Israel expands control over occupied Palestinian land amid Gaza conflict

The hardline Israeli government is pushing for the annexation of occupied land as the world’s attention is focused elsewhere

As most media attention is directed at the horrifying war in Gaza, Israel has deployed more troops to the West Bank, while constructing more sections of a separation wall and setting up new checkpoints. Coupled with settlement expansion, this will mean weakening the territory’s economy, and could lead to a larger confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis.
Even though Israel’s separation wall was deemed to be in contravention of international law, as per an International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory opinion in 2004, Israel has continued to construct the barrier on Palestinian territory. Since the outbreak of the war in Gaza on October 7, Israel has silently continued its construction of the wall in the northern West Bank. According to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, of the separation barrier is inside the West Bank, de facto annexing 10% of the occupied territory.
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, decided to continue the construction of separation barriers in 2009, arguing that it provided “security” and prevented Palestinians from entering Israel without a permit, effectively isolating over 150 West Bank communities into “”, while serving as a guard wall for illegal settlements. The UN human rights chief, Volker Turk, recently stated that . While the US government recently responded to Israel’s announcement that they will build more illegal settler units by saying this is , nothing tangible has been done to punish the top US ally in the Middle East.
Widely ignored in the international media has been the recent construction work on a cement wall, to replace what was formerly a military fence placed inside the northern portion of the Tulkarem governorate in the West Bank. It should be noted that Tulkarem, more specifically the Nour al-Shams refugee camp in the area, has been a flashpoint for Israeli military raids and a location from which locally formed armed groups have used light weapons to confront those invading forces.

Israeli separation wall construction In Tulkarem (West Bank), February 26.

© Robert Inlakesh

Israeli separation wall In Tulkarem (West Bank), February 26.

© Robert Inlakesh

Another location where Israel has been constructing a new segment of its separation wall is in the West Bank governorate of Jenin. The structure’s construction is continuing to the west of the northern West Bank city, and situated right behind it is an Israeli highway, followed by a settlement. Although Israel had already constructed a militarized fence in the area, to divide Palestinians from Israelis, erecting the wall on Palestinian land quite literally cements the annexation of the territory.

Israeli separation wall under construction to replace old military fence, West of Jenin (West Bank), February 23.

© Robert Inlakesh

Yet, it is not only the Israeli separation wall and newly announced settlement expansion which is impacting the status quo inside the West Bank. The Israeli military has set up an unprecedented number of gates, dirt mounds, and other obstacles, to block roads throughout the occupied territory. In Palestinian villages surrounding the city of Ramallah for instance, Israeli forces following the outbreak of war in Gaza. While there is often the most attention placed upon around in the occupied territory, with temporary checkpoints bringing that total into the thousands yearly, roadblocks and gates can have an even more strangling effect on daily life for Palestinian residents.

Palestinians forced to leave their village on foot, after Israeli forces close a gate and prevent the flow of vehicles in the Hebron Governorate. February 28.

© Robert Inlakesh

As a result of the closure of gates, and roads with dirt mounds or cement blocks, Palestinians living inside villages or towns are effectively isolated from the rest of the territory. Instead of being able to travel in cars to their jobs, or to transport goods like foods or agricultural products, they are restricted to traveling on foot. Sometimes residents stay home altogether, especially when Israeli soldiers are present and they fear persecution at crossings out of their villages. Some of the worst areas for such closures are situated in the Southern West Bank governorate of al-Khalil (Hebron).

Army forces close Palestinian village with gates and place an Israeli flag in the middle of the road, in the Hebron area. February 28.

© Robert Inlakesh

Ubai al-Aboudi, the executive director of Palestinian rights group ‘Bisan Center’, told RT that due to Israeli measures in the West Bank since October 7, “unemployment rates have increased dramatically, we have seen a huge number of Palestinians that are not able to provide food for their families”. He added that “what we have seen is a doubling of the number of Palestinians that are food insecure in the West Bank, there were 300,000 before October 7 and now there are 600,000”.

Israeli forces close gate, preventing Palestinians from travelling in their vehicles in the Hebron area. February 28.

© Robert Inlakesh

In February, the Israeli Knesset voted through a bill that backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s voiced of any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian State. This has again revived fears of a major de-jure annexation by Israel of areas inside the West Bank. The Netanyahu cabinet, , managed to pass a bill which ordered the government to begin working to implement an annexation plan. Beginning in early 2023, the current Israeli ruling coalition quietly handing over areas of the West Bank that were formerly under military control to civilian control.
According to Ubai al-Aboudi, the separation wall, gates and checkpoints are all components of Israel’s overarching plan to confiscate more Palestinian land: “The Apartheid wall has never been to do with security measures, but rather a means to steal more Palestinian lands and to exert and continue its control over the Palestinian population. The new parts of the wall that are being built are intended to confiscate land, they declare areas as “no access zones” close to the wall and this allows them to push back the people and take control of more territory.”
Under the cover of the Gaza war, while the cameras were focused elsewhere, Israeli state-backed settler groups called “defense squads” some 16 different Palestinian communities in the South Hebron Hills area. In addition to this, entire villages and the p