No matter the label, one thing is clear: Violence is escalating and Netanyahu has no strategy for addressing Palestinian grievances short of more force and more blood spilled from Israelis and Palestinians alike.
SEATTLE — Each new day in the current round of strife in Palestine seems to bring news that more Palestinians have been killed in increasingly gruesome ways by Israeli security forces. Each day, more young people take to the streets with whatever weapon is at their disposal in a heroic, and often fatal, effort to uphold the honor of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the dignity of the Palestinian people.
Israeli forces have reacted to the mounting violence with increasing levels of brutality and desperation. There is no effort to compromise or negotiate, just greater shows of force.
Protests began last month, after Israeli authorities restricted access to Haram al-Sharif. (Also known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, it is the third holiest site in Islam. Jews know it as the Temple Mount, the site of an ancient Jewish temple.) Authorities deliberately limited the numbers of Muslim worshippers permitted there during the period of the Jewish High Holidays. This roused the anger of Palestinians, who suspect every decision by Israel to be motivated by a desire to change the status quo at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem. At the same time, the Israeli government approved a rising tide of settlers to make religious pilgrimages to the site, further exacerbating tensions.
Over the weekend, Gaza militants launched a missile intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. In retaliation, an Israeli Defense Forces air attack left a Palestinian mother and her 2-year-old child dead.
On Monday, two Palestinian cousins, Ahmad Manasra, 13, and Hassan Manasra, 15, from Beit Hanina, were suspected of stabbing two settlers in the occupied Jerusalem settlement of Pisgat Zeev. An Israeli driver deliberately slammed his car into Ahmad, breaking his legs. Police shot Hassan and left him to die.
This video shows Ahmad after he was struck by the settler driver. Two Israeli ambulances arrive and emergency medical personnel approach, stand over him, and then withdraw. Bystanders curse the wounded 13-year-old boy, telling him: “Die, you son of a bitch,” and goading police to shoot him.
As of Wednesday, at least 31 Palestinians have been killed and as many as 1,200 others injured amid escalating clashes between Israeli security forces and protesters in Gaza and the West Bank in the past two weeks alone. During this period, eight Israelis have been killed and dozens others injured.
During an emergency meeting of the Israeli security cabinet, which convened Tuesday evening, the Israeli government imposed partial martial law on the Palestinians of East Jerusalem. A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said police are authorized to “impose a closure on, or to surround, centers of friction and incitement in Jerusalem, in accordance with security considerations.” The Times of Israel further reports:
“Other courses of action approved by the security cabinet included the demolition of terrorists’ homes within days of an attack and the banning on new construction, the confiscation of the property of terrorists who carry out attacks and the revoking of permanent residency rights. …
The security cabinet also voted in favor of an NIS 80 million plan to recruit 300 guards to secure public transportation in Jerusalem. Earlier, it was announced that the IDF would provide troops for this purpose until more security guards can be recruited.”
Those suspected of committing a terrorist act will have their residency permits revoked, effectively expelling them from Jerusalem. This is just one more instance in a series of acts of ethnic cleansing imposed by Israel.
This is a return to the martial law regime which ruled over Israeli Palestinians from 1948-1966. Under these regulations, they were not governed by civil law, but by a military government which imposed a far more restrictive regime. This new development is yet another sign of devolution from democratic rule and values into a form of authoritarianism. It further reinforces the notion of apartheid in which Israeli Jews enjoy superior rights to the Arab minority.
Who is inciting this wave of violence?
On Sunday, Israeli journalist Meron Rapoport quoted a series of statements from various Israeli ministers and NGOs indicating that the government is at fault for inciting the latest wave of protests. He quotes the current culture minister, Miri Regev, who said a year ago: “It is unacceptable that Muslims should have freedom of worship on the Temple Mount, but not Jews.” Regev, who was former chairman of the interior for the Knesset at the time, advocated a division of the site as exists at the Cave of the Patriarchs, where Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians in 1994. There, she said, “it works fine,” as if depriving Muslims access to a portion of their holy site would pass without incident.
Rapoport also notes that an investigator for Ir Amim, an NGO working to promote tolerance in the city sacred to three faiths, says that for the past year, when there were no restrictions on Muslims’ access to the holy sites, there was no unrest. But when the police limited access to Muslims just before Rosh Hashana, protests erupted.
