Q1. How would you describe the current situation on the ground?
A1. A new generation of Palestinians is marching in the footsteps of previous generations, rising up against Israel’s brutal, decades-old regime of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid. It is yet another phase of the popular struggle against what Palestinian, Jordanian and other parliamentarians and officials have described as Israel’s “state terrorism.”
Tens of thousands of predominantly young Palestinians have joined demonstrations taking place across more than 65 Palestinian villages, neighborhoods and refugee camps. It is significant that these demonstrations are taking place across historic Palestine: in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in Gaza, and by Palestinian citizens of Israel. Palestinian refugee communities in neighboring Arab countries are mobilizing as well.
Israel’s response has been fierce repression based on overpowering use of military force and, increasingly, executions. Israel has intensified the isolation of Palestinian residential areas of occupied East Jerusalem, implementing severe additional restrictions on movement. Jabal al Mukabber, a neighborhood in Jerusalem, is being sealed off by a five-meter-high cement wall. At least 12 roads around East Jerusalem have been closed and 12 new checkpoints around the city have been erected. Palestinians are often prevented from moving between major West Bank cities by ad-hoc checkpoints. These constraints are in addition to the routine restrictions Israel imposes on the movement of Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Q2. Why are tensions rising now? What has led us to this situation?
A2. This youth-led popular uprising, supported by the entire Palestinian political spectrum, is a response to Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing, siege, racist attacks against Palestinian churches and mosques, settlement construction, home demolitions and evictions, policies that aim to dehumanize the Palestinian people, and other forms of discrimination and oppression. Its immediate triggers are the intensifying far-right policies of the most fanatic, racist and settler-dominated government in Israel’s history. A report by the European Union leaked in March 2015 to the media already indicated that especially in Jerusalem these Israeli policies had brought the reality on the ground to a ‘dangerous boiling point’ not seen since the end of the Second Intifada (uprising against Israel’s occupation) in 2005.
Immediately after the end of its massacre in Gaza in 2014, Israel started to drastically escalate its attacks on and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. In addition to the eight-year-old siege of 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza, the ongoing displacement of Palestinian communities and the expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank, especially in Jerusalem, have pushed Palestinians under Israel’s occupation into ever shrinking, racially segregated Bantustans. For example, Israel has begun its plan to forcibly remove 27,000 Palestinians living in 46 communities in Area C of the occupied West Bank to three ‘relocation camps’ in townships.
In August, Israeli occupation forces demolished 145 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank,displacing 208 persons. According to the UN, this was the highest number of structures destroyed in the West Bank during one month in five years. The same agency has reported that so far in 2015, 554 Palestinians have been displaced by demolitions in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem (as of 12 October), and another 13,000 Palestinian structures, mainly in Area C of the West Bank, are still under demolition order.
Israel’s daily crimes against Palestinians in the occupied Old City of Jerusalem and the relentless messianic settlers’ desecration of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound as a matter of state-sanctioned policy left no doubt among Palestinians that Israel has embarked on what may well be the final phase of its ongoing destruction of the status quo in Jerusalem with the explicit goal of ethnically cleansing, or as a UN report and Israeli officials put it, “Judaizing” the illegally occupied city.
Q3. How is Israel reacting to Palestinian popular resistance?
A3. Israeli police, soldiers, and settler lynch mobs have savagely attacked Palestinian protesters and executed Palestinians in the streets, including bystanders, with impunity.
Israeli forces have also been carrying out mass arrests to repress demonstrations, arresting 850 Palestinians, including 300 children, as of October 19.
According to the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq, 42 Palestinians were killed between October 1-19, most of whom were shot by Israeli occupation forces during protests. Thousands of Palestinians have been injured in the same period by tear gas, rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition. In virtually all the shooting cases, Palestinians were shot while posing no immediate threat to anyone’s life.
