In recent weeks, even as Western governments and the international media were preoccupied with the anti-hijab protests in Iran and the war in Ukraine, Israeli armed forces were killing Palestinians almost on a daily basis.
On October 25, five Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli army has been using deadly force to quell protests raised by Palestinians against the rapid encroachment of their lands and the extension of laws akin to apartheid in the occupied territories.
The brutal Israeli repression of Palestinians, which has been going on for many months now, has elicited virtually no concern from Western governments and little coverage in the Western media. In fact, the United States government has been sharply critical of a scathing report released recently by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (CoI) investigating human rights abuses committed by Israel during its 72-year-old occupation of Palestinian land.
Israel has not apologised for its war crimes, knowing that the US has its back. After the release of the CoI’s report in the third week of October, the US State Department spokesman said that Israel “was being unfairly targeted in the UN”. In the report, the CoI once again determined that “the occupation of Palestinian territory is unlawful under international law due to its permanence and the Israeli government’s de facto annexation policies”. It has also requested an urgent advisory from the International Court of Justice “on the legal consequences of the continued refusal on the part of Israel to end its occupation”.
‘Break the Waves’
In 2022 alone, more than 180 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in a military campaign code-named “Break the Waves”. The death toll in the West Bank is the highest since 2006. Israel’s military campaign began after a string of attacks by Palestinian militants between March and May this year that killed 19 people inside Israel. At least five Israeli soldiers have died in the military operations since September.
The Palestinian protests have been described as the most serious since the revolt in 2015. Palestinian anger was initially stoked by the Israeli security forces’ incessant raids on Palestinian homes in occupied Jerusalem since the middle of this year. The raids were in response to the killing of an Israeli soldier at a military checkpoint in East Jerusalem in the first week of October. His killing was in retaliation to the death of two Palestinian civilians during an Israeli military raid on a house in Jenin in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli security forces have intensified their operations in the West Bank, particularly in Jenin and Nablus, since mid 2022.
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Most Palestinian deaths in recent months have occurred in the governorate of Jenin. The Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed while covering the fighting between Israeli forces and the resistance in Jenin on May 11. A UN fact-finding commission concluded that the bullets were fired by an Israeli soldier. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have used armoured vehicles, military helicopters, and combat drones in their operations in and around Jenin and Nablus.
The raids that began in September have visited Palestinian homes and settlements on the West Bank almost every night and killed many civilians, including children. The offensive has included curfews and the siege of refugee camps for days on end, further angering the Palestinians. It was the killing of the Israeli soldier at the entrance of the Shuafat refugee township in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem that finally led to the Israeli army blockade. The area houses more than 1,40,000 Palestinians.
Factionalism in the fatah
In a report released in the third week of October, Francesca Albanese, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, stated that Israel’s actions on the West Bank amounted to “persecution”. Albanese added that for the Palestinians to realise their “inalienable right” to self-determination, Israel has to dismantle “once and for all its settler-colonial occupation and its apartheid practices”.
With Palestinian statehood increasingly looking like a mirage under the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA), coupled with the betrayal of a growing number of Arab states, the anger on the streets in the occupied territories is boiling over. The PA under Mahmoud Abbas now has very little credibility with Palestinians. Abbas has ruled by decree for the last 12 years. The PA’s security forces, trained and financed by the US, have collaborated with the Israeli security services in the past and continue to regularly share information.
The Fatah movement, which controls the PA, is now riven by more factionalism. Last year, a more radical wing of the Fatah, which owes allegiance to Marwan Barghouti, split from the party. His faction will be contesting jointly with other opposition parties to challenge Abbas and the Fatah movement. Before that, another faction of the Fatah, led by Nasser al-Kidwa, a nephew of Yasser Arafat, had broken off from the Fatah leadership. al-Kidwa is a former Palestinian ambassador to the UN.
General elections, scheduled to be held last year, have been postponed yet again. Many Palestinians think that President Abbas is not keen to hold elections as the Fatah under his leadership faces certain defeat, while Abbas himself blames the Israeli authorities for the delay.
The Israeli government does not allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem to participate in elections. This is not acceptable to Palestinians as they consider Jerusalem the inalienable capital of the Palestinian state. The 86-year-old Abbas has said on several occasions that he will not contest again.
Palestinians had hoped the holding of early elections would help reunite Palestinians under one administrative authority. In 2006, Hamas won in the only free elections held in the occupied territories and agreed to a power-sharing deal with the Fatah. The arrangement lasted only a year and a half. President Abbas reneged on the deal under pressure from the US and Israel. The Hamas retaliated by pushing out the Fatah from the Gaza Strip after a brief military confrontation and has been running the administration there since then.
