Gazan refugees stranded in West Bank amid deadly raids, rising settler violence


(RAMALLAH, West Bank) — Mariam doesn’t know when she’ll go home. She lives in Gaza, but says she was being treated for cancer in an Israeli hospital when Hamas launched their surprise Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which killed at least 1,400 Israelis and injured more than 4,600 others.

She left the hospital of her own accord. Unable to head back home and afraid of staying in Israel, she made her way to Ramallah. But she says watching what’s happening from afar — uncertain about the fate of her family and unable to help them — has been torture.

“My whole family is in Gaza. My father, mother, sister, my daughter — my only daughter. My brother was killed in this war, the whole building collapsed over him while he was holding his son […] They buried him with his son in his arms,” said Mariam, who asked that a pseudonym be used instead of her actual name. “I wish I could be there. I would prefer to be under the missiles, rather than being away from my daughter.”

Prior to the Oct. 7 attacks, Gazans were able to cross into Israel on work permits or to receive medical treatment unavailable in the enclave, such as the specialist cancer care Mariam received.

Mariam is one of hundreds of Gazans who were in Israel when the war broke out and who are currently stranded in the West Bank. Their stories show the connection of the ongoing violence there with the war in the south. In addition to losing her brother in the violence, Mariam said her father was injured and is in critical condition.

In the city of Nablus, ABC News met a group of over one hundred Gazan workers with Israeli work permits who are now refugees being housed in a gymnasium. Hamza, from the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis and who also asked that his actual name not be used, explained that his wife and two-month-old child have been sheltering at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency school for the past two weeks.

While the world’s eyes are fixed on the bombardment of Gaza and the prospect of an imminent ground invasion by Israel, violence has also been surging in the West Bank since the outbreak of hostilities. At least 90 Palestinians have been killed there this month, mainly from clashes with Israeli troops, according to Palestinian authorities. That’s the highest-ever monthly death toll since the United Nations began keeping records in 2005.

“Nowhere is safe for Palestinians,” said Shareef Abu Taha, another Gazan refugee in Ramallah. “Not in Gaza, not in the West Bank.”

Taha was also in Israel during the Oct 7. attacks. He travelled to Hebron in the West Bank to stay with friends after having surgery on his gallbladder but his hosts, fearing the consequences of sheltering a Gazan refugee, cast him out.

“Thank God they accepted me at the hotel,” he said.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has been conducting raids in the West Bank to target suspected Hamas militants since the Oct. 7 attack. On Sunday, Israel carried out a rare air strike on a mosque in the West Bank city of Jenin, saying Hamas was using the mosque as a terrorist compound. Two people were killed, according to the Palestinian Authority.

Additionally, at least 5,000 Palestinians have been arrested in the last two weeks, according to Qadura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian Commission for the Affairs of Prisoners. The Israeli government has not commented on this.

As well as IDF raids targeting suspected Hamas militants and the arrests — Israeli forces have carried out raids in the West Bank for years, with the stated purpose of targeting militants and preventing terrorist attacks on Israeli soil — human rights organizations say that attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians have increased since Oct 7.

“If you want to compare the settler violence before [Oct. 7] and after, three incidents were recorded from Israeli settlers attacking Palestinian communities each day,” Aseel AlBajeh, from the Ramallah-based human rights group Al Haq, told ABC News in Ramallah. “Now, after the seventh of October, we’re talking about more than eight incidents per day against Palestinian communities. When we say attacks, we mean burning Palestinian properties, killing Palestinians, injuring Palestinians, calling for the killing of Palestinians.”

AlBajeh said the violence in the West Bank runs parallel to the bombardment of Gaza. The Israeli government has not commented on the violence by the settlers but have announced their determination to root out Hamas following the worst terror attack in Israeli history.

“This is expected to escalate,” said AlBajeh. “The raids that I talked about, the increase in settler violence, and killings and the rest, it’s only expected to rise as the international community is giving a green light for Israel to bombard the Gaza Strip.”

Mariam herself, watching the war unfold from Ramallah, said she will return home one day.

“If my daughter is no longer there, then any child of Gaza will be my child,” she said. “I tell the Gazans here: Even if no one is left, we will rebuild Gaza.”

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