GENEVA - As war rages in Gaza, violations against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have also increased substantially, a senior official with the UN human rights office, OHCHR, said on Wednesday.

“The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is acting as if there is an armed conflict in the West Bank,” Ajith Sunghay, head of the OHCHR office in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, told UN News.

He said the situation there was already very dire even before hostilities erupted in Gaza following the brutal Hamas-led incursion into Israel on 7 October.

Settler violence and demolitions

Last year was the deadliest ever for Palestinians in the West Bank since the UN began keeping records in 2005, and there was also a spike in violations including settler violence, excessive use of force by the IDF, demolitions and evictions.

Demolitions were reported on Tuesday in the northern village of Furush Beit Dajan, the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, said on social media.

Mr. Sunghay said that while global attention has been focused on Gaza, the intensity and frequency of violations increased in the West Bank.

“If we talk about the number of people killed or injured, either because of these massive incursions by the IDF into the West Bank – particularly in Tulkarem, Jenin, Nablus, sometimes into Jericho and other parts as well – that spiked up,” he said.

The number of people detained has also “spiked up massively”, reaching close to 9,000, he added.

He noted that “whatever happens in Gaza has a massive impact on the West Bank,” and vice versa, “because they're the same people”.

“We now see huge fear among the population of the West Bank as well on a regular basis, worried about incursions, worried about raids, worried about arrest and detention, worried about settler violence and, of course, with massive significant movement restrictions that impacts their day-to-day life.”

Ajith Sunghay: Our biggest concern is the spike in violence we are seeing, particularly coming from very emboldened settlers. Because the attention is focused on Gaza, they feel emboldened.

There’s been massive lack of accountability or, in other words, impunity for violations that have been committed by the IDF in the West Bank, so they continue to violate or continue to attack Palestinians, Palestinian towns and villages. So, the lack of safety and security of people is at the top-most concern for us.

The Israeli Defense Forces is acting as if there is an armed conflict in the West Bank. The applicable law in the West Bank is the human rights law enforcement framework, which means the force that the IDF can use is limited to that legal framework.

In the West Bank, there is no armed conflict, but the nature of these operations that are being conducted by the IDF indicate that they're using massive numbers of soldiers, drones, sometimes fighter jets dropping bombs, shoulder-fired missiles – heavy weapons – which are used generally in an armed conflict, not in law enforcement.

Another concern is movement restrictions, arrests and detention. People are unable to move between towns, communities and cities within the West Bank. That has had a major impact on the economy and on the family structures, society and, more generally, the Palestinian community.

UN News: In this situation, when we're speaking about an occupied territory, it is supposed that the occupying power acts as law enforcement, as the side that maintains law and order. But, based on what you are describing, it is vice versa. Can you explain?

Ajith Sunghay: That is correct, and unfortunately, that has been the case. In international law, the responsibility and the obligation of the occupying power is to provide protection. That is expected of Israel and that includes the IDF that is to provide safety and security and protect the population of the occupied territory, and that is the Palestinians.

However, what we have seen consistently and that has increased since the 7 October is that the IDF ends up providing security to the settlers who are actually attacking Palestinians.

Many times we have found them being bystanders. In many cases, they have facilitated these attacks. In many instances, we have started seeing that the settlers are also wearing IDF clothes, so it’s very difficult to distinguish between the two.

Unfortunately, the IDF, and more broadly Israel, have not honoured their obligation under international humanitarian law, but, on the contrary, have only committed more human rights violations.