In an interview with the Israeli news portal Walla, Gil Erdan, the internal security minister, boasted that since he’d begun allowing ministers to visit Al-Aqsa the number of Muslims permitted had decreased and the number of Jews had increased six times.
Rapoport also noted that Ulpan Shlishi, an Israeli TV newsmagazine, reported that Shmuel Eliyahu, one of Israel’s most racist religious figures and a candidate to be the nation’s chief rabbi, has been accosting Jewish youth no less than 100 yards from Al-Aqsa, asking whether they willing to join him in rebuilding the Holy Temple.
The government claims there has been no change in the status quo at the site held sacred by both Jews and Muslims. Rapoport proves that indeed there has. But even if there hadn’t, the plain fact is that Muslims perceive change, and Israel has done nothing to persuade them otherwise.
No less a figure than Shimon Baadani, a revered Israeli Sephardic rabbi, has denounced the settlers as provocateurs. Last week, Haaretz reports, Baadani said during a radio program that Jews visiting the site “sparked the current tumult.” He continued:
“Do not provoke the nations, even if we are in control here, there is a halachah. I don’t know on whose authority they permit themselves to provoke and cause an armed struggle like is happening now … they are forbidden.”
Palestinian NGO office ransacked by Israeli troops
On Sunday, IDF soldiers raided the Bethlehem offices of the International Middle East Media Center, a Palestinian human rights organization which documents the activities of security personnel in the West Bank. Video surveillance footage shows a gang of soldiers breaking into the office at 4 a.m. They rampaged through the facility, overturning and breaking computers, destroying equipment and stealing files containing the records of informants.
After a prior IDF break-in, the organization discovered that its informants were later arrested and harassed by security forces and threatened for engaging in the legal act of observing and documenting the actions of Israeli security personnel.
Last week, in one of the most heinous of a series of incidents in which Palestinians were killed by Israeli security and police forces, Fadi Alloun, a 20-year-old man from the village of Issawiya, was accosted by a mob of Israelis near Jerusalem’s Old City. This unruly group, believing that Alloun had stabbed an Israeli Jew, pursued him, screaming: “Shoot him, shoot him!” They summoned the police, and when an officer arrived at the scene and exited his vehicle, he immediately shot and killed the Palestinian with multiple shots.
The police justified this summary execution, claiming the officer saw Alloun with a knife and “neutralized” him. The police spokesperson even claimed the victim was taken to a hospital in “moderate condition,” but the video clearly shows that Alloun was gravely wounded as soon as the officer pumped multiple bullets into his body. No one has produced the knife allegedly used in any stabbing attack or the one the officer allegedly saw upon arriving at the scene. There was a report that an Israeli teenager had been stabbed in that general vicinity earlier in the evening, but police have not tied Alloun to that attack.
Two recent reports cast increasing doubt on the “official” version of events. Writing for Haaretz, Amos Harel argues that if there was a stabbing, it was not a terror attack. Indeed, he noted, no one has shown that Alloun was the attacker. The version published in the English edition does not include this critical passage. Harel writes that there was a confrontation of some sort between an Israeli Jew and Palestinian (possibly Alloun), but he explicitly states it was not terror-related.
In a media context in which every major Israeli newspaper reports definitively that Alloun was a “terrorist” who stabbed a Jewish youth, Yossi Melman cautions that this is only the police version of events. For those schooled in the reporting nuances of Israeli media, and given the prior media rush to judgment, this is a clear indication that Melman has strong doubts about this narrative.
Over the weekend, a freelance journalist and Palestinian investigator for Human Rights Watch wearing a clearly marked “Press” sign, was shot three times — twice with rubber bullets, and once with live ammunition — by Israeli forces as she documented and photographed a protest. She could easily have been killed. Israeli forces have been known in the past to directly target and even kill Palestinian journalists covering unrest in a systematic assault on the press.
Police shoot mentally-ill Palestinian woman repeatedly at point-blank range
Israa Zidan Taufik Abed, a 30-year-old Palestinian woman with a history of mental health issues, was confronted by no fewer than nine heavily armed soldiers as she allegedly stood holding a knife at the Afula bus station last week.
