Jason Farbman reports on Israel’s escalating violence (from June 8), with the threat of worse to come–and the furious response of Palestinians fed up with being terrorized.
A SUSTAINED wave of violence by Israel in recent days has brought tensions to a boil throughout the West Bank, Gaza and Israel itself.
In the early morning hours of July 8, Israel launched a barrage of missile strikes against more than 50 targets in Gaza, which it claimed were designed to punish Hamas. Preliminary reports said 12 Palestinians were injured and four civilian homes destroyed by the bombs.
Meanwhile, Palestinians throughout Israel were rising up against heavily armed Israeli forces. In town after town, Palestinian crowds are clashing with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Israeli police in the wake of the grisly murder by six Jewish extremists of Mohammad Abu Khdeir and the savage beating of Tarek Abu Khdeir–the first boy’s cousin–by Israeli police.
Tarek is one of 11 Palestinians who were beaten and arrested in Shofat last night following the brutal murder of 16-year old child Mohammad Abu Khdeir, who was found beaten and burned on the ruins of the Palestinian destroyed village Deir Yassin hours after he was kidnapped in a retribution act. The Israeli government has instated a gag order regarding the circumstances of Mohammad’s kidnapping and murder.
The July 8 missile strikes on Gaza–dubbed “Operation Protective Edge” by the IDF–could be just the beginning of Israel’s state-sanctioned terror.
On July 7, the IDF announced it was calling up 1,500 reservists and readying infantry assault units along the Gaza border. “We are ready for an escalation,” an anonymous senior military source told the Jerusalem Post. “We’re taking steps now…ahead of the possibility that the escalation increases. We’re preparing for a gradual increase in the use of force and increasing our rate of attacks.”
In the three weeks that followed June 12–when three teenaged Israeli settlers were abducted; their bodies were discovered two and a half weeks later–Palestinians endured “the most extensive [wave of incursions] to date since 2002, when the Israeli Army invaded every Palestinian city in the West Bank,” according to an early July report released by Swiss-based Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights.
Israeli forces carried out more than 2,400 military raids, busting down doors and creating havoc at educational centers, businesses, civil society institutions and homes. Some 600 Palestinians were arrested, 130 were injured, and at least seven killed. According to the report:
The raids deliberately vandalized homes, including destruction of furniture–even turning a number of them into military outposts. The homes’ inhabitants were frequently abused in the process, suffering kicks and blows from guns. Twenty-three Palestinian civil society institutions also were ransacked, including medical centers, media offices, schools, universities and currency exchanges.
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ISRAELI MEDIA commentators are openly voicing concern about whether the Palestinian resistance might generalize into another Intifada, or uprising, against Israel’s atrocities. The first Intifada began in 1987, and the second in 2000. On July 7, for example, Avi Issacharoff, the Times of Israel‘s Middle East analyst, wrote:
Israel needs to be acutely concerned about several developments over the last few hours…Sunday [July 6] was the third successive night of Arab protests within Israel, and they’re getting worse. Carefully timed demonstrations, especially in the south–close to Omer, for example–are starting to look like rather more than spontaneous outbursts…
The second area of concern relates to the West Bank. Sunday night saw substantial protests for the first time in there, too–at Al-Arub, near Hebron, at Joseph’s Tomb, near Nablus, and close to the industrial area on the outskirts of Tulkarem…East Jerusalem…was inflamed–not just Abu Khdeir’s Shuafat neighborhood, but other neighborhoods and villages too. On Sunday night, however, the protests did spread to the West Bank…Third and last, we come to the relentless deterioration of the situation with Gaza…
Unlike the raids 12 years ago, Israeli military forces were not satisfied with merely terrorizing and arresting civilians in their homes and businesses. In addition, an astonishing $2.9 million was confiscated during raids–$2.5 million in property, such as computers, furniture and cars, and $370,000 in cash was taken.
The military raids were executed on the pretext of a search for three missing Israeli settler boys, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ulterior motive was to drive a wedge between Hamas in Gaza and the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas based in the West Bank.
Worried that events might spin out of control, however, Israeli police were attempting to contain riots in Jerusalem by right-wing Jewish mobs calling for the use of even more force against already besieged Palestinian communities.
Over the weekend, the Israeli air force carried out air raids on the Gaza Strip targeting 10 sites in central and northern Gaza, killing seven. Israel insists that its air strikes are a justified response to rocket fire directed at Israel by Palestinian militants in Gaza. But even Israel acknowledges that of the 40 rockets launched, 30 fell harmlessly in the desert, and Israel’s highly sophisticated air defense systems intercepted 10 others. Meanwhile, Israel’s bombardment is carried out with huge missiles that level entire buildings and regularly injure and kill civilians.
