Eyewitnesses to Israel's West Bank rampage

July 13, 2014
Image: Thrivalroom.com.

The world is focused on Israel's offensive against Palestinians in Gaza, with escalating air strikes and a massing of infantry units along the border for a threatened invasion in the wake of the discovery of the bodies of three teenage settlers. But Israel's use of violence and terror against Palestinians continues in the West Bank and Israel itself.

Shafeka Hashah, co-president of Students for Justice in Palestine at New York University, has been staying with family in the old city of Ramallah in the West Bank. Her cousin Niveen has been in Palestine since 2000 and lives in the village of Deir Dibwan, about five miles from Ramallah.

They were interviewed by Jason Farbman about Israel's intensifying its war on Palestinians. It is abridged from Socialist Worker.


Can you describe what life was like during the 18 days between the start of Israel's crackdown on June 12 and the discovery of the bodies of the three settler youth at the end of the month?

Niveen: Every day, hundreds were arrested, and there were clashes everywhere, random invasions of homes.

The streets didn't feel safe to walk on, especially at night. And even after the boys were found, the settlers have been committing brutal crimes, kidnapping young children, running them over, even burning them alive. This isn't anything new, but it has grown in a short time since the kidnapping.

Shafeka: In the centre of Ramallah, a man was killed and Palestinians fought against their own police force for being the right hand to the Israeli military. In the days after the kidnappings, we heard gunshots every night, and Ramallah was constantly invaded.

Anytime a martyr died, Ramallah would shut down entirely, and there would be a mass funeral procession in the streets. Ramallah quieted down after the bodies were found, but hearing the stories of what is going on in Jerusalem and Nablas is horrifying.

What is great, though, is that people are finally talking about how they hate the Palestinian Authority (PA), especially following PA President Mahmoud Abbas's speech about how all lives are equal (which is true) ― without ever making mention of an occupation, or settlers or those problems, as though people are just horrible, and nothing could have spurred them to kidnap three settlers ― if, that is, it was Palestinians who did it at all.

What has the response been from ordinary Palestinians?

Niveen: Palestinians all over the Middle East have been protesting against Israel by showing their anger at these brutal attacks, leading to clashes with the Israel Occupation Force. The anger of Palestinians has risen, and many have been injured and imprisoned. The Palestinians' major focus has been on Israel and less on Fatah/Hamas.

Shafeka: I would agree that the people haven't really talked about the unity government much, or at least not in my observations, but they have been talking about the PA being a friend of Israel's occupation.

Israel has scapegoated Hamas for the abduction and killing of the three teenage settlers, trying to vilify them to justify its ongoing attacks. Has this worked among the people you speak to?

Shafeka: I don't think this has worked at all. The people are more concerned with the huge escalation of violence than with Hamas or Fatah.

Have you had discussions about the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement with people that you've met there since you arrived? What have those been like?

Niveen: Yes. Honestly, the problem is implementation. When Israeli products are cheaper to buy for businesspeople, and these are people who need to feed their families. It's hard to just say, “Stop selling these products”.

Shafeka: It would be ideal if Palestinians had products comparable to Israeli ones that businesses could sell. Then people could pressure the businesses to boycott the products. In the large supermarkets, the Israeli products are separated out, but it is hard sometimes to do even that.

Also, I've heard stories of Palestinian sellers who aren't able to bring their products to the West Bank or who must pay high taxes on them. Israel makes it so that West Bank Palestinians have to buy Israeli products. This just shows how the occupation is so completely necessary for the economy.

In what ways have Palestinians resisted Israeli aggression these past few weeks?

Niveen: Palestinians have been showing their anger by protesting. But Palestinians' limited access to resources has limited their resistance to protests and clashes with Israeli forces.

The Palestinians fight back with rocks while the opposition faces them with tanks, M-16s, bullets, bombs and so on.

Shafeka: Resistance takes the form of protests and “clashes” (I don't like that word). Israel has closed roads ― for instance, the road we take to go from Deir Dibwan to Ramallah has been rerouted so it doesn't pass right by Beiteel settlement.

The people are honestly very unified in their struggles and are trying. I think they finally feel as though they are getting mainstream media coverage, which I feel is uplifting. And even if that reporting is often terrible, it seems we are getting humanized in the media for once.

After the six settler extremists murdered a Palestinian teen in Jerusalem by lighting him on fire, it was the same response. Israel closed off the roads to get to his funeral. I heard a story that in his town, settlers kept attacking until the young men cut all the electricity to the light poles, so the settlers got scared and fled.

It is great though to see everyone in the streets. During the funeral, there were masses of women there, which was great. You really have a sense of true solidarity.

And even before Operation Brother's Keeper, every eating establishment shut down one day in solidarity with the [Palestinian prisoner] hunger strikers. During the graduation at Birzeit University, there was a moment of silence. They also gave an honorary diploma to a Birzeit student who had recently been shot by either a settler or a soldier while herding sheep.

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