Israel: Calls to stop demolitions intensify after teacher's death

There have been protests across Israel after Palestinian citizen of Israel, Yaqoub Abu al-Qiyan, was shot and killed by police officers during the demolition of a Bedouin village.

Bulldozers and police officers stormed Umm al-Hiran, one of dozens of Bedouin villages in Israel that are not recognized by the Israeli government. They destroyed eight homes and seven agricultural buildings in the early hours of Wednesday 18 January.

A demonstration followed the demolition of 11 homes in Qalansawe.

Noreen Sadik

There are conflicting accounts of what happened. Police reports state that Abu al-Qiyan, a 50-year-old teacher, attempted to ram his vehicle into the officers at the demolition site. However, a video taken by the police seems to back up eyewitness claims that he was shot before he lost control of his vehicle. A police officer who was hit by the vehicle was killed, and another one injured.

Ayman Odeh, a Member of Knesset (MK) – Israel's parliament, was injured after being struck in the head with a sponge-tipped bullet. Tear gas and live ammunition was also used by security forces.

The destruction of lives and homes, and the complete disregard for the Palestinian citizens of Israel has caused outrage and demonstrations throughout Arab cities around the country.

On Monday 23 January, a convoy of 200 cars, driving 20 kilometres per hour on major highways, made its way to the Knesset building to protest the demolitions and the death of Abu al-Qiyan. They also demanded the release of his body which, one week after his death, the Supreme Court ruled that the police had no right to hold.

Familiar story

The predicament that the residents of Umm al-Hiran face is not new. In 1956, the government expelled them from their ancestral village, Khirbet Zubaleh, and relocated them to Umm al-Hiran. In spite of the fact that the government itself relocated them, the village has always been referred to as ‘unrecognized’, because the government does not recognize them as legal, therefore it did not have infrastructure, running water, electricity or other basic municipal services.

For years, the government has planned on expelling the residents again and building a Jewish town called Hiran on this same piece of land. In 2015, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the Bedouin village could be destroyed to make way for the new Hiran.

The demolitions in Qalansawe triggered the resignation of Mayor Abd al-Basit Salame.

Noreen Sadik

Israeli media agency Arutz Sheva, reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told officials to ‘work to issue demolition orders for the illegal structures, located in Arab towns in northern and southern Israel, as well as in eastern Jerusalem.’

He is living up to that promise.

Just eight days before the demolitions in Umm al-Hiran, a reported 800 police officers entered the Arab town of Qalansawe in central Israel and demolished 11 homes, causing Mayor Abd al-Basit Salame to announce his resignation.

‘We have been waiting for approval of a master plan for 20 years,' he said. 'As head of the Qalansawe municipality who doesn’t have the power to change anything, I decided to send my resignation to the Ministry of Interior.’

The master plan that Salame mentioned stands as an obstacle to the building plans of the Arab municipalities and their citizens. According to Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – the Israeli state policy which has been implemented for years has led to the housing crisis in the Arab sector, and to unauthorized construction.

Since 1948, no new Arab towns have been built and the boundaries of the existing towns have been reduced. Land owned by Arab municipalities constitutes less than three per cent, and requests for expansion are refused in spite of an increase in the Arab population. Palestinian citizens make up 1.7 million – 20 per cent of the population.

Additionally in 2015, Jewish communities received approval from the state for the construction of 38,095 housing units, but only 1,835 tenders for housing units in the Arab communities were approved. This amounts to only 4.6 per cent of all new construction tenders being given to Arab applicants.

Currently, there are 50,000 unlicenced homes that are subject to demolition.

Build not destroy

MK Jamal Zahalka, who was part of Monday's convoy said, ‘We want to send a message against home demolitions. Our public will not calm down and won’t be silent until a complete freeze of demolitions and appropriate plans for Arab towns are provided. There is a housing shortage and the government, instead of building, destroys.’

Three of the demolished homes in Qalansawe belonged to Abu Khaled’s sons. Standing on the rubble, he complained that for years the family tried to obtain building permits but the issuance was always delayed.

‘I received the demolition orders, and was told I have 45 days to solve the problem. The next day they came in full force,’ he said.

Abu Khaled from Qalansawe standing on his son's demolished house.

Noreen Sadik

Some believe that the demolitions are Netanyahu’s way of distracting the public from the accusations of corruption which are currently plaguing him.

‘The deeper the police investigation of Netanyahu, the wider the flames of his incitement,’ said Jewish MK Dov Khenin at a protest in Tel Aviv.

MK Issawi Freij said at the same protest: ‘The Prime Minister wants to mark out an enemy on whom his voters can vent their anger.  This enemy which the PM has targeted and marked out is me – an Arab citizen of the State of Israel and a Member of Israel’s Parliament, along with all my Arab fellow citizens, a full 20 per cent of Israel’s citizen body. We are to be the scapegoats!’

Others believe that Netanyahu is trying to appease the settlers in the illegal West Bank settlement of Amona who, by government order, will be forced to evacuate.

The demolitions of Arab homes in Israel are coming at a time when new illegal (according to international law) construction is continuing on occupied Palestinian land. Last month the UN passed a resolution that Israel stop construction in the Palestinian territories. In spite of that, just a few days ago, the Israeli government announced plans to build 2,500 settler homes in West Bank settlements.  Building permits have also been authorized for hundreds of settler homes in east Jerusalem, and 11 thousand more will be approved in the upcoming months, according to Jerusalem's Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman.

Home demolitions are not limited to the homes of Palestinian citizens of Israel. Data collected by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) indicates that 2016 showed the highest number of demolitions in the West Bank in seven years. 1,089 structures in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem were destroyed or seized for not having Israeli issued building permits, and 1,593 people were displaced, and the livelihoods of 7,101 people were affected.

For Arab communities in the West Bank, 2017 has started the same way as 2016 ended. Just two days into the new year, 11 residential structures were demolished in the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar near Jerusalem, leaving 87 people homeless. The following day 15 structures, including the only school, in the Bedouin village of Khirbet Tana were demolished.

Shuaa Mansour, mayor of Taibeh, the second largest Arab city in Israel and the city which neighbors Qalansawe, is pushing for a solution with the government.

‘My hope is that the Prime Minister will talk to us as citizens, to find a solution, and not to compare us to the settlers who are stealing land in Palestine.’

Directing his talk to Netanyahu, first in Hebrew and then in Arabic, Mansour stated, ‘Every minority in the world has rights.  Ask your family, and the European Jews, what it means to be an oppressed and chased minority.’

Israel keeps Bilal Kayed in 'administrative detention'

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Members of New York City Students for Justice in Palestine and other supporters of Palestinian political prisoner Bilal Kayed, an 'administrative detainee', protest on his 42nd day of hunger strike (25 July 2016). Joe Catron under a Creative Commons Licence

The prisoner is the latest victim of Israel's form of detention, which doesn't entail charge nor trial, Noreen Sadik writes.