Debate about how intense Israel’s onslaught should be has meanwhile opened up serious fissures in Israel’s coalition government. Israeli Foreign Minister–and far-right racist–Avigdor Lieberman announced a dissolution of his Beiteinu party’s partnership with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party over outrage that Netanyahu has so far been too restrained in his treatment of Palestinians.
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THE BACKDROP to the unrest is an Israeli military siege–followed by a further outpouring of violence by Jewish vigilantes–that has indiscriminately targeted Palestinians since the June 12 abduction of three teenaged Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
When the settlers’ bodies were discovered in a field near where they had gone missing, a nationalist fury was unleashed. The IDF found and arrested a man identified as a suspect and immediately demolished the man’s home. But this wasn’t enough for a far right current made bolder by the nationalistic racism that the government had legitimized through its relentless use of violence against entire Palestinian communities.
On July 2, six Israelis kidnapped Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khudair in retribution for the deaths of the three settler boys. That the Palestinian youth had nothing to do with the Israeli boys’ disappearance didn’t matter to the kidnappers, who became murderers when they burned the teenager alive. Muhammad’s body was 90 percent covered in burns when it was discovered. ElectronicIntifada.net posted a videoof “vast numbers of people joining the funeral march to the cemetery where Muhammad was laid to rest.”
Days later, Muhammed’s 15-year-old cousin Tarek–a U.S. citizen from Tampa visiting family in East Jerusalem–was attacked by masked policemen along with other youths. Tarek was beaten until he lost consciousness, after which he was arrested without charge and held for five hours before receiving any medical treatment.
Video of the beating circulated online, and public outrage began to build as the beatings were viewed more than a quarter million times. Under pressure, the Israelis released Tarek from prison–and sentenced him to house arrest for the remaining week and a half before his family returned to the U.S.
But Israel could not make the story go away. Tarek’s bruised and swollen face was pictured on the July 7 front page of the New York Times, and CNN gave the story prominent coverage. The story is “proving to be a landmark moment in coverage of the conflict, as American media are reporting Tarek Abu Khdeir’s story in a straightforward manner for once,” observed the progressive website Mondoweiss. “Their sympathetic reports are bringing the Palestinian experience back here as never before.”
But the beatings of these two innocent children were only the most visible examples of a wave of violence directed at Arabs. “Israeli settlers have been ransacking property and, in some areas, attacking Palestinians,” according to Ben White. One village near the West Bank town of Ramallah was raided by dozens of Israelis from a nearby illegal settlement. The villagers threw stones and empty bottles in self-defense. “Israeli forces were present at the scene and opened fire at the villagers,” according to one report.
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WHILE ISRAEL mourned the deaths of the three Israeli settlers, Palestinians on the receiving end of Israel’s merciless collective punishment wondered aloud how the world could allow such hypocrisy to continue. Many took to Facebook to express their outrage.
Fatima Javed angrily pointed out that the killing of children in the land of Palestine didn’t begin with the murders of the three Israeli youth. The story, she explains, must begin:
with the intentional erasure of 66 years of occupation, of imprisonment, of bombardment, of torture, of murder, of apartheid. Throughout all of this, the victims have been painted as the aggressors, and the terrorism of the occupier has been legitimized. The kidnapping of three Israeli settlers: a crime. The kidnapping of hundreds of Palestinian children: justice. The murder of three Israeli settlers: terrorism. The murder of 1,518 Palestinian children, not even counting the ones killed just now: self-defense, security measures.
The world condemned this act of “terrorism” against Israeli colonizers, but has nothing to say about the torture and murder of Palestinian children. There are no words that can describe the cruelty of the disparity between the value placed upon Israeli and Palestinian lives.
Nerdeen, a Palestinian-American presently in East Jerusalem, has posted regular updates of life in her neighborhood.
Just updating my status because tons of people are asking about me. Alhamdullah, I’m safe, but there’s a lot of tension in East Jerusalem. Streets are closed, and the army is everywhere. I’m in the Issawiyeh, and I pass by Shuafat, Wadi Joz and Sheikh Jarrah every day to get to Masjid al-Aqsa or even just the buses to go anywhere else. Today, the bus had to change routes three times due to streets being closed.
Palestinians are fed up of being killed one after another for no reason. Masked men fill the streets with stones, starting fires and just breaking objects. Of course, they are no match for Israel’s brutality. Over 150 people in an area near mine were injured from Israeli shrapnel and bullets. Israeli settlers are vowing for vengeance. They are holding anti-Arab rallies and promising that there will be Arab blood. The 15-year-old kidnapped, murdered and burned from Shuafat may not be the last from his case.