New repressive and discriminatory Israeli laws and a dominant culture of racism and intolerance that has been instilled over decades in Israeli society by the state have enabled Israel’s occupation forces to adopt a shoot-to-kill policy against Palestinian child and youth protesters in situations where they pose no serious threat. Shawan Jabarin of Al-Haq described the policy as “a blatant violation of the most basic tenets of human rights, which call for respect for peaceful demonstrations and the protection of civilian lives.” A report by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor has detailed some of the “arbitrary killings” carried out by the Israeli military, calling on the UN to immediately investigate them.
Encouraged to do so by the racial incitement of Israeli leaders (see here and here), large numbers of ordinary Israelis are increasingly praising and calling for attacks and killings of Palestinians (hereand here). Earlier this week, an Eritrean asylum seeker at an Israeli bus stop was mistaken for a Palestinian assailant and subsequently shot and beaten to death by an Israeli “lynch mob” in full sight of Israeli soldiers
Q4. Why are Palestinians accusing Israel of “collective punishment”?
A4. Palestinian and international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have condemned as “collective punishment” Israel’s numerous, well-documented policies of repression against Palestinian civilians living under occupation. Collective punishment has been used regularly by Israel’s occupation authorities to “disproportionately” increase the suffering of Palestinian communities as a form of pressure to quell Palestinian resistance to Israel’s military rule.
The so-called “Dahiya Doctrine” adopted by the Israeli military explicitly calls for the use of “disproportionate force” against civilians and civilian infrastructure as policy, in a blatant violation of international law.
Last week, an Israeli government minister called for the destruction of all Palestinian homes built in occupied East Jerusalem without permits, a threat that targets nearly 40 percent of the city’s Palestinians because of racist zoning policies set by Israeli authorities.
Jerusalem’s gun-wielding mayor has called on Jewish-Israeli civilians to carry arms. Armed Jewish fundamentalist terror mobs chanting “Death to Arabs” who regularly parade through the streets of occupied Jerusalem threatening the lives of Palestinian civilians, now feel vindicated and protected by the city’s mayor (who is not recognized by Palestinians as such). Other cities have banned Palestinian workers from public institutions and constructions.
Q5. Why are Palestinians so concerned about the “status quo” in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound?
A5. Palestinians are deeply concerned about Israel’s relentless efforts to shatter the “status quo” arrangement that was reached upon Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967 and that reserves the al-Aqsa mosque compound for Muslim worship, because it is seen as a step toward Israeli control and the banning of Palestinians from parts of the sanctuary and the occupied Old City.
Palestinians have good reason to be concerned, because similar Jewish settler violence at the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron in 1994 culminated in a massacre of 29 Palestinian worshippers, which was then used by Israel to take control of the mosque and divide it into Jewish and Muslim sections, reserving certain roads for Jewish settlers and eventually obtaining exclusive control over Hebron’s Old City – all under the pretext of ‘security.’
Q6. What role should the international community be playing?
A6. At times of severe repression, as we see today in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially in the Old City of Jerusalem, peace-loving citizens of the world are called upon to first and foremost end the complicity of their respective states, as well as corporations, institutions, unions, and pension funds, in maintaining Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.
Israeli military and ‘homeland security’ companies are profiting from the current repression of the Palestinian people and exporting their “field-tested” new products and expertise around the globe. Those interested in achieving a just peace and an end to violence should stop cooperation with Israel’s security-military complex that thrives on and fuels Israeli aggression and war-mongering.
The most effective tools for ending complicity are found in the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), whose academic, cultural and economic impact over the last 10 years is reaching the international mainstream.
Today BDS is credited for contributing to the sharp 46% decline in foreign direct investment in Israel in 2014 and to the 24% decrease of Israeli exports to the occupied Palestinian territories. ARand Corporation study predicts that BDS could cost Israel in the coming 10 years tens of billions of dollars. BDS is holding Israel to account through strategic, morally consistent and effective global campaigning. Joining the movement is the most ethically sound and effective form of support for building a just and comprehensive peace that is in harmony with international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.