After spending nearly 14 and a half years in an Israeli prison for his affiliation with the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Bilal Kayed was due to be released on 13 June – but he wasn't.

Instead, on that day, Bilal was told that he would be held in administrative detention, which amounts to imprisonment without charge or trial.

Kayed’s detention was to last six months, with the possibility of renewal for an indefinite period of time.

Two days later, on 15 June, he began a hunger strike in protest of his continued imprisonment.

The military court ruled that, based on secret evidence gathered about his activities before his initial arrest and his intentions upon release he continued to pose a threat to Israel’s security.

Seventy-one days later, following a severe deterioration in Kayed’s health, his lawyer reached an agreement with the Israeli military prosecution, and Kayed ended his hunger strike. He told his supporters:

My thanks and appreciation for all of your sacrifices for the sake of Palestine and the Palestinian cause which is too often lost in the halls of politics and the shelves of postponement, and in particular the cause of the prisoners, which is abandoned and lost here and there. Today, this issue was brought to the table with your efforts and your support and your mobilization in the homeland and in the diaspora. The prisoners are yesterday’s strugglers and tomorrow’s leaders. We must support them and I remind you that there are still those prisoners who are fighting a vicious battle against this occupier that does not understand anything but the language of challenge.

His administrative detention will not be renewed and he will be released from prison on 12 December 2016.

Kayed’s case had been in the spotlight for months but as of July 2016 there were 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners, and 750 administrative detainees in Israeli prisons.

According to Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, since the Israeli occupation of Palestine in 1967, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been arrested. That is almost 20 per cent of the population of the occupied territories.

The use of administrative detention has increased since the second Intifada (uprising) which began in September 2000 and ended in February 2005. On the eve of the second Intifada, 12 Palestinians were held in administrative detention but during the years of the intifada that number has increased to more than 8,000.

Addameer states, the case of Bilal Kayed – detained on the day that he completed his sentence – sets a dangerous policy with legal precedent, and is an example of how administrative detention is arbitrary detention which may amount to psychological torture and degrading treatment.

An occupying power must adhere to international laws regarding administrative detention.

The Fourth Geneva Convention states that administrative detention is permitted only ‘if the security of the Detaining Power makes it absolutely necessary’, or for ‘imperative reasons of security’, but not as a means of punishment. Similarly, the Convention states that:

  • a person should not be transferred to another territory;
  • detainees must be held in adequate accommodation in regards to health and hygiene, and must not be held with prisoners who have committed crimes;
  • the detainee has the right to receive visitors, especially near relatives, on a regular basis and as often as possible, and in cases of urgency, such as death or serious illness of relatives, detainees should be permitted to visit their homes.

Israel does not abide by this law.

Israeli law permits the military commander to issue administration detention orders based on the presumption that the security of the area or public security is threatened. However, no definition of ‘security of the area’ or ‘public security’ is given.

In most cases, states a report by Addameer, the military judge makes a decision based on ‘a summary of the evidence, without reading the entire contents of the secret material, without discussing it with the intelligence delegate, and without examining the information’s authenticity.’

Additionally, decisions are based on secret evidence which the detainee and his lawyer cannot have access to.

Kayed was not given the opportunity to challenge his detention which is a violation of his rights.

‘The stark reality is that not a single Palestinian charged with so-called security-related and other criminal offenses who passes through the Israeli military court system receives a fair trial,’ states Addameer.

Kayed, like all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, was transferred from the West Bank and interned in detention centres, interrogation centres or other prisons inside Israel.

He was moved from prison to prison, where he was subjected to raids on his cell, body searches, and placed in isolation. While in the hospital, despite his obvious physical limitations, he was shackled to his bed.

An offer of release was made to Kayed should he agree to be deported to Jordan for four years. He refused. Threats to hold him under administrative detention for another four years did not sway him.

Palestinians are not allowed to enter Israel without permits, therefore, many prisoners are denied family visits, or go years without seeing family members.

Kayed was banned from family visits, and while in isolation, his father passed away.

Robert Piper, UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance and Development Aid in the Occupied Palestinian Territory said, ‘The number of administrative detainees is at an eight-year high. I reiterate the United Nations long-standing position that all administrative detainees – Palestinian or Israeli – should be charged or released without delay.’

Urging the international community to continue their work to ensure that human rights violations are no longer committed, Addameer says, ‘This is an open battle until the policy of administrative detention ends.’

Caught in the act: Israeli soldier filmed killing Palestinian

Soldiers in al-Khalil

Soldiers in al-Khalil PalFest under a Creative Commons Licence

Abd al-Fattah al-Sharif and Ramzi al-Qasrawi, both 21-year-old Palestinian residents of al-Khalil (Hebron), were killed on 24 March 2016 after stabbing and wounding an Israeli soldier. The circumstances surrounding the death of al-Sharif, in particular, have caused an uproar in Israel, Palestine and the international community. What made it different from other killings is that for the first time, the incident was caught on tape.

Al-Qasrawi died on the spot. Al-Sharif, however, was wounded and fell to the ground. He lay motionless, still alive but ignored by Israeli medics who were treating the wounded soldier.

Imad Abu Shamsiyah, a cobbler by trade and a volunteer photographer for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, heard the shots. Arriving at the scene, he saw the two Palestinians on the ground. Al-Sharif was lying on his side; Abu Shamsiyah saw a soldier push him over onto his back with his foot.

When the soldiers saw him filming, Abu Shamsiyah went to his neighbour’s house, and it was from the roof that he was able to film the damning evidence of a murder.

The film shows the soldier, with arm and shoulder wounds, being put in the ambulance. It shows a scene of relative calm until a soldier cocks his gun, takes a step towards al-Sharif, and shoots him the head. And it shows a lack of shock, surprise or condemnation among the soldiers as the shots rang out.

A city divided

This comes after six months of violence between Palestinians and Israelis, including alleged stabbings by Palestinians and shootings by Israeli soldiers. Some, including the Palestinian Authority, have questioned the official story that Palestinians are actually attempting stabbings or are even carrying knives. Many suspect that knives are planted by the army near the bodies of Palestinians who are killed.

According to the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), ‘Since 1 October 2015, a total of 136 Palestinian suspected perpetrators, including 32 children, were killed by Israeli forces on the spot in their response to attacks and alleged attacks against Israelis in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel.’ So far in 2016, there have been 52 Palestinian and 4 Israeli fatalities. In al-Khalil, since 1 October 2015, 61 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers.

‘The shooting of a wounded and incapacitated person, even if they have been involved in an attack, has absolutely no justification and must be prosecuted as a potential war crime’

Al-Khalil, the largest Palestinian city, has been divided into two sections – H1, which is under Palestinian control; and H2, which is under Israeli military control. Within the borders of the city are Jewish-only settlements. As a result, as a means of protecting the 850 Jewish settlers, there are checkpoints within the city.

The incident involving al-Sharif took place near a military checkpoint in the Tel Rumedia neighbourhood.