And of course these actions are fully permitted and protected by the IDF. I’ve never seen such tension in East Jerusalem at all. All I ask is that people continue to share the truth of what is going on and pray for all Palestinians from West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, 48, etc. because at this point anyone with Palestinian “blood” is unsafe. Thank you.
In another post, she wrote:
Yesterday settlers stormed Issawiyeh and hid in every possible place you could hide in, no one knows why they did it. If they were just watching, planning something, attempting another kidnapping, we don’t know. Settlers are scarier than the army here because they kidnap and torture openly. I mean the army does that too, but not as flagrantly as settlers… I don’t know how to explain it honestly. There is nothing holding the settlers back, they do what they want without facing any repercussions.
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WHAT HAS Israeli officials–and their patrons in the U.S.–concerned is that Palestinians are beginning to organize a response to this rising arc of settler violence directed at their neighborhoods.
Often, attacks by settlers are condoned by Israeli police, implicitly or explicitly, leaving Palestinians to choose between suffering silently or defending themselves. In the past few days, Palestinians have increasingly taken the latter option, but in huge numbers. On July 6, for example, 400 people took to the streets of Yaffa to stop a settler attack on their homes.
Collective defense has increasingly turned to collective protest and even collective action. Broader sections of Palestinian society have come out in self-defense, resulting in protests and actions that are also broader and angrier.
Meanwhile, Palestinians aren’t the only ones in the streets, as the Israeli far right has grown bolder. At Bar-Ilan Junction in Jerusalem, Israeli police clashed with hundreds of right-wing Israeli protesters, temporarily shutting down the junction. The protesters chanted racist, anti-Arab invective and calls for state violence against all Palestinians to avenge the death of the three settler boys.
In central Jerusalem, dozens of right-wing extremists attacked Arabs, causing police to block routes to the Old City. Elsewhere in the city, fascist mobs roamed the streets, chanting “Death to Arabs” and stopping taxis to check for the driver’s race.
These uprisings–both Palestinians fighting to defend themselves and Israelis calling for more bloodshed–are exactly what Barack Obama had hoped to avoid. “I also urge all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation,” he said immediately after the settler boys’ bodies were found.
From Obama’s viewpoint, further “instability” would have at least two undesirable consequences. First, Israel would be further exposed as an apartheid regime, indifferent to violence against an innocent and largely defenseless population, thus calling into question once again why Israel enjoys unflagging U.S. support. Second, with violence ongoing in Syria and flaring up in Iraq, further conflict in Israel only complicates an already difficult situation that the U.S. is straining to maintain its grip over.
But make no mistake: Obama’s concern with “stability” has everything to do with managing the region, and nothing to do with justice. After all, Obama’s plea for stability came at the end of a weeks-long Israeli military siege. Furthermore, Obama took great pains to express his condolences to the families of the three dead Israeli boys, saying, “as a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing.” But Obama has expressed nothing similar about the regular killing of Palestinian children by Israel.
While the entire world heard about the three Israeli youth who were murdered, a Palestinian child has been killed every three days by Israeli military forces for the past 13 years–every three days. Where is Obama’s concern for the “indescribable pain” of all of these families?
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NETANYAHU IS trying to get Israel’s lynch-mob atmosphere under control–if for no other reason than to repair Israel’s image in the eyes of the world–by pledging to prosecute the Israelis suspected of abducting and burning alive Mohammad Abu Khdeir. Israel’s far-right parties are still baying for more bombs, more home demolitions, more detentions and more murders.
But however much indignation Netanyahu conjures up at Israeli “extremists” gone too far, the colonial project of Zionism inexorably leads to the kind of brutality that took the life of Mohammad Abu Khdeir. In an article titled “Our wretched Jewish state,” Ha’aretzcolumnist Gideon Levy wrote in blunt terms:
The youths of the Jewish state are attacking Palestinians in the streets of Jerusalem, just like gentile youths used to attack Jews in the streets of Europe. The Israelis of the Jewish state are rampaging on social networks, displaying hatred and a lust for revenge, unprecedented in its diabolic scope…These are the children of the nationalistic and racist generation–Netanyahu’s offspring.
The last two weeks of military siege and collective punishment now morphing into “Operation Protective Edge” are merely the latest atrocities in a long list of atrocities committed by Israel–from the 1948 Deir Yassin massacre, to the killing fields of Sabra and Shatila in 1982, to the 2012 Operation Pillar of Cloud.
The Zionist dream has always depended on cleansing Palestine of its indigenous population. But the Palestinian people continue to resist, and it is the responsibility of people of conscience around the world to join them in their struggle to liberate themselves–and by extension, all of us.
Reprinted with permission from SocialistWorker