Palestinian suffering under Israel’s brutal occupation laid bare
Palestinian suffering under Israel’s brutal occupation laid bare
In her annual report to the UN Human Rights Council released last week, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet devoted a short passage to violations of the human rights of Palestinians in territories occupied by Israel. Despite its conciseness, it was damning, which should deeply worry those who believe that Israelis and Palestinians will one day be able to live together peacefully, with respect for each other’s rights.
Bachelet expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in the occupied territories, mainly because of what she described as “a dramatic increase in the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces”. In one year, the number of Palestinians killed in these circumstances has increased tenfold, from 32 in 2020 to 320 in 2021. And if it is not the security forces who despise the lives of Palestinians, the high commissioner’s report warns that settler violence is also on the rise, not only in number of incidents but also in severity. Moreover, with the near absolute power that Israel wields over the Palestinians, arrests have also doubled in 2021, including a 30% increase in cases of “administrative detention”, which characterizes the arbitrary nature of the occupation by depriving detained without legal reason. process, not to mention conviction.
Occupation as a form of repression has many faces and all seek to make the occupied feel hopeless and hopeless to the point that they lose the will to resist. There is an Israeli military presence almost everywhere in the West Bank, including incursions into areas believed to be under full Palestinian Authority control. The soldiers use force at will, detaining both adults and children without any evidence of breaking the law and, in some cases, using grossly excessive force that leads to the killing of Palestinians with impunity.
For example, 19-year-old student Amar Shafiq Abu Afifa was shot this month by an Israeli soldier while hiking with a friend. According to a B’Tselem researcher who investigated the incident, he was shot in the head as he ran away in fear after hearing the soldier shout in Hebrew, even though he posed no threat. A few days earlier, Israeli forces shot dead a 13-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohammed Rezq Salah, near the West Bank village of Al-Khadr. According to Israeli authorities, the boy threw a Molotov cocktail at Israeli forces. Even if that were the case, one would think that highly trained soldiers could have neutralized a boy of that age without killing him.
These are just two examples of lives lost in an asymmetrical conflict that, the longer it lasts, the more it locks itself into a murderous routine in which Palestinian lives tragically count for very little. The imposition of the will of one people on another with the use of overwhelming military force – while also using its economic power and somehow enjoying the support of the most powerful country in the world and while the rest of the international community turns a blind eye – creates among Palestinians a sense of despair, as well as deep anger at the deep and daily injustices perpetrated by the occupiers.
The longer the conflict drags on, the more it is locked into a murderous routine in which Palestinian lives tragically count for very little.
The past month has been particularly violent, and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has produced a long list of what can only be described as the constant harassment of Palestinians, including confiscation, demolition or forcing for owners to demolish their own homes or other structures in Area C., which is under full Israeli control, and East Jerusalem, which has been illegally annexed by Israel. Each time these events occur, they negatively affect the lives of Palestinians, displace families, including young children, and end in the loss of their livelihoods. No wonder there is deep, desperate resentment ready to explode.
As part of its scare tactics, Israel has normalized the use not only of disproportionate force against militant opposition, but also, in many cases, unprovoked and unprovoked violence against ordinary Palestinians. OCHA reported that in February, Israeli forces carried out 139 search and arrest operations against 198 Palestinians across the West Bank. In all respects, this was a deliberate and provocative escalation, which in some cases sparked clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces and perpetuated a vicious cycle, in which Israeli forces respond by killing and maiming protesters with live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas. This in turn provokes further protests. Many of these Palestinian protests are against settlement expansion and settler behavior, which violently prevents Palestinian farmers from accessing their land to cultivate and feed their livestock.
Another extremely worrying aspect of the Israeli occupation which has not escaped Bachelet’s attention is the “repressive measures taken by Israel against human rights defenders and civil society activists, on the basis of vague and unsubstantiated allegations, and with potentially significant consequences for their business”. One of the methods employed by Israel to suppress dissent among Palestinians is to harass human rights defenders and civil society organizations in a crude attempt to silence them and thereby deprive millions of people living under occupation a voice and leadership to counter injustice.
For example, what began last July with a loud trumpeting blast from Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz when he designated six Palestinian human rights and humanitarian groups as “terrorist organizations.” under the country’s anti-terrorism law, has still not been substantiated by evidence. After all, accusing internationally respected non-governmental organizations of diverting funds to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is classified as a terrorist organization, is a very serious allegation, but where is the evidence? However, harm is done to these groups and the people who work for them know that they are being watched and can be detained indefinitely without trial. In the meantime, the Israeli security forces remain free to operate as they see fit with a minimum of control.
Given the turmoil in which the world is currently immersed, it might be considered naive to expect the international community to pay much attention or develop a coherent approach to what is happening in the occupied territories. Yet this is not unreasonable. This turmoil does not alleviate the suffering of the occupied and oppressed elsewhere and its potential consequences, to which the international community will be forced to respond when a situation for which it is partly responsible because of its apathy collapses into a general conflagration.
• Yossi Mekelberg is Professor of International Relations and Associate Fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He regularly collaborates with the international written and electronic media.
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