The soldier, who has not been named, claimed that he was acting in self-defence; afraid that, although al-Sharif was motionless, he might try to detonate a bomb.

The video, however, shows soldiers walking near al-Sharif as he lay on the ground, indicating that he did not pose a threat. The voices of soldiers saying, ‘this dog is still alive’, and ‘this terrorist deserves to die’ are heard in the background.

Issa Amro, director of the al-Khalil based Youth Against Settlements group told Al-Jazeera, ‘This is the first time we’ve had such a clear video of a Palestinian being executed. This monstrous picture shows how brutal the occupation is.’

An autopsy in Tel Aviv of al-Sharif’s body confirmed that he was still alive right before being shot in the head. Rayan al-Ali, a Palestinian doctor who was present during the autopsy, said: ‘The results of the autopsy were expected. What the whole world saw on the video that documented the shooting was more than enough, but the autopsy results assured it.’

The Israeli military court stated that the video evidence is inconclusive, and the charges of murder have been lessened to manslaughter.

‘Shoot to kill’ policy

Hundreds of Israelis gathered outside the military courthouse to protest against the arrest of the soldier. According to Buzzilla, a company which specializes in analysing social networks, in a period of just a few days, over 80 per cent of Israelis stood behind the soldier. Petitions and Facebook pages were opened in support of him.

The international community views the killing of al-Sharif differently, and expressed concern that this might not be an isolated incident of a ‘shoot to kill’ policy against suspected Palestinian attackers.

B’Tselem stated: ‘The law on this matter is also clear: shooting to kill is permissible only in cases that a person poses mortal danger to others. However, in at least some of the cases, firing at the assailants did not cease even after they no longer posed any danger. Some were injured and lying motionless on the ground when they were shot dead. In other cases, the very use of live gunfire seems excessive. Soldiers, police and armed civilians are equated to “judge, jury and executioner”.’

‘The shooting of a wounded and incapacitated person, even if they have been involved in an attack, has absolutely no justification and must be prosecuted as a potential war crime,’ said Philip Luther, the Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International. ‘While it is encouraging that the soldier in the video has reportedly been suspended and placed under investigation, previous Israeli investigations have failed to hold members of the Israeli forces accountable even when there has been clear evidence of criminal wrongdoing.’

The research of Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din confirms this. Approximately 94 per cent of criminal investigations against Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers committing acts of violence against Palestinians are closed without indictment, and soldiers who are convicted of a crime receive very light sentences.

The aftermath has not been pleasant. While the nameless soldier received a light sentence, Abu Shamsiyah’s house has been firebombed, and he and his family have received death sentences. International volunteers have offered him protection.

In the cruellest way, Israeli settlements affect all Palestinians

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Dawabsheh family house after the arson attack.

Settler attacks

Hussein Dawabshe of Duma, Palestine will never forget the night that a Molotov cocktail was thrown into his daughter’s home while the family slept. How can he forget the fire that not only destroyed the house, but also burned his 18-month-old grandson, Ali, to death? Not long after, his son-in-law Sa’ad and his daughter Reham died from third degree burns. How can he forget telling their son, five-year-old Ahmad, that he is the only survivor of this heinous crime committed by Israeli settlers? How can one forget so much devastation?

People around the world were horrified by the fate of the Dawabshe family. Pictures of the their torched home, the Hebrew graffiti spray painted on the walls of the house (‘revenge’ and ‘long live Messiah’) and baby Ali, wrapped in a Palestinian flag before his burial, circled the internet.

'Revenge' graffiti in Hebrew, on the burnt Dawabsheh house in Duma.

Zakaria Sadah RHR

Ahmad, with 60 per cent of his body burned, became a household name, oblivious to the fact that he touched so many hearts. Eight months later, with his grandparents constantly by his side, he is still being treated in an Israeli hospital.

The arson attack against the Dawabshe family was reminiscent of the kidnapping and burning of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir by Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem in 2014. And a reminder of the schools, mosques, churches, and olive trees – the livelihood of so many Palestinians – which have also been vandalized and torched. Nothing is safe from the destructive hands of the settlers.

Duma

Duma is a small, quiet village inhabited by approximately 3,000 people. Not unlike any other Palestinian village, in its vicinity are several Israeli settlements, outposts and military bases, making it an easy target for abuse and crimes by Israeli settlers.

No one knows exactly what Ben Uliel was thinking when he set out on his murderous journey. Was his hatred for Palestinians so deep that he was blind to the consequences of his actions? Did he know that most cases of settler and soldier violence against Palestinians - 94 per cent to be exact – are closed? Did he know that if there actually is an indictment, the sentencing is usually very light? Did this security give him the confidence to carry out his crime?

The Palestinian village of Duma from the west with the Jordan valley.

Oren Rozen

Existence of settlements

Such crimes, and so many other injustices against the Palestinian people, are made possible by the mere existence of the Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank. Add hatred, feelings of superiority, and governmental impunity, crimes are much more easily committed.

However, the irony of the situation is that settlements and outposts built on Palestinian land, according to international law, are illegal, and had these laws been respected by Israel and enforced by the international community, the Dawabshe family might still be alive. Currently, there are 125 settlements and 100 outposts built in 63 percent of Area C, Palestinian land which is under Israeli control.

In spite of the 49th article of the Geneva Convention which states, ‘The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territories it occupies,’ the Israeli Ministry of Interior reports that 764,250 Israelis are living in these settlements and in East Jerusalem. The catch is that Israel is the only country which believes that the settlements are legal.

They represent a huge, well organized system which is aimed at land confiscation and the protection of the settlers. They are connected by a vast network of roads which Palestinians are denied access to. The settlements, the concrete slab and barbed wire Wall, and the checkpoints deep in Palestinian land have resulted in Palestinian cities and villages being divided into enclaves, separated from each other, and affecting the social and economic life of the inhabitants.

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, states that they ‘violate Palestinian human rights, including the right to property, equality, a decent standard of living and freedom of movement’. In spite of the laws, between 2009 and 2014, the settler population increased by 23 percent, and continues to grow. Attacks on Palestinians and their property have also increased.

Settler crimes generally occur in two ways: in ‘no go zones’ in which fear is put into Palestinians who come up against armed settlers in areas surrounding the settlements and outposts. Often these areas are on privately owned land.

The second way is though the price tag policy which is basically an act of violence against Palestinians, or against the State of Israel for dismantling outposts. The attacks are in the form of vandalism, stone throwing, uprooting of olive trees, or in the case of the Dawabshe family, murder.

Yesh Din, another Israeli human rights organization, states, ‘These acts of violence are not isolated incidents, they are not simply acts of hate or anger. Rather this brand of violence is part of a sophisticated, wider strategy designed to assert territorial domination over Palestinians in the West Bank.’

According to international law, Israel, as the occupying power, must protect the Palestinians security and safety against acts of violence or threats. Israel is also responsible for maintaining public order, and ensuring the basic needs of the population under its control. However the opposite has happened, and again, the international community is not enforcing the laws that it created.

