I have worked to protect human rights for more than half of my life, first with Al-Haq and later with B’Tselem, which I joined years ago. In that time my hair has gone gray and the world has changed tremendously, yet the Israeli occupation that oppresses my people has become ever more entrenched.
In recent weeks, each new day brings news of another incident, more victims. Sometimes this comes on the heels of harm to Israelis, sometimes not: instances of killings or violence by the military and settlers, collective punishment, movement restrictions, home demolitions, arrests, abuse, and so on and so forth. All this happens without any domestic or international accountability, an absence that contributes to escalating violence.
Even during the years that Israelis enjoyed a relative calm, I saw dreadful things in the course of my work and they left their mark on me. But it’s not just me. Every person in Palestinian society is affected by the ongoing lack of security and uncertainty. Sometimes I avoid taking roads outside Ramallah for fear of settler violence. Doing my job puts me at risk when I approach clashes – I inhale tear gas and could be shot by security forces even as a bystander. As I penned this letter, I received word that my colleague in Hebron, Manal al-Ja’bri, was injured on the job. Israeli security forces fired a rubber-coated metal bullet at her, a bystander observing and filming a protest in Hebron.
Recent event has made me particularly anxious about my family’s wellbeing. Two of my children attend universities outside Ramallah and must cross several checkpoints a day to get there and back. Like any father, I want them to get an education so they can become contributing members of their society, and I wish them quiet, stable lives. Has the time not come to do away with the occupation and make a reality of the dream of peace and stability for all?
On 6 Oct. 2015, soldiers assaulted Palestinian Ansar 'Asi, 25, while he was standing at the entrance to a storage room at his workplace in al-Bireh watching clashes between soldiers and Palestinian youths. The soldiers violently beat 'Asi and arrested him. The incident was captured on his employer's security cameras. 'Asi was injured and taken to Hadassah 'Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem. He was held in detention for two days before being interrogated. Police interrogators told him that soldiers had identified him as a stone thrower, refused to listen to his denial of the allegations, and made no attempt to check his version despite the existence of the footage. Only following a military court hearing did the police view the footage. Even then, 'Asi was held for another two days due to the weekend sabbatical.
On 11 Oct. 2015, the military bombed the Hassan family home in Gaza, destroying it and killing mother Nur, 25, who was at an advanced stage of pregnancy, and daughter Rahaf, 3. Muhammad, 5, and father Yihya, 25, were lightly injured. B’Tselem’s investigation refuted claims that the bombing targeted “weapon production sites” or that the house collapsed due to a strike on a nearby training camp. The case exemplifies the illegality of Israel’s policy of airstrikes in Gaza, which has killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians in recent years.
Since 14 Oct. 2015, security forces have implemented the closure policy approved by the Israeli cabinet. Thirty-five checkpoints and concrete roadblocks have been placed at entrances to villages and neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and on internal roads, severely disrupting the lives of some 300,000 Palestinian residents. This constitutes the prohibited collective punishment of a population that lives under occupation and suffers ongoing violation of its rights. The vast majority of this population is not involved in attacks against Israelis.
This month we posted footage B’Tselem volunteers took of settlers attacking Palestinians with Israeli military backup. After Palestinians attacked and killed Eitam and Naama Henkin, our volunteers filmed settlers from Yitzhar assaulting Palestinians and their property in Burin and ‘Urif. Also captured on video were five days of settler attacks against Palestinians in Hebron, which intensified after stabbing attacks by Palestinians in the city. In all cases, soldiers were nearby and served as backup to the settlers. In one instance, they intervened when Palestinians retaliated with stone-throwing: they then joined the settlers and used crowd control measures against the Palestinians. These incidents reflect the ongoing reality in the West Bank of Israeli security forces backing up settler violence against Palestinians.
In 13 incidents in the first two weeks of October, Palestinians were shot to death for stabbing or attempting to stab Israelis , or when suspected of doing so. In two of these cases, video footage published by the media raises grave concern that security forces shot to kill even when it was clear that the Palestinians no longer posed a threat and could be apprehended in other ways. The wave of stabbing attacks against Israelis is shocking, and security forces must protect the public by apprehending Palestinians suspected of such actions. Security forces have the authority to use the minimal amount of force necessary to achieve that end, according to the circumstances, but law enforcement officers cannot act as both judges and executioners. See also related statement by human rights organizations.
The Occupation is now in its 49th year. Recent weeks have seen dozens of horrific attacks on Israelis by Palestinians. Israeli government officials have been calling explicitly to “shoot to kill”; hundreds of Palestinians have been injured and several killed in demonstrations. B’Tselem reiterates its condemnation of attacks against civilians. The government sees the current violence as an eruption of hatred that occurred in a vacuum, while rejecting any responsibility of its own for the situation. Yet recent events cannot be viewed in isolation from the ongoing oppression of 4 million people.
On 6 Oct. Israeli authorities demolished two apartments and sealed another in East Jerusalem as collective punishment for attacks by occupant’s relatives leaving 13, including 7 children, homeless. Most did not live in the units slated for demolition. A policy of demolishing attackers’ family homes is collective punishment - prohibited under IHL. Despite widely held legal experts’ opinion that this radical measure is unlawful, the HCJ repeatedly approves it. Demolishing or sealing a home is a draconian measure targeting entire families who have done nothing and are suspected of nothing.
According to media reports, On 3 Oct. 2015, a Palestinian youth stabbed and killed Israeli civilian Nehemia Lavi and soldier Aharon Bennett in the Old City in East Jerusalem. He also severely wounded Bennett's wife, Adele, and lightly injured their infant son, Natan. B’Tselem expresses shock at the killing, conveys its sincerest condolences to the families of the victims, and wishes the wounded mother and son a speedy recovery. B’Tselem strongly condemns any and all intentional assaults against Israeli or Palestinian civilians. Israeli security forces must take measures enabling them to prevent acts of retaliation.
According to media reports, on Thursday, 1 Oct. 2015, Palestinians fired at an Israeli car in the Northern West Bank, killing Eitam and Naama Henkin, who were in the car with their four children. The children, who witnessed their parents' killing, were unhurt. B’Tselem expresses shock at the killing and conveys its sincerest condolences to the Henkin family. B’Tselem strongly condemns any and all intentional assaults against Israeli or Palestinian civilians. Following the attack, settlers threw stones at Palestinian cars, an ambulance and Palestinian homes in the village of Burin. Israeli security forces are obligated to deploy to prevent additional revenge attacks by settlers against the Palestinian population.