A video documenting the incident shows that she never approached the officers nor threatened them in any way. In fact, one bystander appears to goad an officer into shooting her by intruding on the scene and shouting at him.
An Israeli, who is a trusted source and has examined the video closely, says that from one angle he believes he can make out a knife. But a second video shot from another angle does not show it. And, it’s important to note here, no one has produced a weapon.
One soldier claims Abed tried to stab him, but no evidence of such an attack has been produced. There is a prevailing narrative in Israel that she was a terrorist and that she stabbed or attempted to stab a police officer. Though she may have had a knife, the video does not support the claim she attacked anyone before being shot. In fact, the Times of Israel, a Likudist media outlet reports that it’s likely this was not a terror attack at all, but the act of a mentally unstable woman.
Instead of using alternative means to defuse the situation and disarm Abed, the security personnel on the scene shouted at her. With no one appearing to be in command of the situation, one soldier shot her six times.
Abed was severely wounded, but she will likely survive, unlike Hadil al-Hashlamoun, the Palestinian student shot by the IDF multiple times at a Hebron checkpoint. Abed is a mother of three children, a PhD student in chemical engineering at the Technion, and the daughter of a prominent imam in Nazareth.
Settler desecrates Palestinian body with pork
In yet another incident, a Palestinian, Muhammad Jaabari, wounded an Israeli soldier lightly in a knife attack. He was shot and mortally wounded. Emergency medical personnel arrived and attempted to revive him. During their efforts a settler thrust himself into the scene and threw a piece of raw pork on top of the Palestinian body. None of the security or medical personnel at the scene intervened to stop him.
In a radio interview, the deputy director of the Kiryat Arba municipal council defended the action, calling it “entirely reasonable” in light of the “refusal” of the armed forces to deal with the security situation appropriately.
This was clearly an act of provocation of the sort Pastor Terry Jones engaged when he burned Qurans publicly. And it has but one purpose: to inflame Muslim sentiment and provoke an all-out religious war.
A significant portion of the Israeli public believes there must be a final reckoning in which the Palestinians are finally defeated. Some believe this should be accomplished through ethnic cleansing, the forced removal of Palestinians. Others foresee concentration camps for those Palestinians who refuse to “see reason” and leave voluntarily. Among the most extreme are those who believe in outright mass extermination. The Israeli political narrative is now being driven by a settler movement intent on eventually destroying Haram al-Sharif and replacing it with a rebuilt Third Temple (earlier First and Second Temples were sacked by Babylonians and Roman invaders, respectively).
Criminalizing Palestinian political leaders
Over the weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seeking to curry favor with his extremist constituency, directed the country’s attorney general to open an investigation against MK Haneen Zoabi for criminal incitement of violence. In a recent interview with a Hamas newspaper, she called for “hundreds of thousands” of Palestinians to converge on Al-Aqsa mosque for a “true intifada,” or popular uprising.
This is part of an ongoing official campaign to criminalize Palestinian political representation. At one time or another, almost every Palestinian MK is investigated by police on trumped up charges or consorting with the enemy or inciting violence. It appears only a matter of time before MKs representing the Palestinian community will be expelled from the Knesset by the Jewish majority, either individually or en masse. The Israeli supreme court has rejected some decisions along these lines in the past. But the court, following massive pressure from the nationalist right, is increasingly reflecting such views and can no longer be relied upon to restrain the most extreme manifestations of Israeli racism.
Israel is contemplating a ban on the leading Islamist group in the Palestinian community, the Islamic Movement, which has led the call for resistance to settler and police assaults on the Haram al-Sharif. In order to offer a semblance of balance, they’re also considering banning the most extreme settler group, Lehava. The problem with this approach is that criminalizing the views of the majority of the Palestinian population will do nothing to resolve the underlying issues.
In this context, it becomes almost irrelevant to determine whether this is the advent of the Third Intifada. Call it a religious crusade, a Jewish jihad or holy war. What’s clear is that violence is escalating and Netanyahu has no strategy for addressing Palestinian grievances short of more guns, more troops, more firepower and more blood (both Israeli and Palestinian).