Palestinians are not protected by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) against settler violence. There are no military police stations for the public, and although some are located in settlements, they are inaccessible to Palestinians, making it very difficult for Palestinians who want to file complaints.

Between 2000 and 2011, according to B’Tselem, investigations of crimes were opened in only 71 per cent of cases of settler violence against Palestinians. Of these cases, 23 per cent were not opened, and another 6 per cent received no response. An indictment was filled in only 11 per cent of all cases in which investigations were opened. Additionally, often instead of punishing violent settlers, restrictions are placed on Palestinians.

In the cruelest way, the Dawabshe’s are victims of the Israeli settlement enterprise. It is a system which affects every Palestinian, and hinders their independence and quality of life. Dawabshe tells me that people are afraid to go out, and are afraid to sleep in their own homes. As long as the settlements exist on Palestinian land, no one feels safe or free.

The murders have taken a toll on the Dawabshe family. Hussein Dawabshe is understandably tired. Parents should not have to see their children and grandchildren go before them. Not only did Dawabshe loose a daughter, he lost a friend, a confidant, and as he said, his “light and life”, and without her, everything important is missing.

And as for Ahmad……..his treatment continues. One so young should not be subjected to six operations; to the hospital becoming a familiar home; and to the many visitors, all strangers, coming and going from his life. One so young should not be learning to walk again. He should be running. He should be running into the arms of his mother.

Hanging on the wall of his hospital room, across from his bed, is a picture of Ahmad’s family. Their paper eyes stare at him. Ahmad knows that he can’t see his family now, but yet he asks when he can go to them. Death is hard for one so young to understand. I visited Ahmad several times. His room was filled with gifts of clothing, toys and food. The generosity and support of people was touching, and the trip to the zoo must have been fun, but they can’t replace his dead family.

The last time I saw Ahmad, he was sitting in a large battery operated car, fascinated by a small toy that he held in his hand, his burned skin stretched awkwardly. The scars on the side of his face still show, a constant reminder of the night his life changed forever; the night he became an orphan, another victim of the occupation of Palestine.

‘I will never move until I die or we get our freedom’

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Hashem Azzeh, 2010, at the Tel Rumeida checkpoint, trying to go to his home. amillionwaystobe under a Creative Commons Licence

Noreen Sadik tells the story of recently deceased Palestinian Hashem Azzeh, who struggled for freedom, family and home.

Hashem Azzeh, 54, died three weeks ago. A medical doctor, husband, father of four, and a prominent Palestinian activist from al-Khalil (Hebron), he had spent years peacefully resisting the Israeli occupation of his city. Yet in the end, he became a victim of it.

Already weakened by a long term cardiac condition, he died from complications after excessive inhalation of tear gas.

His death is about the reality of the powerful and the powerless, and about a system that has gone very wrong.

A description of al-Khalil

With a population of 202,000, al-Khalil is the largest city in Palestine. Both Muslim and Jewish faiths believe that the Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) was buried in this city. His shrine is known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, and to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

In 1968, the illegal (according to international law) Israeli settlement Kiryat Arba was built on the outskirts of al-Khalil. Its population is approximately 8,000.

Four other settlements were built inside al-Khalil’s city limits, the first of the four in 1979. Three are on Shuhada Street, a main street connecting the north and the east of the city.

In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an American settler from Kiryat Arba, murdered 29 Palestinian worshippers and injured over 100 in the Ibrahimi Mosque during Friday prayers. As a result of the attack, the Palestinian residents, in effect, paid the price for his crime.

The punishment: Palestinian use of Shuhada Street was prohibited. Initially, only vehicles were banned, and then during the second Intifada in 2000, the street was completely closed to al-Khalil’s Palestinian residents.

Shuhada Street, which had been lined with Palestinian owned shops (with owners usually living above their business), served as the location of al-Khalil’s central wholesale market, and bus and police stations. It was in close proximity to the Ibrahimi Mosque, and was once a busy, dynamic area.

According to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, with the closure of Shuhada Street, 76.6 percent of commercial establishments (1,829) were forced to close, and at least 41.9 percent of homes (1,014) were vacated. Military checkpoints were put in place, and shops and homes whose entrances were on Shuhada Street were welded shut. Shop owners and residents, no longer permitted to set foot on Shuhada Street, were forced to enter or leave their homes by climbing through windows and walking across roof tops to access other streets.

Without the Palestinian residents, Shuhada Street became eerily quiet; a ghost town.

The Hebron Agreement of 1997 further partitioned the city into sections. Section H1 is under Palestinian control, and H2 is under Israeli military control with hundreds of Israeli Defense Forces soldiers patrolling the area on any given day.

The ‘principle of separation’, states a B’Tselem report, is ‘a regime of physical and legal segregation between Israeli settlers, who receive the military’s protection and the Palestinian majority.’ This principle has resulted in the 35,000 Palestinians living in the H2 section paying a grave price. This is done, supposedly, in the name of the security of the 850 illegal settlers who reside there.

Not only is the Shuhada Street in H2, but so too is the neighbourhood of Tel Rumeida, above which, on a hilltop, sits a settlement just a few meters away.

Lack of job security and daily instability from settler and army attacks have forced many Palestinians to leave their homes. Of the 500 families that once lived in Tel Rumeida, only 50 have remained.

Azzeh, who died three weeks ago, his wife and four children chose to stay.

Azzeh described daily life as ‘really horrible’. In spite of the fact that his children are harassed on their way to and from school; that his five year old (at the time) son was arrested for allegedly throwing stones; that settlers throw stones and garbage at his home; that his home gets searched often; that his olive trees have been destroyed and olives stolen; that settlers cut the water pipes that lead to his house; that he has to pass the checkpoint at Shuhada Street just to do basic shopping in H1, and have each bag checked by soldiers; and that his wife, Nisreen, lost two pregnancies due to settler attacks… In spite of all of this, he decided to stay.

Just two days before his death, with the help of international volunteers, he picked the olives that the settlers had not stolen. They were interrupted by a settler armed with an M-16 assult rifle. Israeli soldiers and police looked on as the settler photographed them, and female settlers shouted out verbal abuses.

Azzeh’s death was an eerie re-creation of a scenario he had spoken of to the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in 2013. ‘We don’t have any clinics here and no ambulances can reach us. If someone needs to go to the hospital, we have to carry the patients by hand through the checkpoint and the ambulance will wait for us behind it. There is no way for them to come to the patients directly in H2.’

Tension has been running high in various Palestinian cities since September 2015 when Israeli settlers entered al-Haram al-Sharif compound which houses the al-Aqsa Mosque. Tight restrictions were placed on Muslim worshippers.

More than 70 Palestinians have been killed and over 2,270 others injured by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza since the beginning of October this year.

Nine Israelis have been killed in this same time period.

Over 20 of the Palestinians killed, and almost 240 who have been arrested, are from al-Khalil.

