Over 1000 Palestinians have been killed and 4,500 injured since the Israeli military’s operation on the Gaza Strip began July 8.
As the Israeli military’s assault on Gaza continues, Palestinian residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel have all reported an increase in political repression and racist violence.
“The army is using only live bullets in Hebron against the peaceful protesters,” Issa Amro, director of Youth Against Settlements (YAS), posted to Facebook on July 21. “More than 50 injured in the last two days. Snipers [are] shooting unarmed protesters.”
The Israeli military closed Hebron’s main road to Palestinians in 2000 to accommodate a few hundred Jewish settlers who reside in the West Bank city against international law. Issa and YAS report frequent harassment from soldiers guarding the settlers. Issa said Israeli soldiers arrested four YAS activists on July 22 after a settler attacked them.
“People are very afraid, very sad, and hopeless about any peaceful resolution by Israel,” Amro said.
The Israeli military also targeted protesters in Bethlehem.
“Israeli soldiers are firing tear gas grenades and a chemical that smells like pure sewage all over northern Bethlehem again tonight, as they have been doing every night for weeks,” Alex Shams, an editor at Ma’an News Agency, wrote on Facebook on July 22. “The smell is overwhelming, even inside the house your eyes tear up from the gas and you have to cover your nose to prevent yourself from gagging. In the distance the sound of gunshots and tear gas canisters and stun grenades being shot in rapid succession continues.”
Hashem Abu Maria, the community mobilization coordinator for Defense for Children International-Palestine and one of Amro’s colleagues, was killed with live ammunition while peacefully protesting outside of Hebron on July 25.
The protesters in Hebron and Bethlehem were both responding to Israel’s actions in Gaza and its 47-year military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel’s justification for its Gaza offensive is to eliminate rockets and underground tunnels managed by Hamas, the government of the Gaza Strip. Israel views Hamas as a terrorist group. Palestinians say the provocation for the current conflict began earlier with Israel’s response to the June 12 kidnapping of three Israeli youth in the West Bank.
Mohammed Omer, an award-winning Palestinian journalist said that Israel guessed Hamas was responsible for the kidnappings and spent three weeks conducting raids and arresting over 600 Palestinians in the West Bank, including detaining 200 without charge. Eight Palestinians died during the operation.
“As retaliation, Hamas started to fire rockets [from] Gaza and then it started from there,” Omer said.
It has been widely reported in recent days that Israeli officials admitted Hamas was not responsible for June’s kidnapping of the three teenagers.
Following the June 30th discovery of the boys’ bodies, three Israelis kidnapped 16 year-old Mohammad Abu Khdeir outside his Jerusalem home, beat him and burned him alive in revenge.
Outside protests against the lynching two days later, Israeli police arrested Mohammad’s 15-year-old cousin Tariq, kicking and beating him unconscious while he was handcuffed. Videos of the beating went viral, in part because Tariq is an American citizen who was visiting Palestine from Tampa, Florida.
After holding him in jail for three days, Israel placed Tariq on house arrest for nine days before returning him to the US without pressing any charges against him.
“Even though he’s home, we’re still on edge and tense,” said Sanah Abu Khdeir, Tariq’s aunt.
Israeli forces raided multiple Abu Khdeir family homes and arrested five members immediately after Tariq left. None is charged with a crime though three remain detained without charge. Israel maintains a policy of “administrative detention,” where Palestinians can be detained for up to six months without charge, renewable indefinitely.
Palestinian prisoners carried out the longest hunger strike in their history this year, with over 125 protesting administrative detention.
“Palestinians are arrested for attending demonstrations, being student activists, writing slogans on the illegal Apartheid wall or throwing stones at tanks or military vehicles that come into their villages to destroy homes,” wrote Randa Wahbe, advocacy director at Addameer – Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association.
“The important thing to note is that the Occupier uses mass detention and imprisonment as a tool of control and oppression of the Palestinian population, in an aim to destroy Palestinian society and its ability to self-determination,” Wahbe said.
Israel has arrested one-fifth of the Palestinian population, or 40 percent of Palestinian males.
Over the past few weeks, arrest rates have also increased within Israel. 972 Magazine reports that 410 Palestinian citizens of Israel have been arrested for protesting since July 8. Many of those arrested are minors. Palestinian citizens of Israel face second-class citizenship with roughly 30 laws discriminating against non-Jews or either privileging Jewish citizens.
Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian activist and founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement said the amount of police repression he’s seen in Israel is unprecedented.
“The most significant change we’ve seen is the overwhelming prevalence of incitement to violence and racism in Israel,” said Barghouti. “We’re hearing reports from all over Palestinian communities in 48 [Israel] as well as in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem of racial attacks, of huge mobs of Jewish Israeli thugs calling ‘Death to the Arabs’ and attacking any person who looks Arab.”
Jewish Israeli activists also report an increase in political repression, citing right-wing mobs who chant “death to leftists,” and a lack of police protection.
Right-wing Israeli officials have made a series of racist statements over the past month. The Deputy Speaker of the Israeli parliament, called for Palestinians to leave Gaza and be replaced by Jews. One parliamentarian said that all Palestinian mothers should be killed. On July 23, another proposed expelling Palestinian representatives who spoke against the offensive in Gaza.
According to Israeli activist Tom Pessah, most Israeli officials don’t make extreme statements, instead talking about the security needs of the state. Yet, it is more important to judge the actions of the Israeli government than the content of its words, he said.
“The government is always very moderate on the level of what it says, but it actually actively dropping bombs on entire families and wiping them out.”
According to Barghouti, Israel’s recent actions represent underlying and ongoing issues.
“Now, Israel is dropping any masks of liberalism and democracy and appearing to the world as it really is: an extremely racist, colonial apartheid society with an extremely incited racist population that is calling for blood and more blood of the indigenous Palestinians,” he said.
Palestinians reiterate a call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions as a tangible way for concerned Americans to help end the occupation, siege on Gaza and oppression Palestinians face from Israel.
“Stop funding Israel’s war crimes. Stop supporting the different companies that fund Israel,” Sanah said.
Barghouti stated divestment is not a heroic act or a call for charity from Palestinians.
“They’re asking all people at the very least to cut your links to oppression. End your complicity in oppression at the very, very least, as a very basic human obligation.”