After the violence that erupted last year between Israelis and Palestinians over the Al-Aqsa Mosque issue and the settlers’ move to take over Palestinian property in East Jerusalem, tensions have been rising and have now reached a boiling point. In the first week of October, hundreds of Jewish settlers once again stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque with security forces providing full protection. A few days later, a group of settlers raided Muslim holy sites in the city of Hebron on the West Bank, under the watch of Israeli security forces.
According to reports, they proceeded to burn and tear up copies of the Quran. The PA Minister of Endowments and Religious Affairs, Hatem al-Bakri, said that Israeli troops and settlers had stormed 15 mosques since the beginning of the year.
Palestinians were further incensed after Israeli settlers began to vandalise property and target their olive groves. In the village of Qasra, south of Nablus, settlers attacked and torched three poultry farms, resulting in the loss of over 30,000 birds. Similar incidents involving the targeting of Palestinian civilians and their property by Jewish settlers, aided and abetted by the Israeli security forces, have been reported from all over the occupied territories.
As one Palestinian on the West Bank put it, there is no difference between an Israeli settler and an Israeli soldier. “The settlers and the soldiers are working together,” said Mohammed Dalal, a Palestinian whose house and shop were attacked. “They are the same. When the soldier takes off his uniform, he is a settler.” The policy of “settler-state collusion” has been in practice for decades now. Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem has documented innumerable instances of collusion between the two.
In its report titled “Settler Violence=State Violence”, B’Tselem stated: “Settler violence against Palestinians is part of the strategy employed by Israel’s apartheid regime which seeks to take over more and more West Bank land.” According to this report, the state “fully supports and assists these acts of violence” and settler violence “is a form of government policy, aided and abetted by official state authorities with their active participation”.
On October 25, the Israeli government announced Major General Herzi Halevi as the new chief of the IDF. Interestingly, he happens to be a settler. “It isn’t surprising that we have come to the point where the chief of staff too is a settler,” Shabtay Bendet of the anti-settlement watchdog group Peace Now told the media.
The prominent Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported that it has documented more than 100 attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank by settlers in the second and third week of October. A recent video showed a far-right member of the Israeli Knesset, Itamar Ben Gvir of the Otzma Yehudit party, wielding a pistol and urging Israeli soldiers in the town of Sheikh Jarrah to open fire on Palestinian teenagers throwing stones at the occupation forces. The Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem shot into prominence last year after Israeli settlers tried to forcibly seize Palestinian homes and property. Their protests in January 11, 2021, and the violent response by the security forces had triggered the 11-day brutal Israeli bombing of Gaza.
In a controversial decision in October 2021, the Israeli High Court ruled that the land on which Palestinian families have resided for generations in Sheikh Jarrah legally belonged to Jewish settlers. The court, however, allowed the Palestinian families to stay on for another 15 years. The court’s ruling has not stopped Jewish settlers from staging marches in the area demanding that the Palestinians vacate the area.
No intifada in sight
Though Palestinian armed resistance is growing, most experts on the region believe that there is little possibility of a “third intifada” happening anytime soon. The two earlier Palestinian “intifadas” (uprisings) had shaken up the Israeli political and security establishments. The first intifada started in 1987 and ended with the signing of the Oslo agreement in 1993.
The second intifada started after the controversial visit of then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in 2000. The resistance in the occupied territories this time has failed to gain momentum as yet because of the close security coordination between the Israeli and PA security set-ups. This circumscribes the ability of the resistance to mobilise fighters and expand their activities.
Young Palestinians are increasingly attracted to more radical groups like the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) group. The group’s popularity has grown since it launched a barrage of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel in August. The attacks were a reprisal to the killing and jailing of leaders and activists from the group by Israeli security forces.
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Hamas stayed out of the latest fight in Gaza for tactical and political reasons. Israel responded as usual with a heavy hand, once again destroying critical infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. As many as 49 Palestinian civilians, including 17 children, were killed in the latest Israeli assault on Gaza. Among the Palestinians killed was 18-year-old Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, the son of a senior PA security official who worked closely with his Israeli counterparts.
Many youths like Nabulsi, who belong to families owing allegiance to the Fatah, have joined newer militant groups like the Arin al-Asoud (Den of Lions). Several young Palestinian militants killed in recent weeks belong to this group. In the occupied territories, secular groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and groups such as the PIJ are cooperating in the fight against the occupation.