Since October 29, access to the neighbourhood of Tel Rumeida has been permitted only to those registered as residents of the neighbourhood following security checks and name verifications.

On the day that Azzeh died, there were clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers. Azzeh was at home when he felt chest pains. A Palestinian ambulance from H1 was not permitted to reach him due to the checkpoints on Shuhada Street. In spite of the pain, he walked the 700 metre distance to the Bab a-Zawiya checkpoint (entrance to H1) where clashes were taking place. The suffocating tear gas was too much for him.

Azzeh was a peaceful protestor who readily showed international visitors and volunteers his reality. He told ISM: ‘The army and settlers have done a lot to me here. They want me to move but I will never give up. … For me personally it is clear, I will never move until I die or we get our freedom. I will keep my house with my family and my resistance.’

Confiscating lives, one hectare at a time

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The Cremisan valley has long been a source of dispute: here, in 2013, men plant olive trees to protest the land confiscations taking place. at the © Labour Palestine

On 17 August, Issa al-Shatleh, of Beit Jala, Palestine, started his day with news that Israeli soldiers were on the land that had belonged to his family for hundreds of years. When he arrived, he found ‘they were destroying the land, and cutting my ancient olive trees, some hundreds of years old’. ‘They came without a warning,’ he said.

And it is not just al-Shatleh’s land that is being confiscated. Close to 3 hectares of private land were razed that morning and 45 trees, some of them over 100 years old, were uprooted. As landowners tried to stop the destruction, violent clashes broke out, sending al-Shatleh’s brother to the hospital.

Beit Jala is located in the Cremisan Valley, near the Bethlehem area in Palestine. It lies between the illegal Israeli settlements of Gilo in East Jerusalem and the illegal West Bank settlement Har Gilo. Approximately 16,000 people live there, the majority of whom are Christian. Christians number about 2% of the population of the West Bank.

The Cremisan Valley is home to the Salesian Sisters’ Convent and school, and to the 19th-century Salesian Monastery and Cellars.

The green, fertile land is a source of livelihood for many local families, and is dotted with pine, apricot and olive trees, as well as other agricultural delicacies, including grapevines, used by the Cremisan winery. Not only is it a place of spirituality, it also serves as the last piece of agricultural and recreational land available to residents of Bethlehem.

For years, it has also been a source of contention and legal battles between Israel’s Ministry of Defense and the residents of Beit Jala, including the Salesian Monastery and the Salesian Convent.

Extending the wall

In 2006, the Israeli military declared its plan to extend the already-existing Separation Barrier, which had gaps in it, thereby dividing the land of Beit Jala.

The army’s original plan would have led to the confiscation of privately and church-owned land, and would separate 58 Palestinian families from their agricultural lands, affecting their livelihoods.

It would also have left the monastery and orchards on the Israeli side of the barrier, and the convent and school on the Palestinian side. Access between the two sides would have had to be given via an agricultural gate. With the convent and school surrounded by the barrier, and a military road nearby, hundreds of schoolchildren would essentially be living in a military zone.

On 24 April 2013, the Special Appeals Committee of the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court approved the land confiscation for the Separation Barrier along a route that would have annexed 75% of the convent’s property and enclosed it on three sides.

Two years later, this past April, after years of fighting to keep their lands, the residents of Beit Jala enjoyed the sweet taste of victory when the Israeli Supreme Court ruled against the Ministry of Defense’s proposal. The Court ordered the Ministry to find a route which would be less disruptive to the Palestinians.

The Cremisan Valley is home to the Salesian Sisters’ Convent and school, and to the 19th-century Salesian Monastery and Cellars.

Labour Palestine

On 6 July 2015 however, Beit Jala residents were shocked when the Court reversed its April decision, thereby permitting the Ministry of Defense to begin building the extension following an alternative route. The Ministry was instructed to leave monastery and convent lands untouched.

According to NGO Stop the Wall, ‘The Supreme Court ruling applies the need to re-route the Wall only as far as the lands surrounding the Salesian Sisters’ Convents and the Salesian Monastery and its agricultural lands. The court ruled that the Israeli authorities can initiate building the Wall on privately owned lands in Beit Jala.’

Construction of the Separation Barrier between Israel and the West Bank, also known as the Wall, began in 2002. Israel claims that it is a security measure designed to prevent attacks by Palestinians in the West Bank. In 2004, the International Court of Justice declared that the ‘construction by Israel of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and its associated regime are contrary to international law’.

Hundreds of hectares were confiscated from Beit Jala to build the 3 settlements of Gilo, Har Gilo and Giv’at Hamatos, as well as the part of the wall currently standing. The new extension to the wall is going to destroy another 350 hectares.

Residents of Beit Jala consider it to be a land grab, a means of linking Gilo and Har Gilo, and therefore annexing further Palestinian land to Israel.

According to Israeli human rights organization B’tselem, 85% of the barrier’s planned route of 709 kilometres runs through Palestinian land, rather than on the Green Line (representing the 1948-established borders). Upon completion, 46% of Palestinian land will have been annexed, and the barrier will be almost twice as long as the border, as it zigzags around Palestinian communities.

‘What can we do if the world doesn’t stand with us? The land of Jesus is calling you. Stop the aggression against us. We are human and we have rights. We just want to live in peace’

Meanwhile, Catholic leaders have been holding vigils every Friday in the Cremisan Valley since 2011, drawing international, diplomatic and media attention. Over the years, appeals for help have been made to several world leaders, including Pope Francis, who visited the area last year.

On 30 July 2015, the Society of St Yves Center for Human Rights, representatives of the Convent, submitted a new petition to the Supreme Court. It requested that ‘the Ministry of Defense reveal and present its whole planned route of the Separation Wall in Cremisan before it proceeds with building it in the privately owned lands’.

St. Yves also requested the High Court issue an order ‘to prevent the army from building the Wall before such a route plan is presented, and after allowing all parties and petitioners to submit their objections, especially for the landowners, who will incur severe damages from the construction of the Separation Wall’.

But in spite of that, while the landowners and residents of the community were waiting for yet another decision from the Israeli Supreme Court, the bulldozers rolled in, beginning the construction of the extension of the barrier.

A solidarity tent has been set up on the land, and public events and protests have been organized.

‘We are calling on the European Union and the international community, including the Vatican, to go beyond their statements of concern and condemnations, and to put real pressure on Israel to stop the construction of the Apartheid Wall, dismantle the Wall and the settlements and to respect international law and human rights,’ Stop the Wall declared.

In Beit Jala, frustrated and angry, al-Shatleh says: ‘What can we do if the world doesn’t stand with us? The land of Jesus is calling you. Stop the aggression against us. We are human and we have rights. We just want to live in peace.’

‘I refuse to be a slave to anyone’

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Protesting by any means: a mural by the artist Banksy on a wall in Bethlehem. Eoghan Rice under a Creative Commons Licence

One week ago, violent demonstrations took place in front of Barzilai Hospital, near Ashkelon, Israel, where Palestinian citizens of Israel protested against the continued imprisonment of Palestinian prisoner, administrative detainee and hunger striker Mohammad Allan.  

