Occupied Palestine: Israeli provocations escalate violence

November 15, 2015

Israeli military jeep broadcasting threat to gas residents, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem, occupied West Bank, October 29. Still from video by Yazan Ikhlayel.

Israel has introduced dramatic new restrictions on Palestinians living in the city of Hebron in response to recent violence and mass resistance in the occupied West Bank.

Residents of the Tel Rumeida suburb of Hebron's old quarter have been interrogated and registered by Israeli soldiers. Residents must undergo rigorous searches every time they wish to leave or enter their homes, while outside residents have been refused entry altogether, Mondoweiss reported on November 11.

The restrictions, which have been in place since October 29, were described by a resident as being, “Just like in prison. They try to make you a number, you're not a person”.

The Tel Rumeida suburb is the flashpoint for tensions between Palestinians and illegal Israeli settlers and military. It is the location of the settlement of Ramat Yeshai, first established in 1984. The area is known for “price tag attacks” (where any attack on settlers is responded to by indiscriminate violence against Palestinians), and graffiti slogans such as “gas the Arabs”.

Unsurprisingly, the Israeli military defends the settlers in their campaign of terror against residents of Hebron's old city. The New York Times reported on October 30 that the new “precautionary measures” were taken by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) “in order to contain potential attacks in the future and maintain the safety and well being of Israelis”.

Israeli human rights group B'tselem has dubbed the restrictions of movement “a collective punishment”. It said Israeli and international peace monitors have also been barred from entering the area, allowing for further rights violations to go undocumented.

Movement has also been restricted between the entire old quarter of Hebron and the neighbouring suburbs and villages, with key roads being bulldozed shut.

Although they have been justified as “containing potential attacks”, the restrictions are a clear provocation by the Israeli military. The closure of the old quarter also lays the groundwork for further land grabs by settlers in the hotly-contested city.

In another provocation by the occupation forces earlier in October, Israeli soldiers shut down Aida Camp, in Bethlehem, and delivered residents a chilling warning that they would “gas you all until you die”.

The incident occurred late in the night on October 29. It was captured on video by Yazan Ikhlayel, 17, from the local youth centre, and quickly went viral on social media.

The Border Police soldiers, addressing the camp via megaphones on their jeeps, identified themselves as the “Occupation Army” and warned they would kill “the children, the youth, the old people” if they did not stop throwing stones.

“The most important thing I want people to see when they watch this video is to realise what the Israeli 'democracy' really is,” Ikhlayel told Middle East Eye on October 30.

“They have said it for us now, they are an occupation — they said 'we are the occupation army'. It is proof, this is an apartheid country, it is not democratic at all.”

These threats, like the restrictions of movement in Hebron, are a clear example of disproportionate and collective punishment. They are also a provocation that could only be aimed at escalated violence.

The Times of Israel reported the officer responsible for the operation was suspended the day after the incident.

In yet another deliberate provocation, this one directed at both Palestinians and the US government, the Jerusalem municipality signed off on 891 new settlement blocks in the Gilo settlement, the Palestine News Network reported on November 11.

The settlement of Gilo was built on land expropriated from the East Jerusalem suburb of Beit Safafa and the Bethlehem suburb of Beit Jala. The announcement followed the approval of 2200 apartments in Ma'ale Michmas settlement east of Ramallah on November 10.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the announcements during his tour of the US, insultingly dismissing the size of the built up settlement areas as “just a few percent.”

Yet, as the shutdown of Hebron shows, the goal of settlements is to make life as difficult for neighbouring Palestinians as possible. The ultimate goal is to force Palestinians to give up and leave — a new, large scale ethnic cleansing.

Palestinians have responded with their own call for an escalation — calling for a global intensification of the boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) campaign targetting Israel.

Uniting efforts behind the hashtag #SolidarityWaveBDS, the Palestinian BDS national committee called for activists to take “international solidarity with the Palestinian popular resistance to the next level”.

The push has already borne some fruit, with the European Commission issuing a new guideline on November 11 that all products from Israeli settlements must be labelled as such.

If we want to stop the daily provocations and injustices of the Israeli occupation, then solidarity activists in Australia and around the world should redouble our efforts for BDS against Israel.

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