A Washington Post investigation reveals the details of the deadly assault on Qusra, which was preceded by online threats from Israeli extremists
The threats were sent via Facebook on Oct. 9 to residents of Qusra, a Palestinian community in the Israeli-occupied West Bank: “To all the rats in the sewers of Qusra village we are waiting for you and we will have no mercy. The day of revenge is coming.”
Two days later, on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, a group of masked and armed Israeli settlers struck the village in what would be the deadliest attack by settlers in the West Bank since the Israel–Gaza war began three months ago, according to data collected by Yesh Din, an Israeli rights organization that closely monitors the settlements.
A Washington Post review of exclusive visuals of the attack, medical records and interviews with witnesses and first responders reveals that one of the Palestinians killed, 17-year-old Obada Saed Abu Srour, was shot in the back by settlers, probably as he was running from gunfire.
Israeli troops, meanwhile, did not forcefully intervene, despite their obligation under international and Israeli law to protect all residents of the West Bank, including Palestinians.
The attack on Qusra, which left two other Palestinians wounded and several houses and cars damaged, was the latest and most violent episode in a series of clashes and confrontations between Israeli settlers and Palestinian villagers in the area, which has been a flashpoint of tension and violence for years.
The attack also highlighted the growing influence and impunity of the extremist settler movement, which advocates for the annexation of the West Bank and the expulsion or elimination of the Palestinians, and which has been emboldened by the support and the silence of the Israeli government and the security forces.
The attack also exposed the vulnerability and the frustration of the Palestinian population, which lives under Israeli military occupation and faces daily discrimination, harassment, and violence from the settlers, and which has little recourse or protection from the Israeli authorities or the international community.
The attack also raised questions and concerns about the role and the responsibility of the social media platforms, such as Facebook, which have been used by the settlers and other extremists to spread hate speech, incitement, and threats against the Palestinians, and which have been accused of failing to prevent or remove such content, despite repeated complaints and reports from the users and the activists.
The Revenge Units
The attack on Qusra was preceded by a series of online messages and posts from a Facebook group called “The Revenge Units”, which claimed to be a network of settlers and activists who seek to avenge the deaths of Israelis killed by Palestinians, and to “cleanse” the land of Israel from the “Arab enemy”.
The group, which has more than 2,000 members, has been active since July, when it announced its formation and its mission in a video message, in which it declared: “We are the revenge units. We are everywhere. We will not rest until we take revenge for every drop of Jewish blood that was spilled by the Arab terrorists.”
The group has since posted dozens of messages and photos, in which it claimed responsibility for various attacks and acts of vandalism against Palestinians and their property, such as burning cars, cutting trees, spraying graffiti, and throwing stones and Molotov cocktails.
The group has also posted numerous threats and warnings to specific Palestinian villages and communities, such as Qusra, which it accused of being a “nest of terrorists” and a “source of evil”.
The group has also posted messages of support and praise for other extremist settler groups and individuals, such as the “Hilltop Youth”, a radical faction of young settlers who live in illegal outposts and engage in violent activities against Palestinians and Israeli forces, and Amiram Ben-Uliel, a settler who was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a Palestinian family in a 2015 arson attack in the village of Duma.
The group has also posted messages of defiance and contempt for the Israeli authorities and the law, which it accused of being “weak” and “corrupt”, and of “betraying” and “abandoning” the settlers and their cause.
The group has also posted messages of hatred and incitement against the Palestinians, whom it referred to as “rats”, “dogs”, “pigs”, “cockroaches”, and other derogatory terms, and whom it called to “kill”, “expel”, “burn”, and “destroy”.
The group has also posted messages of provocation and challenge to the Palestinians, whom it invited to “come out” and “face” them, and whom it warned to “be afraid” and “prepare” for their “day of reckoning”.
The group has also posted messages of encouragement and recruitment to other settlers and sympathizers, whom it urged to “join” and “support” them, and whom it offered to “train” and “equip” them.
The group has also posted messages of celebration and satisfaction after each attack and operation, in which it boasted of its “success” and “victory”, and in which it vowed to “continue” and “escalate” its actions, until it achieves its “goal” and “dream” of a “Jewish state” without Palestinians.
The group’s messages and posts have been widely shared and commented on by other Facebook users, some of whom expressed their approval and admiration, and some of whom expressed their disapproval and condemnation.
The group’s messages and posts have also been reported and flagged by other Facebook users, as well as by Palestinian and Israeli rights organizations, such as Yesh Din, B’Tselem, and Adalah, who have accused the group of violating Facebook’s community standards and policies, which prohibit hate speech, incitement, and violence.
However, according to Yesh Din, which has been monitoring and documenting the group’s activity and reporting it to Facebook, the social media giant has failed to take any effective action to remove or restrict the group or its content, despite acknowledging the reports and promising to review them.