Hundreds of people from around Israel arrived to attend a vigil outside the hospital, where they were met by police with pepper spray and skunk water, as well as by rightwing protesters. Several protesters suffered injuries and many were arrested.

Allan, a 31-year-old lawyer from Aynabus (near Nablus) and allegedly a member of Islamic Jihad, garnered worldwide attention when he went on hunger strike 65 days ago. His health has severely deteriorated since then.

An MRI scan has showed signs of brain damage, and it’s not clear at this point whether or not it is reversible. Pending a full diagnosis, the Israeli Supreme Court has decided to suspend his sentence while he recovers.

Allan was first arrested in 2006, receiving a 3-year sentence. In 2011, he was detained again and interrogated for 50 days. On 6 November 2014, Israeli soldiers raided and searched his home in Aynabus. His office was also ransacked.

Five days later, Allan, without being charged with anything specific, received a 6-month administrative detention order; the sentence was renewed for another 6 months on 5 May 2015.

Administrative detention permits detention without any charge or trial, with a renewal date every 6 months. International law states that it can be used only in the most exceptional cases, as the last available means for preventing danger that cannot be thwarted by less harmful measures.

Without a maximum time limit, administrative detentions can continue indefinitely. 
According to Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Allan’s ‘administrative detention order was based on a secret file that was only viewed by the military judge, who claimed that the secret information clearly indicates that the detainee poses a danger’.

The judge also claimed the file was not solely based on analysis or estimations, but on specific material and data.

If that is the case, why wasn’t Allan interrogated and given the chance to respond to the accusations?

‘Mohammad Allan’s case exemplifies the use of administrative detention policy as a tool of punishment in the absence of clear evidence regarding committing a specific action. It also highlights the use of a detainee’s past against him/her for the sake of imprisonment,’ Addameer states. 

‘These practices gravely violate international humanitarian law, because administrative detention should be used only as a precautionary detention to prevent future threats, not as a punishment for a previously committed act.’

In May 2015, there were 5,750 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. In June 2015, according to data provided by the Israeli military and the Israel Prison Service (IPS), 370 Palestinians were being held in administrative detention.

Following the renewal of the administrative detention, Allan declared an open hunger strike on 16 June, and aside from water, refused any mineral supplements or salt.

Allan’s hunger strike has taken a serious toll on his health. His condition has been described as ranging from losing his vision and balance, to lack of sleep, to extreme weakness in his arms and legs, numbness in his hands and feet, and pain throughout his body.

On 30 July 2015, the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, passed the Force-Feeding Law, which allows the court to order the force-feeding or administration of medical treatment if there is a threat to the inmate’s life, even if the prisoner refuses. 

Adalah, an Arab rights group in Israel, describes force-feeding as ‘a serious violation of the prisoner’s right of dignity, bodily integrity, autonomy, privacy, the right to refuse medical treatment and the right to political expression.’

Considered a form of torture, in the past force-feeding has claimed the lives of 3 Palestinian prisoners. 

The government called for the possibility of force-feeding Allan, but medical staff at Soroka Hospital, where he was admitted, refused to perform this, citing international standards governing patient autonomy. Despite his serious decline in health, he was transferred to Barzilai Hospital on 10 August.

Dr Hezi Levy, the head of Barzilai Hospital, reassured Knesset member Ahmed Tibi that they might try to convince Allan end his hunger strike or agree to medical checkups or interventions, and that the doctors will do what is necessary should he lose consciousness, ‘but will never force-feed him, since doing so violates the Tokyo and Malta Conventions’.

On 14 August, after 59 days with nothing but water, Allan went into a coma, and was placed on life support and administered minerals and nutrients. On 18 August, he came out of it, prepared to continue with his strike.

The following day, Allan ended his hunger strike after Israel’s Supreme Court suspended his administrative detention. 

Addameer’s fear is that the suspension does not necessarily mean a cancellation. When and if Allan’s medical condition improves, he can be detained once again.   

Allan’s attorney conveyed a message from the Palestinian prisoner: ‘Administrative detention returns us to slavery, and therefore I refuse to be a slave to anyone. The truth is that I currently prefer hunger as long as freedom is the goal in the absence of law in Israeli courts. So, I found myself forced to fight this battle.’

Palestine’s heartbroken homes

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© Noreen Sadik

Broken dreams

The two elderly ladies sit in the shade of a tent. Their eyes are tired, their spirits broken.

Four apartment buildings and two houses are nearby on the dusty land.

There are signs of life everywhere: entrances brightened by colourful flowers, a dog growling in his kennel, blankets hanging out to dry, a wheelchair. But on this spring day, the tent, which was set up as a form of support and protest, is ironically also a sign of death – the death of the homes. For each one of them is subject to demolition.

Um Saleem and Um Eyad live in Taibeh. With a population of 50,000, it is the third-largest Arab city in Israel.

Escaping overcrowded living quarters in a nearby town, their families purchased the land with the hopes of creating a better future. Three applications for building permits were turned down. In spite of this, the first house was built in 2003. Two years ago, they received demolition orders. It was not until last week that the final court order with a possible date of demolition was handed to them – by 15 May, they were told, their homes would be nothing but rubble.

Noreen Sadik

Currently, 6,500 homes in Arab towns in Israel are subject to demolition. Should they be demolished, approximately 50,000 people, all Israeli citizens, will become homeless.

The ladies, talking at the same time, ask emotionally: ‘Where will we go if they demolish our homes?’ The residents, they say, are sick or handicapped, pregnant, schoolchildren, teenagers, newly engaged and newborn babies.

‘See that garbage dump there? We’re being treated like that,’ Um Eyad says, with tears rolling down her cheeks, as she points to a landfill in the distance. ‘The only difference is that it has a permit.’

Their concerns are valid. On 12 April, the home of Tareq Khatib in Kafr Kanna, an Arab village in northern Israel, was demolished. The following day, 5 buildings owned by the Asaf family from Dahamesh, an unrecognized village near Tel Aviv, were also torn down.

Eleven families in Ramle, also near Tel Aviv, received demolition orders. And following a 10-year-long legal battle, the Supreme Court ruled just 2 days ago that the unrecognized Bedouin village Umm el-Hieran, population 1,000, will be destroyed, and a Jewish town called Hiran built in its place.

Discriminatory practices

The Arab community in Israel, now numbering 1.3 million (20 per cent) of Israel’s population, are the descendants of the approximately 160,000 Palestinians who remained on their land during Israel’s creation in 1948.

The Palestinian citizens of Israel often complain about discriminatory practices by the government.

According to the EU and the Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel, ‘Arab citizens of Israel are subject to discrimination at the economic, social and cultural levels. A principal aspect of socio-economic discrimination concerns land and property expropriations.’

