited due to the extreme hunger and despair of those traveling to and within the hospitals that they reach.

The recent adoption of UN Security Council resolution 2070 emphasized the urgent need for the safe and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza. However, according to the World Health Organization’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the resolution has not yet had a positive effect, as confirmed by first-hand accounts from WHO staff on the ground.

Tedros stated that what is currently crucial is a ceasefire in order to protect civilians from more violence and start the lengthy process of rebuilding and establishing peace.