More than a hundred dead and several hundreds wounded – this is the terrible toll the current “escalation” in the region has taken on Palestinians and Israelis. The ongoing suffering is shocking, the empathy for the anxiety and sense of human vulnerability deeply felt. At the same time, the events of the last few weeks also serve as a reminder for other facts. First, the complete apathy toward the occupation until Palestinian violence erupts. Could things have been different if the reality in the Occupied Territories were on the agenda at other times as well? Second, the deep shock felt at the violence coming from Palestinians is obviously understandable, as is the denouncement of any harm to civilians. But the violence in the OPT didn’t start just a couple of months ago. It began almost fifty years ago, when millions of people came under military rule, and the violence hasn’t stopped for a minute since. It’s there, year in and year out.
Of the plethora of brutal measures Israel has been using, including house demolitions, collective punishment, and restrictions on freedom of movement, one has been particularly striking – the shoot-to-kill policy, which has also been used against people who have already been “neutralized”. Spurred by senior politicians and backed by the prime minister and the weak lip-service paid by the attorney general, soldiers and police officers have become judge, jury and executioner. Although the so-called “capital punishment for terrorists” law was defeated by a landslide in Israel’s parliament, it is being implemented on the ground, outside the bounds of law and morality.
These turbulent weeks notwithstanding, we will of course continue to strive for the protection of human rights. It is precisely during trying times such as these that we must not lose sight of the connection between the end of the occupation and the possibility of upholding all human rights, including the right to life and the right to bodily integrity.
During November, the Civil Administration and the military continued their harassment of Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley, as part of a longstanding policy. In some cases, residents were temporarily forced out of their homes on short notice to make way for military training. In others, the authorities demolished homes. These actions are meant to add hardship to the lives of Palestinians as part of a policy designed to minimize their presence in Area C in general and the Jordan Valley in particular, by making life there unlivable. This government policy, systematically pursued for years, constitutes the forcible transfer of protected persons inside the occupied territory, whether directly through home demolitions, or indirectly, and as such, is unlawful.
On 13 Nov. 2015, after a demonstration against the Separation Barrier in Budrus, several Palestinians approached the barrier. Soldiers emerged from an ambush and grabbed Lafy ‘Awad. They beat him as he tried to break free and his friends threw stones at the soldiers. He began to flee and a soldier shot him in the back, killing him. Three years ago soldiers killed Samir ‘Awad in almost identical circumstances; only recently was a decision made to try them on minor offenses. The policy of allowing armed ambushes against stone-throwers continues to take lives, permitting unjustified use of lethal force and needless death.
Civilians were killed in four of the attacks perpetrated by Palestinians this month. B’Tselem strongly condemns any targeting of Israeli and Palestinian civilians and calls once again on politicians and leaders to avoid fanning the flames of violence.
On 21 Oct. 2015 PM Netanyahu retroactively approved an urban building plan for the settlement of Itamar. A week later he granted similar approval to 3 more settlements. Once again Israel retroactively approved settlement construction it had deemed illegal for years. Contrary to media reports that presented the PM as capitulating to pressure from settlers, his actions are consistent with a long-standing Israeli policy to facilitate de facto annexation of West Bank land.
In November Israeli security forces demolished the homes of 6 Palestinian families in the West Bank as retaliation for attacks their relatives are suspected of perpetrating against Israelis. The blasts rendered another 8 apartments uninhabitable, leaving homeless 39 people, incl. 17 minors, suspected of no wrongdoing. Although it constitutes collective punishment prohibited by international law, this extreme policy has been repeatedly sanctioned by Israel’s High Court. Demolishing or sealing a home is a draconian, vindictive measure directed at entire families suspected of no wrongdoing.
In Oct. and Nov. 14 people were killed and 379 wounded by security forces’ live fire in the Gaza Strip, mostly during demonstrations near the border. In Oct. five Palestinians were killed by live fire in demonstrations in the West Bank. Hundreds were wounded. The high rate of death and injury by live fire, and the high rate of metal coated rubber bullet injuries to the upper body raise concerns that security forces engage in unlawful, excessive, sometimes lethal, use of force, given the danger they are in.
In Aug. 2015, Israel renewed construction work on the Separation Barrier near the Palestinian town of Beit Jala, seizing private land and uprooting ancient olive trees. This creates facts on the ground although legal proceedings are still underway. The barrier will sever residents from their farmland, which provides vital income and rare recreation, block expansion of Beit Jala, damage ties with monasteries in the Cremisan Valley that service the community, and complete the effective annexation to Israel of large tracts of land.
Hebron residents are under increased travel restrictions since 29 Oct. Tel Rumeidah has been particularly affected: it was made off-limits to anyone not a neighborhood resident; locals may enter and exit only subject to strict screening. Palestinian stores in Hebron’s Old City are closed by military orders. These steps, alleged by the military to serve security, constitute collective punishment of Hebron residents, who are suspected of no wrongdoing, and must suffer serious disruptions to their daily lives, simply because of where they happen to live.