The report continues: ‘Today, 93 per cent of all land in Israel is under direct state control, 13 per cent of which is owned by the Jewish National Fund, which sees its mandate as leasing and settling land solely for Jews.’

In February 2015, the Israeli State Comptroller released a 295- page report about Israel’s housing crisis – mostly about the rising cost of housing in the Jewish sector, but failed to include details about the severe shortage of housing in the Arab sector.

In Israel’s 67 years of existence, new Arab communities have not been built, nor have the existing ones been expanded to accommodate the growing Arab population

In response to the State Comptroller’s report, Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – compiled its own report.

‘Deliberate Obstacles, Not Failures’ states that ‘the housing shortage in Arab communities is not the result of “failures” or “deficiencies” that the Comptroller identifies with respect to the housing crisis in Jewish Israeli communities, but rather is the result of deliberate, consistent, and systematic government policy that places obstacles before Arab citizens.’

Arab towns currently comprise only 2.5 per cent of Israel. In Israel’s 67 years of existence, new Arab communities have not been built, nor have the existing ones been expanded to accommodate the growing Arab population. The result has been overcrowding and housing shortages.

The National Master Plan was designed to meet the construction needs for the whole country. However, most the options for development in Arab communities are limited. Only 41 of 139 Arab communities have up-to-date master plans. Regional committees make plans for Arab towns, often ignoring the unique needs of the residents.

The approval of building permits often takes years, forcing people to build illegally. In 2014, bids for construction of housing units in the Jewish sector numbered 38,261, compared to 1,844 in the Arab communities. This translates to only 4.6 per cent of new housing units being designated to the Arab community.

Arab homes in the West Bank area also subject to demolition. According to B’tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, between 2006 and Feb 2015 at least 847 Palestinian residential units in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) were demolished. The homeless numbered 4,015 people (including 1,957 minors).

Broken dreams

Last year, 3,163 housing units were marketed in Israeli settlements in the West Bank for the approximately 500,000 Israelis who have illegally taken up residence there.

The West Bank village of Susiya is the latest up for demolition, and up to 350 people will be homeless should it take place.

B’tselem states that ‘Israeli settlers in the area have already taken over almost 300 hectares of the villagers’ land. Past experience indicates that if the Israeli authorities succeed in expelling the villagers from Khirbet Susiya, either the settlers will directly take over the land or the authorities will take control of it and allocate it to settlers.’

The night before Um Saleem and Um Eyad voiced their complaints, Knesset members and locals gathered at the protest tent in Taibeh.

‘See that garbage dump there? We’re being treated like that. The only difference is that it has a permit’

A speaker described the situation as very dangerous. Any minute, he said, without warning, they can start the demolitions. Imagine waking to the knock on your door at 2:00 in the morning, he continued, and your home and dreams becoming a pile of rocks an hour later.

Ushruf, Um Saleem’s son, pleaded for help from the lawmakers. ‘No-one can understand the feelings of those whose houses will be demolished,’ he said. ‘Should the demolition crew come, I am prepared to stay on the roof of my house,’ he stated defiantly.

Little did he know that two days later a temporary freeze would be put on the demolition orders. As of now, the houses remain standing. Time will tell about the fate of the thousands of other houses.

On 15 May, Palestinians commemorate ‘Yawm an-Nakba’, the catastrophe of more than 700,000 Palestinians being expelled from Israel in 1948. Find out more here.

Israel’s second-class citizens

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Jerusalem is becoming more racially divided than ever. Emmanuel Dyan under a Creative Commons Licence


At the end of November, arsonists set fire to two first-grade classrooms at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School in Jerusalem. ‘Death to Arabs’, ‘There is no coexistence with a cancer’ and other anti-Arab slogans were spray-painted on the walls. 

One of five schools in the Hand in Hand network, the Jerusalem Arab-Jewish one is a place of equality and co-existence, and a place where there is a belief in an achievable peace in Israel.

Three members of the radical rightwing racist group, Lehava, were arrested for the attack. One of the arsonists is from Jerusalem; the other two are brothers from Beitar Illit, a West Bank settlement. 

They claimed that they decided to burn the place down after learning that the school had held a memorial ceremony for former Palestinian Authority (PA) chair Yasser Arafat on the anniversary of his death, several weeks prior to the attack.

Lehava’s main goal is to stop assimilation, especially in the form of marriages between Jews and Muslim or Christian Arabs. However, their provocations against Arabs have often gone in other directions.

They have encouraged Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers to shoot Arabs in the head if they feel threatened, and they have convinced the government to ban Jewish women doing their national service from volunteering in hospitals past nine in the evening, to limit their contact with Palestinian doctors to daytime hours only.

On Saturday 13 December, approximately 250 Israeli Jews and Arabs protested in Jerusalem against the increasing racism in Israel, and called for Lehava to be outlawed.  Signs in Hebrew and Arabic read ‘Stop the racism’, ‘Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies’, and ‘Lehava’s racism begins in the government’.

In November, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet voted in favour of a ‘Jewish State Law’ legislation. 

President Reuven Rivlin, who opposed the bill, said that it specifies ‘the right to realization of national self-determination in Israel is exclusive to the Jewish people’.

Other critics of the bill, many of whom are high level rightwing politicians, believe that if the bill becomes a reality, it would allow for the discrimination of the 1.7 million Christian and Muslim Arab citizens who make up 20 per cent of the population.

Majd Kayyal of Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said that this law would mean ‘the institutionalization of racism, which is already a reality on the street, in both law and at the heart of the political system’. 

The proposed legislation caused an uproar in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), and although the first draft was accepted by Netanyahu’s cabinet, the Knesset has since been dissolved, partly due to opposition to the bill, thus temporarily shelving the legislation. 

Elections for the Knesset will be held in March 2015, and although it is not certain that this legislation will be brought forth again, the fact that it was drafted with a clear discriminatory intent sets a precedent, increasing the mistrust which has been growing since Operation Protective Edge, the war on Gaza in July 2014. 

The government took discrimination a step further when the mayor of Ashkelon, Itamar Shimoni, announced last month that he was cancelling the employment of Israeli-Arab construction workers, banning them from working on bomb shelters in kindergartens in his city. His comments were widely criticized by political leaders. 

A poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 40 per cent of Israeli Jews believe that a Jewish state law would damage the interests of the country, while 31 per cent say that it would promote the country’s interests. The poll showed that 52 per cent of Israeli Jews were against the idea of banning Arab workers, while 43 per cent support it. 

Much of the current frustration and unrest in Israel’s Arab sector began during Operation Protective Edge. As the death toll in Gaza climbed, demonstrations in Arab towns in Israel intensified, and many demonstrators were arrested.

Currently, there are more than 50 Israeli laws which discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in all areas of life, including their rights to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures. 

In an unrelated incident, on 7 November, Kheir Hamdan, a 22-year-old Israeli-Palestinian citizen of Kfar Kana, Israel, was killed by Israeli police, sparking demonstrations in Arab towns around the country.