IDF gives shoot-to-kill orders against Palestinian civilians
Israel activist Eran Efrati, who maintains close relationships with IDF soldiers in the field, described an alarming development in the rules of engagement as explained by senior officers. In a Facebook post on Sunday, he writes:
“In recent days … soldiers in the Israeli army … tell me that their rules of engagement were changed entirely and that procedures that were true to a certain extent only in Gaza and parts of the West Bank are now being implemented all across Palestine and Israel, ‘free permits’ to open live-fire on any Palestinian citizen who seems suspicious,
All of the soldiers were talking about the orders they receive that completely eliminate the apprehension of a suspect or even the ‘suspect arrest procedure’ the infamous IDF practice as well as any attempt to stop or talk with ‘a suspect.’
One of the soldiers stationed in Hebron said that a senior officer who arrived to brief them over the weekend told them ‘It will not look good if the settlers (most of whom have a more upgraded weapons than some of the soldiers themselves, [weapons] they [the settlers] received from the army) would murder suspects on the streets and that [in confrontations] we need to react faster and neutralize them (the Palestinians) before the settlers will.’
If these things are true, then senior officers in the Israeli army are briefing soldiers to assassinate Palestinians to prevent settler violence …. [W]e very might be at the start of a bloodbath, the Israeli public in its current state will not be content and will not settle as usual for the current situation to calm down, The images and sounds from Jerusalem and Afula make it clear they want to see blood.”
Gaza journalist Mohammed Omar confirms this in his eyewitness testimony published in Middle East Monitor on Sunday:
“The protesters have today returned once more but…the mood is increasingly sour. Most openly talk about how the rules of the game have changed, and how protesters appear to have become fair game. Young people who survived the weekend’s mass shooting on the border said that during many clashes in Khan Younis, Israeli troops opened fire at short distance with live ammunition.”
He continues, relaying the experiences of others on the ground, including a young man who drove his wounded friend to the hospital on Friday, journalists who agree that it seems “live bullets were fired at specific targets,” and doctors who said “they were shocked at the numbers of victims with precise bullet wounds, which they say appeared to be deliberately aimed not to injure, but to kill or cause the maximum amount of damage.”
If the IDF is indeed using live fire to deliberately murder Palestinian civilians — protesters engaged in legitimate dissent against Israeli policies restricting their access to Muslim holy places — this must be investigated as a possible war crime.
It’s important to note that Jewish terrorists are never shot, let alone murdered, when apprehended in the midst of an attack. After a Jew stabbed three Palestinians and a Bedouin in Dimona over the weekend, not a hair on his head was mussed. When Yaakov Schlissel murdered an Israeli woman at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade this summer, he wasn’t harmed in any way. The only Jewish terrorists ever killed during commission of their acts of mass murder were Baruch Goldstein and Eden Natan Zenda, who were killed by their Palestinian victims. There are Israeli Jews who have the temerity to condemn Palestinians for taking the law into their own hands in these cases.
While Israel burns, the Obama administration and the rest of the world don’t even bother to fiddle like the Roman Emperor Nero. They ignore the rivers of blood flowing in the streets of Palestine. They have no plan. They’re satisfied to allow things to continue on as they have for nearly 70 years of spasmodic violence. Writing for The Guardian on Sunday, Marwan Barghouti cautioned:
“[I]n the absence of international action to end Israeli occupation and impunity or even provide protection, what are we asked to do? Stand by and wait for the next Palestinian family to be burned, for the next Palestinian child to be killed or arrested, for the next settlement to be built? The entire world knows that Jerusalem is the flame that can inspire peace and ignite war. Why then does the world stand still while the Israeli attacks against the Palestinian people in the city and in Muslim and Christian holy sites, notably Al-Haram al-Sharif, continue unabated? Israel’s actions and crimes not only destroy the two-state solution on 1967 borders and violate international law, they threaten to transform a solvable political conflict into a never-ending religious war that will undermine stability in a region already experiencing unprecedented turmoil.”
It almost breaks my heart to say that the only development that can get the world to an act is organized mass murder like Srebrenica or Rwanda. But do we really have to wait for an act of mass killing so severe that the world can no longer avert its gaze?