Summer in Palestine: An episode of escalation


4 July, 2014 Middle East Monitor

Israeli Jewish soldier. End the occupation!
Israeli Jewish soldier. End the occupation! © D Peterson

The discovery of the bodies of the three missing settlers on Monday June 30 north of Hebron is drawing what the Israeli army termed “Operation Brother’s Keeper” to a close. Regarded by many as a guise to target and finish off the Hamas movement in the West Bank, the operation brought to light several factors worth mentioning.

First, and not for the first time, the Israeli army and their politicians have manipulated the Israeli public by counting on their united stance of fearing for their security and a desire for punitive action to be undertaken, illustrated through the public’s encouragement and “righteous” justification to the collective punishment meted out by the army on the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, during the entirety of the past three weeks, the Israeli army and politicians had information that led to the “logical assumption that the teens were no longer alive” but kept it hidden from Israeli society in the form of a media gag in order to exploit the missing settlers as a pretext for its largest incursion of the West Bank in over a decade.

The second is the indication of how closely intertwined the relationship between the Palestinian Authority security services and the Israeli occupation army is. The former primarily exists to safeguard the security of Israel, by crushing Palestinian dissent and maintaining the status quo. Yet the recent events have unleashed an outburst of vitriol towards the PA, which were openly described as collaborators and agents of the occupying regime.

The third is that, despite Israel publicly announcing vindictive acts of violence such as house demolitions (mainly of homes belonging to Hamas leaders), they will have no qualms in carrying them out, in a targeted fashion to quell “terror”. The response by Palestinians will be anything but passive, especially given the cracks that have appeared in breaking the fear barrier from the PA security forces. Israel has announced that it is not interested in an escalation in the West Bank and Gaza, which from the Palestinian point of view can be read in an alternative way. Israel depends on the PA, and if the Palestinians revolt against the occupation’s subcontractor, everything Israel worked for to further expand and entrench its occupation in the last two decades will be unraveled. Therefore, the calls for calm by Israeli officials, such as Israeli spokesperson Avichay Adraee’s tweet in Arabic that the Israeli occupation army will “contain the situation and maintain safety and security in the West Bank” is a chance for the PA to absorb the anger directed at it by the Palestinians, those whose interests it works against in favour of the interests of the occupation.

Yet the brutal murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, from the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Shuafat, highlights the different fronts Israel faces despite the fact that it created them though the classical divide and conquer tactic.

Settlers kidnapped Abu Khdeir in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the incident was caught on CCTV cameras, tortured and burned him. Protests engulfed Shuafat, believed to be the heaviest confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem in years. Despite the heat and the fact that the Palestinians were fasting, hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets, set up barricades, and even set fire to the light rail that runs through Shuafat.

The PA cannot send its riot guards and preventative security forces to disperse the crowd because it has no jurisdiction over Jerusalem, but that does not excuse it from the widespread anger. A delegation representing the PA in Jerusalem, headed by the “PA’s Jerusalem governor” Adnan Al-Husayni, made their way to the Abu Khdeir home after confirmation of the teenager’s death was announced. They were met with great hostility by the residents of Shuafat, with shouts of “spies” hurled at them. The protests continued and spread to other areas throughout the night; 170 Palestinians were injured in that day alone. At night, masked anonymous men marched through several Palestinian neighbourhoods in Jerusalem calling for an escalation of protests and for popular committees to be formed.

The next day, a schedule of protests was announced in various towns and cities in the 1948 occupied territories against Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s murder, the racist anti-Arab Jewish mobs that popped up in their hundreds in Jerusalem, and the Israeli occupation. Palestinians turned out in Nazareth, Umm il-Fahem, Yafa, Haifa, Shifa ‘Amro, Kufr Kanna, and Rahat (in the Naqab desert). Reports from the ground said that the Palestinians from the town of Arara came out to prevent a group of settlers from entering.

The fact that Palestinian youth in the 1948 territories have, especially throughout the past couple of years, organised and mobilised for protests against the occupation regime cannot be underscored enough. This is one of Israel’s fears, that its Palestinian constituents, which make up 20 per cent of the Israeli population and which is referred to as the fifth column, would threaten and debilitate its so-called security fabric from within. In particular, this is a measure of the state’s failure to erase the Palestinian identity completely, and it cannot prevent the growing political consciousness of these Palestinians and their networking with their brethren in the other territories, which reflects the limitations of the effects of the demarcated boundaries within the country.

Protests in Jerusalem extended to Beit Hanina, Silwan, the Mount of Olives, and the French Hill areas the day after Abu Khdeir’s death. Here, unlike the West Bank, there are no PA security forces to intimidate, arrest, or restore the “status quo“. In Gaza, which was heavily bombed over the past month, the resistance held a press conference where they stressed that they will not adhere to the requests of third parties (here, meaning Egypt) to exercise restraint and self-control. Furthermore, they attested that the equation has now been flipped on its head: the resistance will decide when to start and when to end its actions. This came after a senior Israeli military official declared that “Israel is seeking calm in the Gaza Strip” and that it does not want any escalations. Rockets fired from Gaza have managed to hit a factory in the illegal settlement of Sderot, in addition to its electricity grid.

July 4 will be the first Friday in Ramadan as well as Abu Khdeir’s funeral, and Israeli security forces are wary of and are preparing to defuse the intensified situation. It is too premature to inject the word “intifada” here, which undeniably can be situated in hyperbole whenever there is a flash of popular resistance and whenever the streets get filled with Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers. Socioeconomic factors, as well as the various political realities within each occupied territory should not be swept under the rug while hastily describing the running of tensions and protests as an uprising.

The first two intifadas were sparked by a particular event; here it might be the case of flashes of episodes that diminish almost as fast as they rose, such as the 2012 protests in support of the mass hunger strikes and the 2013 Prawer demonstrations, which will eventually grow to be out of control of both the PA and Israel’s containment.

The different territories face different tasks: the resistance in Gaza, should they deliver on their promises and threats to Israel, will also need to place itself in a stronghold position; the Palestinians in the West Bank need to form popular committees or a vestige of representative governance that will marginalise and completely delegitimise the PA; and the Palestinians in Jerusalem and 1948 territories must keep up the pressure though various forms of popular resistance against Israel.

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