His death was reminiscent of the killing of 13 Arab youths by police in 2000, during demonstrations. The investigation into their death was closed based on what the police called ‘insufficient information’. Arabs’ belief that they are second-class citizens in Israel is thus solidified. 

Last month, Yousef Ramouni, a Palestinian bus driver from Jerusalem, was found hanged in his bus, and although police say it was a suicide, signs of violence on his body convinced his family that he was the victim of Jewish extremists. 

Ramouni’s death has caused approximately 100 Arab bus drivers in Jerusalem to quit their jobs in fear. They claim that at least one violent attack has taken place against them almost every day in the past few months.

In turn, Arab citizens of Israel have also committed acts of violence against Jews, although to a lesser extent. Cars have been burned and one man was close to being lynched – he was saved by another Arab. 

Inevitably, events in Gaza and the West Bank indirectly affect Israeli-Palestinian citizens. A humane declaration of sympathy might be interpreted as a threat to the security of Israel, intimidating many and leading some Palestinian citizens of Israel to stay silent about discrimination and racism.

Arabs and Jews have lived as neighbours for years – even before Israel came into existence. The security of children – whether Jewish or Arab – should not be compromised. And a democracy should promote equality and understanding between all citizens.  

A third intifada in the making?

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drinscription under a Creative Commons Licence

Eviction notice

In the past weeks, tensions in Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank have reached new heights. In what seems to be a tit-for-tat situation, Israelis and Palestinians have been expressing their anger through more violence and hatred.

A car driven by a Palestinian crashed into Israeli pedestrians; a Palestinian was found hanged – killed by Israelis, say Palestinians; suicide, say Israeli police. Another Palestinian was stabbed in the leg. On 18 November, two Palestinians attacked a synagogue and killed five Jews.

On 19 November, a curfew in Ras al-Amoud, an East Jerusalem neighbourhood, was ignored by Palestinians, who clashed with Israeli soldiers. 

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, demonstrations took place against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who had condemned the attack on the synagogue. Jewish settlers chanted ‘death to Arabs’, encouraged the slaughter of Palestinian children, and distributed invitations to Jews to pray at al-Asqa Mosque.

The conflict, which is reeling out of control, stems from one place – East Jerusalem.

Since 1967, the area has been under the jurisdiction of Israel, with an illegal military occupation going unrecognized by the international community. Its unique status is further emphasized by the presence of al-Haram al Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), a holy place for Jews and Muslims alike.

Al-Haram al-Sharif, Islam’s third-holiest site, is the compound which houses al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. It is administered by the Jerusalem and Jordanian Islamic waqf (council). 

Referred to as the Temple Mount by Jews, al-Haram al-Sharif is also Judaism’s holiest site, which Jews believe once housed two ancient Jewish temples.

This has long been a source of contention between Jews and Palestinians, with extremist Jews believing that the Islamic sites should be destroyed and a third Jewish temple built in their place. 

Israel recently prohibited Muslim male worshippers under the age of 50 from entering al-Haram al-Sharif, while allowing extremist Jewish settlers, under the protection of the police, to perform religious rituals there.

The situation was further aggravated when Israeli police entered the compound and, for the first time since 1967, assaulted worshippers at the main mosque with teargas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.

Prominent leader and US-born rabbi Yehuda Glick has plans to make the third temple a reality, and Jews a permanent part of the compound. His last provocative visit on 29 October ended in his being shot and wounded. The following day, al-Haram al-Sharif was closed to Muslim worshippers. 

It’s important to note that al-Haram al-Sharif represents more than just a religious site: it’s a symbol which unifies Palestinians and Muslims worldwide. It matters so much that, when Israeli leader Ariel Sharon visited the compound in 2000, with the protection of 1,000 armed security guards, the event triggered the Second Intifada.

No challenge to Israeli sovereignty

To the problems with al-Haram al-Sharif, one can add the settlements and forced land expropriations, which have done nothing to improve relations between Jews and Muslims in East Jerusalem.

Since 1967, when it was occupied by Israel, approximately 23 square kilometres have been expropriated from Palestinian East Jerusalem residents.

In addition, East Jerusalem is surrounded by Israeli settlements and the Separation Barrier, both of which have effectively separated over 200,000 Palestinian residents from the rest of the West Bank.

According to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, ‘Israel’s primary goal in Jerusalem has been to create a demographic and geographic situation that will thwart any future attempt to challenge Israeli sovereignty over the city.

To achieve this goal, the government has been taking actions to increase the number of Jews and reduce the number of Palestinians living in the city.’

There are different ways of achieving this: residency permits being revoked (14,000 since 1967); home demolitions (2,000 since 1967); building Jewish settlements while restricting the expansion of Palestinian residential areas (Israel recently approved the building of 200 new homes in East Jerusalem); building national parks (where construction is not permitted, further lessening the land available to Palestinians); and lastly, through home evictions. 

Eviction notice

In the early morning hours of 30 September, the residents of 25 apartments in Silwan, a Palestinian East Jerusalem neighbourhood, learned that their homes had been purchased, and would soon become the property of Jewish settlers.

It was not the first time Palestinians had been evicted from their homes in Silwan. What made it different was that it was the largest seizure of Palestinian property in East Jerusalem in 20 years. 

Silwan is home to 50,000 Palestinians. The village, thousands of years old, sits right outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City and al-Haram al-Sharif, and ‘has been the target of intense settlement efforts by Elad and a flashpoint for tensions in the city,’ according to the Institute of Middle East Understanding (IMEU). 

Elad, founded in 1986, is a rightwing settler organization which, according to IMEU, is ‘dedicated to colonizing occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem with Israeli Jews, particularly in and around the Old City and the neighbourhood of Silwan.’

The first Jews settled in Silwan in 1991. Currently, there are 500 Jewish settlers (90 families) residing there, under the protection of armed guards, in spite of the international declaration of the illegality of the settlements, and the violation of international law.

The Jewish National Fund (JNF), a quasi-governmental Israeli agency, and Elad, both registered charitable organizations in the US, use various methods to acquire Palestinian property in their efforts to create a predominantly Jewish population. 

Through shady deals, the use of the Absentee Property Law of 1950, false affidavits, illegal transfer of public property and, in many cases, aided by corrupt Palestinian go-betweens, Palestinian land and homes are taken over by Jews.  

With the most recent property confiscations, the Jewish population in Silwan will most likely increase to 700, compromising the safety of the Palestinian residents. 

A 2012 UN Office for the Co-ordination Of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report stated that ‘the continuous deployment of private security guards and police forces to protect the settlements, particularly in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, has led to frequent clashes, which undermined the physical security of Palestinian residents.’

Now, the home of the Palestinian who committed the car attack has been torn down, and the homes of those who committed the attack in the synagogue are set to be demolished. Additionally, the residency permit of the wife of one of the Palestinian attackers is to be revoked. 

The current situation leaves one to wonder: are the events of the past few months a third intifada in the making?  

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