19-year-old Wasim Abu Khalifa killed at dawn in Nablus

Wasim Nasser Abu Khalifa (19), who was killed in a predawn Israeli raid on Nablus, lived in the Balata refugee camp (WAFA)

Mariam Barghouti

Mondoweiss  /  August 18, 2022

The Israeli onslaught in the West Bank continues. Wasim Abu Khalifa, 19, was killed by Israeli forces in Nablus on Thursday as hundreds of settlers descended on the city under military protection to make a provocative visit to Joseph’s Tomb.

In the early morning hours of Thursday, August 18, Wasim Abu Khalifa, 19, was shot in the chest by Israeli forces and declared dead in Nablus. Abu Khalifa was supposed to turn 20 on September 4 of this year. The killing took place as hundreds of Jewish settlers descended on the city in the occupied West Bank under military protection to visit Joseph’s Tomb, alongside right-wing members of the Knesset and leaders of the settler movement.

At approximately 3:30 p.m., Abu Khalifa was carried from Rafidia hospital in Nablus city towards his final resting place, Balata refugee camp. Established in 1950 on the outskirts of Nablus, north of Jerusalem, Balata is one of the more densely populated refugee camps in the West Bank, with more than 30,000 Palestinians living in 0.25 sq km.

The camp is known for nighttime invasions by the Israeli military, which regularly conducts “search-and-arrest” operations often resulting in injuries, home raids, and the terrorization of civilians. More than 60% of the camp are youth under the age of 25. Historically, the Israeli military has used the camp for military training purposes, accompanying settlers when they would invade Joseph’s Tomb near the camp.

The killing of Wasim Abu Khalifa 

On the evening of Wednesday, August 17, almost 600 Jewish settlers were on the site Joseph’s Tomb, accompanied by Likud Knesset members, Eliyahu Ravivo, Nissim Vituri, and Dan Ilouz. In a statement, Revivo thanked “all the soldiers who give their lives here to allow us to enter naturally and regularly.”

The settlers were part of a trip organized by Yossi Dagan, head of Regional Council in the West Bank. Dagan had also organized demonstrations in January of this year, demanding that illegal settler outposts be supported, claiming that the Israeli Prime Minister’s attitude delegitimizes the settler movement. The protest of thousands demanded the overthrow of the government as a whole.

According to witnesses, settlers were participating in a planned visit to Joseph’s Tomb last night, a site that is considered holy for the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For yearsJewish settlers, right-wing Israeli officials, and the army have been storming the area—which is designated as “Area A” under the Oslo Accords, and therefore under de jure Palestinian control. This has turned the holy site into a critical location for proponents of settler expansion, while provoking Palestinian confrontation. 

Israeli forces claim that a bus nearing Joseph’s Tomb was exposed to live fire and that a stone was thrown at it. Both of these claims have yet to be confirmed, and no resulting injuries of settlers were reported from the two alleged attacks. This claim seems to be a pretext, often used and recycled by Israeli forces. Barely a week before the assassination of three Palestinian resistance fighters by the Israeli army and intelligence on February 8 of this year, Jewish settlers had stormed Joseph’s tomb and claimed attacks by ‘Palestinian rioters.’ 

Yet acting on speculation, the Israeli military launched an assault on Palestinians, targeting Palestinian town residents and youth who confronted the invasion. Israeli forces used live ammunition, injuring four Palestinians at around 1:30 a.m., according to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. Three of the injured were in critical condition, and one of whom, Wasim Abu Khalifa, was killed.

In addition, Israeli forces fired teargas towards Palestinians, injuring dozens, one with a direct hit to the head by a canister.

During the assault which killed Wasim Abu Khalifa, an Israeli soldier from the Givati Brigade of the army was also reportedly injured by another soldier. The soldier was reportedly unharmed, due to a protective vest he wore, according to Israeli media.

Settler escalation paves way for annexation

Abu Khalifa is the fourth Palestinian to be killed in Nablus between August 1 and August 18. On the same night of his killing, the Israeli army raided several Palestinian cities, including Ramallah and Jenin.

In Ramallah, Israeli forces raided the offices of seven Palestinian human rights organizations and forcibly shut them down. These included the Health Work Committees, Al-Haq, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Defense for Children International – Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), The Bisan Center for Research and Development, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees. Some of these organizations are responsible for the documentation of human rights violations by Israel as well as the Palestinian Authority, and providing legal backing to political detainees and vulnerable Palestinian communities.

In the early dawn hours of Thursday, Israeli forces also raided Jenin, north of Nablus, and arrested Hamas senior official, Nazeeh Abu Oun, along with six others across the districts of Bethlehem, Hebron/Al-Khalil, and Qalqilya.

The invasion by the Israeli military came less than two weeks after it had carried out a military operation on August 9 in the Old city of Nablus, which killed three Palestinian youth, including resistance fighters Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, known as ‘the lion of Nablus,’ Islam Subuh, and 16-year-old Taha Hussein. On the same day, protests against the extra-judicial assassinations erupted across the West Bank and 16-year-old Momen Jaber was killed by the Israeli military in Hebron.

Since the start of the year, Israeli armed forces (including the Border Police and the military) have killed more than 77 Palestinians in the West Bank alone.  Of those killed, 15 Palestinians were under the age of 18. Since last year, UN representatives have warned of the alarming rate in which settler violence is increasing in the West Bank.

Historically, the escalation of assaults by Jewish settlers on Palestinians and their holy sites has been followed by an intensification of settlement drives. The Ibrahimi Mosque massacre of 1994, where extremist settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire on worshippers and killed almost 39 praying Palestinians at dawn, was followed by the Israeli closure of Shuhada street, which formed the economic lifeblood of the old city of Hebron. Today, only settlers and tourists are allowed, while the once bustling street has become an empty ghost town.

The continued escalation of army invasions on Palestinian towns and cities, as well as increased settler impunity enabled by Israeli courts, may be creating fertile ground for further armed resistance by Palestinians in response. This is especially true when we observe the age groups of those targeted by the Israeli military’s extra-judicial killings, which has continued in parallel to the expansion of illegal settlements.

Mariam Barghouti is the Senior Palestine Correspondent for Mondoweiss